BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- It is amazing how a change of geography can alter perception. In the weeks leading up to this, my 16th Fox News deployment to cover the fight against radical Islamic terror, the news was full of attacks on civilian contractors. The target: those who have been providing support for U.S. military and intelligence operations since Sept. 11.
"Contractor" is the new "dirty word" in the so-called mainstream media -- and in Washington. On Capitol Hill, contractors are the Rodney Dangerfields of the war -- they just "get no respect." Here, where the war is being fought, contractors are regarded as essential to victory.
The attacks on civilian contractors didn't begin with this summer's hemorrhage of congressional leaks, sensational disclosures of classified information, threats of inquisitions and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Civilian contractors have been in the crosshairs of Congress since George Washington had to defend buying beans, bread, bandages and bullets from sutlers accompanying the Revolutionary Army.
In the opening days of World War II, then-Sen. Harry Truman became famous for threatening to "lock up" civilian contractors for producing sub-par munitions. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ominously warned against the threat of a "military-industrial complex."
All that is pale by comparison, however, to the venom now being aimed at civilian contractors supporting the campaigns in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates and in the shadow of the Hindu Kush. Though the mainstream media and congressional critics initially ignored the essential role played by civilian security and logistics contractors in the opening months of Operation Enduring Freedom, they went into high dudgeon when the Bush administration began preparations for liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein. It has gone downhill since.
Critics on the left are quick to point to events like the 2007 incident in Baghdad that led to the prosecution of security contractors for using excessive force in carrying out protective duties. On Capitol Hill, members of Congress have threatened to cut the budgets of federal agencies that use security contractors instead of government employees to protect key personnel and sensitive installations.
At the Pentagon -- which uses more civilian contractors in the war effort than any other U.S. government entity -- the response to the criticism was capitulation.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.