Sen. John McCain played advanced political chess back and forth this past week with Sen. Barack Obama over the war in Iraq. Because the Democratic presidential hopeful has been to Iraq only once (more than two years ago), McCain said Obama has a "profound misunderstanding" about the progress made in Iraq.
The fact is John McCain is absolutely right. Barack doesn't have a clue what really is going on in Iraq. And Obama will eat some humble military pie if he goes there. The way I see it, he's going to face at least three major surprises:
-- Surprise No. 1: The surge really did work.
I have been to Iraq twice to visit the troops since Obama's single visit. During my two trips (2006 and 2007) to Iraq, I visited 28 bases and shook hands with nearly 40,000 troops. I cannot express the profound pride I feel for our troops. I will remember those experiences for the rest of my life.
One thing that was absolutely apparent in my second visit to Iraq was how well the surge was working. Despite the fact that not one major media outlet at the time reported the positive impact of the surge, I had seen it with my own eyes and could compare the progress between my two visits in more than two dozen locations across the country (many of which were hotbeds of gunfire the year before).
Fewer U.S. troops died in Iraq last month than during almost any other month since the war began five years ago.
A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit Iraq for a third time. I was invited again by Robert Magnus, a four-star general, whose retirement this July completes a truly stellar career in military service from Vietnam to the Iraq war. Unfortunately, I was under publishing deadlines to complete my upcoming (fall release) book, "Black Belt Patriotism," so I could not join him.-- Surprise No. 2: War is not reflected accurately in the news.
So where does Obama get his facts about the war? How is it that he can conclude so confidently that the Iraq war is futile and a result of failed strategy and policies? If he hasn't been to Iraq since the surge even started, how can he truly know anything about the battlefields?
The truth is that Obama gets his knowledge about the war from the same places most of us do: major media, White House press reports, so-called military experts (who are often no longer on the battlefields), our favorite news blogs and Web sites, etc. But are we truly getting all the facts about the war from those sources? Most of them?
Imagine what our military officers and few political leaders who really understand the ins and outs of the war think when those "on the outside" pontificate about their knowledge of the war. Have you ever had someone try to tell you what it's like to be in your shoes and be dead wrong? Do we expect that our military leaders are honestly going to tell media representatives all the truths about the war so that CNN can splash them around the globe for all the terrorists to hear? If our military leaders actually found WMDs or knew where Osama bin Laden is hidden, are we really so slow to figure out why they could not and would not tell the public? If it's true that we can't judge a book by its cover, do we think we can judge a war by its news coverage? Does Obama?
Considering how Obama has spoken negatively about the war, for which our troops and their families sacrifice daily, one might think he would experience a cold military reception in Iraq. But those poised souls are much bigger than that. If Obama goes to Iraq, they will offer him the honor and respect he never could give them. The troops deserve admiration from the possible commander in chief. But how can he march them forward when he rejects their cause, has not sat down with their officers and generals, and wants to negotiate with Muslim terrorists?
Whatever the reasons we went in, we're there now. We can fight the constitutional correctness until the cows come home, but our troops are there. And they are fighting for the freedom and democracy of more than 12 million Iraqis, who bravely went to the polls a few years ago to establish a new constitution and government. I am grateful for our troops' service, humbled by their courage, and amazed by their sacrifice. And I believe even Obama will be surprised by their fortitude if he just opens his eyes.