I don't know if the war in Iraq is ultimately unwinnable, but what I do know makes me skeptical of those who say so.
I do know that since Vietnam, liberals have viewed every exercise of American military power (with the exception of those undertaken by Bill Clinton) as preludes to disaster. The very first question Ronald Reagan was asked at his first presidential press conference concerned El Salvador. The question: Did he think it was going to turn into another Vietnam? Democrats invoked Vietnam with every other sentence during the long and nasty controversy about aiding the resistance in Nicaragua. More recently, just days into the Afghanistan war, The New York Times ran a front-page lament calling that conflict a new "quagmire."
Liberals seem always to believe that America will lose its wars, and when it doesn't, that it should.
It is obviously deeply painful to contemplate the more than 2,000 American dead, and many others gravely injured in Iraq. And charities like Fisher House (www.fisherhouse.org) welcome concrete demonstrations of Americans' concern for military families. But one does not sense that members of the military share the belief so widespread in the press and Congress that the Iraq war is going very badly and that the original decision to fight was a mistake.
One Marine, Sgt. Todd Bowers, who did two tours in Iraq, described the attitude of many press types. "They didn't want to talk to us." Why? I asked. "Because we were gung-ho for the mission." Bowers, who was saved from grievous injury when a bullet lodged in the sight of his rifle (a sight his father had purchased for him), is chary about the press.
In his first tour, he noticed that members of the press were reluctant to photograph Iraqis laughing, giving the thumbs up sign, or cheering. Yet Bowers saw plenty that would have made fine snapshots. In Baghdad, Al Kut and Al-Nasiriyah, Bowers reported no signs of anti-American feeling at all among Iraqis.
Fallujah, of course, was different, as the city was a hotbed of terrorism, and the battle of Fallujah was one of the fiercest engagements of the war. During the battle, Bowers found himself sharing a ride with an embedded reporter for the AP. He was asked what he thought of the destruction. Bowers responded that it was "Incredible, overwhelming. But it definitely had to be done." He also stressed that because the enemy had fought so dirty, tough calls had to be made. Later, he saw himself quoted in newspapers around the country to the effect that the destruction was "overwhelming" as if he could not cope. He had also made some anodyne remarks about rebuilding the damaged areas of the city, and responded "Where to begin?" when asked about the plans. He was speaking of the water treatment plants, medical facilities, and schools American forces were about to help build, but his comments were offered as evidence of the futility of the situation -- the very opposite of this eager Marine's intent.
There was plenty of progress to report, if the press had been interested. When the battle of Fallujah was over, the Marines set up a humanitarian relief station in an abandoned amusement park. Together with Iraqis locally hired and trained for the purpose and with an assist from the Iraqi ministry of the interior, they distributed rice, flour, medical supplies, baby formula, and other necessities to thousands of Iraqis. For six weeks, Bowers reports, the distribution went beautifully, "like a well-oiled machine." Not worth a story, apparently. Only when something went wrong did the press see something worth reporting. A small group of Iraqis were turned away from the food distribution point, though they had been waiting in line for hours. They were given vouchers and told they could come to the front of the line the next morning when supplies would be replenished. These few unhappy souls were then besieged by press types eager to tell their story.
At the same site, the Marines had repaired an old Ferris wheel. The motor was dead, but when two Marines pushed and pulled by hand they could get the thing turning to give rides to the children of the Iraqi employees. They did so for hours on end. A photographer from a large American media company watched impassively. "Why don't you take a picture of this?" demanded one Marine. The photographer snorted, "That's not my job."