Reality check

Posted: Jan 16, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This week was an object lesson on why I love my job. All I do for FOX News is hang around with heroes. I don't have to cover the shenanigans of the Michael Jacksons or Scott Petersons or Kobe Bryants who attract so much attention from my colleagues. I don't have to traipse around Washington waiting for some political potentate to utter a memorable phrase. And because my "beat" is soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, I can generally avoid getting caught in the crossfire of the curmudgeons who snipe at the commander in chief.

But every once in a while, in an effort to denigrate this administration, someone will say or write something so glaringly wrong about our troops -- and the war against terror they are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq -- that I just can't resist wading into the fray. This week there were two such events. First, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill launched a new book written by Ron Suskind, "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill." And second, the Strategic Studies Institute published a 56-page "strategic think piece" by Dr. Jeffrey Record, a professor at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, entitled: "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism."

Mr. O'Neill, who was asked to resign in December 2002, charges, among other things, that President Bush began planning to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the opening days of his administration. Professor Record, a former Democrat staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, claims, inter alia, that the Global War on Terror is not being won and that the "unnecessary" fight in Iraq is "dissipating" U.S. military capabilities. Both men's words are sure to be seen again later this year -- in TV and radio ads run by the Democrat nominee for president. And both men could have chosen the same title for their respective works: Sour Grapes.

Set aside for a moment the extraordinary circumstances that prompt former and current civil servants to savage their commander in chief in the midst of armed conflict. Mr. O'Neill's now discredited assertion about the Bush administration's lust for war is akin to the canard that FDR knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- and refused to warn the fleet. And Dr. Record's contention that we are somehow failing in the War on Terror because of a "detour" and "distraction" in Iraq simply denies the realities of what was and is happening in Mesopotamia.

In fairness to both men, they apparently composed most of their scathing critiques before Saddam Hussein was dragged from the hole in which he hid -- and the resultant decrease in violence in Iraq. Further, since neither author possesses the gift of prophecy, they can perhaps be forgiven for not having foreseen the apparently salutary effect that Saddam's ignominious capture would have on despots in North Korea, Libya and Iran.

Of the two, the more disturbing work is Dr. Record's heavily footnoted piece. Mr. O'Neill now says he regrets using "some vivid language" and that, "if I could take it back, I'd take it back." His polemic can be dismissed as the same kind of political mean-spiritedness that Don Regan engaged in when he was sacked as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff.

But Dr. Record is a different matter. He carries the mantle of Professor in the Department of Strategy and International Security at a prestigious institution of military education. Mr. O'Neill's screed can be ignored by those who choose to do so. But Dr. Record's piece will be required reading for thousands of officers -- the future leaders of our armed forces. Those who are compelled to read it should be skeptical of his "facts" as well as his pessimistic prognostications about the future of representative democracy and free enterprise in Iraq and the region. A few examples:

On page 28, Dr. Record baldly asserts, "Nonstate (sic) terrorism was notable for its absence in Saddam Hussein's Iraq." This "fact" is just plain wrong. Abu Nidal, the terrorist who tried to kill my wife and children, was found dead in Iraq -- not Libya. And Abu Abbas, the terrorist who organized the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985 -- and who subsequently funneled millions to Hamas and Al Aksar suicide terrorists was captured in Baghdad -- not Syria or Lebanon. The hundreds of bomb jackets, detonators and explosive devices found at Salman Pak weren't intended for use in Iraq. They were "export items" -- designed for "Jihadists" willing to blow themselves up trying to kill as many "infidels" as possible.

And as for the future of Iraq? Dr. Record's discouraging assessment of where things are headed -- and his recommendation that the United States cede the mission of building security, infrastructure and democratic institutions in Iraq to a "U.N.-authorized multinational force encompassing contingents from major states that opposed the U.S. war against Iraq" defies reality. The U.N. cut and ran from Iraq after a foreign terrorist blew up a truck bomb outside their headquarters on August 19, 2003. Who would lead this U.N. contingent back to Baghdad -- the French? Does Hosni Mubarak want Egyptian troops in Iraq learning about democracy and eventually returning to Cairo with those radical ideas?

Politicians will use the O'Neill book and Dr. Record's depressing document for their own purposes. But military officers compelled to read the latter should also consider the extraordinary successes that they and their comrades in arms have enjoyed in the Global War on Terror -- and in Iraq. Those who doubt need to ask themselves how many attacks we have suffered since 9-11. That's the reality check.