War without spin

Posted: Sep 17, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Last week, our nation mourned the 1000th U.S. death in Iraq. The Kerry campaign and the so-called mainstream media pounced on the report with partisan furor, using the "milestone" as "proof" that the war in Mesopotamia is going wrong -- and that it's the fault of George W. Bush.

On the campaign trail, Sen. Kerry complains that President Bush has failed to "take the target off American troops." His campaign operatives talk anonymously on background about "equipment deficiencies," a "lack of body armor" and "deeply diminished morale" among our troops. Meanwhile, The New York Times, gloomily reports that, "In the past five months, the Americans have relinquished control over much of Anbar and Salahaddin, provinces that include cities like Ramadi and Fallujah, where the guerrilla insurgency churns on with unabated intensity." What's going on here? Are we really losing the war in the bloody, scorched streets of Iraq?

 Those are just some of the issues I went to investigate with a FOX News "War Stories" team. On this, my fourth trip to Iraq in the last 18 months, we were embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, assigned to the 1st Brigade of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division. These units are part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force -- posted in Al Ramadi -- the capital of Al Anbar Province -- the largest in Iraq and in the heart of the so-called "Sunni Triangle." Here's what we found wrong with the Kerry-media spin:
-- "... Americans have relinquished control ..." Notwithstanding press accounts to the contrary, no U.S. commander has "relinquished control" over the capital or the province -- which stretches from the western suburbs of Baghdad all the way to the Saudi, Jordanian and Syrian borders. As our cameras documented, U.S. soldiers, Marines and increasing numbers of Iraqi National Guardsmen are very much engaged in countering those who would prevent Iraq from ever becoming a democratic country. And despite terrorist efforts to disrupt reconstruction efforts and attack Iraqi civil infrastructure, U.S. Army, Navy "Sea Bee" and Marine civil affairs officers continue to open new schools, electrical facilities, water plants, hospitals and police stations.

 -- "... the guerilla insurgency churns on ..." There is no doubt that the level of combat has increased since I was last in Iraq in April and May. Bombings, ambushes and indirect fire attacks against coalition and Iraqi government forces have multiplied because the militant sheikhs and imams who foment the fighting know their day is done if the Iraqis successfully hold a democratic election next year. Their only hope is to cause enough casualties that we withdraw before the ballots are cast, so the closer we get to that election, the greater the violence.

 But this is no "guerilla insurgency." By definition, "guerillas" or "insurgents" represent an organized political alternative to an established regime. Radical Sunni and Shi'ite clerics like Muqtada Al-Sadr, who tortured and killed 200 men, women and children, and buried them in a mass grave in Najaf, don't promise to make things better for the Iraqi people. Nor do the remaining Baath Party warlords or foreign extremists like Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. These men inciting gunfights in Iraq aren't "insurgents," they are anarchists. They offer no unified "platform" other than "jihad!" When they aren't shooting at coalition or Iraqi security forces, they are trying to kill each other. Dangerous? Yes. A "guerilla army"? No.

 -- President Bush has failed to "... take the target off American troops ..." Kerry should take a few minutes on Sunday evening to listen to some of the scores of "American troops" I interviewed in Iraq just a few weeks ago. They tell a much better story than Dan Rather -- and it would give the Massachusetts senator an idea of what combat is really like. Not one of them complains about being a "target." Instead, they all believe that the terrorists are the "targets" -- and explain that they would rather fight them in Iraq than here.

 -- "... equipment deficiencies," a "lack of body armor ..." What are these people talking about? Watch "War Stories" this Sunday and see if Marine Capt. Mark Carlton, wounded by an enemy RPG -- and alive because of his body armor -- would agree. The same goes for the troops. All those I was with certainly seemed to be well enough equipped to survive terrorist I.E.D.s and fight back -- using some of the best technology and equipment in the world -- weapons, UAVs, helicopters, communications ... and guts.

 -- "?deeply diminished morale?" Where? In the Kerry camp, maybe. But not in Ramadi, Iraq. The best barometer of troop morale is the re-enlistment rate. It's been that way since Valley Forge in 1777-78. When things are going badly and morale is down, so are extensions and re-enlistments. But in the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines that we documented in Iraq, so many Marines have asked to stay in the service that the battalion commander, Lt. Col. P.J. Kennedy, has had to request a waiver from established limits.

Unfortunately, the pessimists in the press -- "reporting" from hotel balconies in Baghdad using videotape bought from Arab cameramen traveling with the enemy -- rarely get out in the field to see any "good news." Candidate Kerry ought to know better, but he retains the same "blame America first" mentality that has governed his thinking since Vietnam. From what I've seen firsthand, the Kerry-media spin of a bloody disaster for the United States in Iraq is as phony as Dan Rather's documents.

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