WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A few days after returning from my seventh trip to Iraq for FOX News, I was called upon to comment on the most recent affront to those who are fighting terrorists in Saddam's former fiefdom. The offense occurred during the January 2nd broadcast of ABC News' "Nightline," when Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a combat-decorated Marine veteran of Korea and Vietnam, was asked by interviewer John Donovan about the Congressman's willingness to serve in our Armed Forces:
Q: "Would you join today?"
Donovan then opined, "And I think you're saying that the average guy out there who's considering recruitment is justified in saying I don't want to serve."
A: "Well, exactly right."
Set aside for a moment whatever might be happening in Murtha's private, personal or political life that has prompted him to become the point-man for the "surrender now" wing of the Democrat party -- and consider the latent effect of such an exchange on an all-volunteer military in the midst of a war. This is not just dissent. It is at best, discouraging to young Americans who consider donning a uniform to be a noble way of serving their country. At worst, it is potentially disastrous.
Murtha's echo of the '60s mantra, "Hell no, I won't go," heard chanted on college campuses during the Vietnam war, is a step further into defeatism for the anti-military, blame-America-first leaders of his party. Fortunately, few of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines I have interviewed in Iraq have ever heard of Murtha. Unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of the so-called mainstream media, his words may well prompt some here at home to dismiss military service. In the midst of a war against brutal terrorists who fly airplanes into buildings, blow up trains and sever the heads of innocents, it undermines both America's effort in Iraq and presents problems for our national security as a whole.
Discouraging young Americans from joining our Armed Forces has implications well beyond Mesopotamia. The young men and women who have chosen the honor of wearing this country's uniform also serve around the globe. There are 100,000 troops in Europe, roughly 35,000 in both Korea and Japan, and 15,000 more in Afghanistan. Our Air Force has aircraft -- and personnel -- on every continent. The U.S. Navy has ships and sailors in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf and off North Korea and China. Marines routinely deploy to every theater. All of them are volunteers. All of them are, at minimum, high-school graduates -- members of the brightest, best-educated, trained, equipped and combat-experienced military force in history. If the "don't serve now" movement takes hold in the opposition party, defending America's interests around the world could soon become impossible.
Murtha's defenders say he is just being "sincere" in his opposition to the war he voted for in 2002. That may be so, but it doesn't make him right, nor should his prior military service inoculate him from criticism. The leaders of his party denigrate not just the leadership of the commander in chief, but the courage and perseverance of those doing the fighting by claiming "we cannot win" in Iraq. The Congressman is quoted saying that the U.S. Army is "broken, worn out" and "living hand to mouth." All of this would come as a surprise to the members of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines and the 2nd Combat Brigade of the 28th Infantry Division -- of the Pennsylvania National Guard -- I recently covered in Iraq.
These remarkably heroic and highly skilled troops think that they are winning -- and by any definition of victory -- they are. U.S. and coalition efforts have rid Iraq of a brutal dictator. The Iraqi people have taken part in three democratic elections in less than a year. They drafted and ratified their own pluralistic constitution -- an unprecedented act in an Islamic country. In last month's nationwide legislative elections, the turnout was a stunning 70 percent -- about ten points higher than our own most recent presidential election.
A new government is being formed -- to hunt down, with our help, the very terrorists who would otherwise be killing us here at home. In the former terrorist-stronghold of Ramadi, capital of Al Anbar Province and the heart of the "Sunni Triangle," Iraqi troops are now taking charge. This week, reflecting the growing strength and capabilities of Iraqi security forces, President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld announced that U.S. troop levels in Iraq will drop by more than 7,000 this year.
None of these things would have been accomplished without the force of American arms borne by the bravest of the current generation. Regrettably, these measures of success have failed to placate those in the media and Washington more interested in winning partisan political victories than winning a war. Those, like Murtha, who now recommend that young Americans ignore the call to serve in uniform in order to "get" this president, would do well to recall the words of one of his predecessors:
"What you have chosen to do for your country by devoting your life to the service of your nation is the greatest contribution any man could make."
Those are the words of President John F. Kennedy -- spoken at my alma mater -- the U.S. Naval Academy. Too bad there aren't more people in his party who feel that way today.