Success Equals Silence

Posted: Jun 27, 2008 12:01 AM
Success Equals Silence

AUSTIN, Texas -- Our Fox News' "War Stories" team came here to the capital of the Lone Star State to work on a documentary about America's 36th president to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his birth Aug. 27. Full disclosure here, Lyndon Baines Johnson was the commander in chief who sent one of my brothers and me to war in Vietnam.

Because of the way he handled the war in Vietnam, LBJ never has been at the top of my list of favorite presidents. Apparently, I'm not alone. Despite his sweeping civil rights reforms and far-reaching Great Society domestic programs, his name has not been mentioned at a Democratic National Convention for three decades. But this week, President Johnson moved up a notch on my empathy scale.

While we were shooting video at the LBJ Ranch and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, it was announced that this weekend, the U.S. military is transferring control of security in Anbar (Iraq's largest province) to Iraqi forces. It's a remarkable victory for American force of arms, the al-Maliki government and the Bush administration -- and the kind of moment U.S. troops, our allies in the Republic of Vietnam, and Lyndon Johnson never had.

In fact, the greatest military triumph of LBJ's tenure -- Tet 1968 -- was depicted by the American media as a defeat. On Feb. 27, while the battle still was raging, Walter Cronkite, just back from Vietnam, broadcast on CBS News that we were heading "closer to the brink of cosmic disaster" and proclaimed that we were "mired in stalemate." A month later, President Johnson announced that he would not seek nor accept the nomination of his party for another term as president.

From all the accounts I have heard from those who knew him well, LBJ was haunted by Vietnam until the day he died, in 1973. Developments in Iraq this week should mean that George W. Bush won't have that problem. That doesn't mean that partisan politicians and potentates in our press are going to stop trying for that kind of outcome. To prove the point, the announcement that Anbar is being returned to Iraqi control should have been big news in the U.S., but it wasn't.

Good news from Iraq simply isn't news at all. Therefore, most Americans won't know how important it is that Anbar is the 10th of 18 provinces -- and the first Sunni-majority constituency -- to revert to full sovereignty since 2003. Nor will our countrymen be reminded that this is the same region the mainstream media had written off as an "al-Qaida stronghold" and "lost to insurgents" as recently as January last year. Walter Cronkite couldn't have been more pessimistic.

That's not to say that things weren't once very bad in Anbar. They were. Nine of my 11 extended trips to cover U.S. forces in Iraq took me to Anbar province. In 2004, the April and November battles in Fallujah -- and innumerable gunfights the length of the Euphrates River valley, from al-Qaim on the Syrian border to Ramadi, the provincial capital -- gave the territory a much-deserved reputation for "the bloodiest place on the planet." But as our Fox News team reported in December 2006, things already were beginning to change.

Our interviews with Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha and Gov. Mamoun Sami Rashid in Ramadi regarding the "Sunni Awakening," tribal leaders turning on al-Qaida, and the growing Sons of Iraq movement -- were virtually ignored by our big-media "colleagues." Though this model for sharply curtailing violence and sectarian bloodshed has been replicated throughout most of Iraq -- even in predominantly Shiite areas -- its success has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S print and broadcast media.

By December 2007, we could walk down streets in Fallujah and Ramadi without flak jackets or helmets -- where previously we had dodged bullets, improvised explosive devices, and RPG fire. This, too, was overlooked in the U.S. press, as was the observation this week by Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq, when he described the transition in Anbar as "an important milestone" that "changes the nature of our security relationship" there. Kelly went on to observe that U.S. forces in the region could be reduced and "move into an overwatch posture, away from the population centers."

When I read that quote in an e-mail from Iraq, I was standing on the front lawn of LBJ's ranch house in Stonewall, Texas, waiting for our camera crew to set up for a shot. The next day, I looked in vain for Kelly's piece of good news in three different newspapers. Maybe I missed it. Or perhaps Lyndon Johnson had it right when he said, "The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character."

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