Lt. Col. Oliver North must have felt like jumping out of his chair when Bill O’Reilly suggested the other night that his position on Iraq was comparable to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cut-and-run approach. North, a Marine combat veteran in Vietnam and Fox News analyst who has been to Iraq many times to accompany U.S. troops on dangerous missions, opposes President Bush’s build-up of U.S. forces in Iraq not because he has given up on the cause of a free Iraq but because—and these are my words, not his—Bush doesn’t have the will to win.
North, who was highly decorated for his military service in Vietnam, told O’Reilly that the Bush Administration approach to Iraq mimics the Johnson Administration policy during Vietnam of ignoring the source of the communist insurgency in South Vietnam. The Viet Cong was a phony “nationalist” movement sponsored by Hanoi to take the south. But except for occasional bombing runs over North Vietnamese cities, the regime was able to orchestrate its takeover of South Vietnam, with Chinese and Russian support, with virtual impunity.
In Iraq, while domestic terrorists are a significant threat, overwhelming evidence indicates that the problem has been greatly exacerbated by gross interference from Iran and Syria.
Bush knows this. In his speech to the nation on Wednesday, Bush declared that “These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
Those are threats that have, so far, not been backed up by any overt military action.
There is now clear-cut evidence of Iranian agents bringing arms to Iraq and masterminding the use of improvised explosive devices against American forces. Yet, the Iraqi government is allowing some of these Iranian agents, when captured, simply to leave the country. That probably reflects the government’s fear of Iran and Syria.
Besides Iran and Syria, there’s also the problem of how we are losing the propaganda war in Iraq. Bush said nothing about that on Wednesday night. In a major adverse development, the pro-terrorist Al-Jazeera TV channel is now being allowed by the Iraqi government back into Iraq to spread its poison. The U.S. State Department is even cooperating with Al-Jazeera English, furnishing U.S. officials to be kicked and punched by the anti-American anchors. Tragically, this is what we have come to expect from State, which has probably advised the Iraqi government to play ball with the terror TV channel. Absolutely nothing good can come out of this.
North understands that all the relevant signs in Iraq point to a U.S. military defeat. What’s more, he says our troops think that more American soldiers inserted into the conflict will only translate into more terrorist targets. “Not one of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen or Marines I interviewed told me that they wanted more U.S. boots on the ground,” North reported in his latest column. “In fact, nearly all expressed just the opposite: ‘We don’t need more American troops, we need more Iraqi troops,’ was a common refrain.”
North describes the Bush plan of extra U.S. troops as sounding “eerily like Lyndon Johnson’s plan to save Vietnam in the mid-1960s?” At the time, North noted, it reflected a U.S. decision “to avoid the unpleasant necessity of directly confronting North Vietnam?”
Does Bush have the will to confront Iran and Syria? The Bush Administration will not take the advice of the Iraq Study Group and “engage” with Iran and Syria but it will not confront these regimes either. If the Vietnam parallel is valid, as North suggests, that means that “engagement” with these regimes will be forced on us eventually or else outright surrender will become an option when Congress threatens to cut off funds for the mission. Our nation will call it a noble cause that failed and a memorial will be constructed honoring those who served.
The alternative is to show a U.S. will to win by striking Iran and Syria militarily and taking on Al-Jazeera in the propaganda war. It’s hard to conceive of anything short of that spelling victory in any real sense.