Courage at Thanksgiving
Oliver North | November 23, 2005

Washington, D.C. -- Of the many things for which we should be thankful this holiday season, we ought to be most grateful for young Americans who have been willing to serve in our Armed Forces. Since our War of Independence, ours has been the only nation on earth consistently willing to send its youth into harm's way not for gold or resources or colonial conquest -- but in support of an idea: individual liberty. Sadly, the courage and determination of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines is no longer matched with similar resolve by many of our political leaders. Though President Bush has used this holiday to remind us of their sacrifices, given the nature of the enemy confronting us today, the lack of political perseverance elsewhere in the capital is a potential disaster. For that we can offer no thanksgiving.

Only once before has the United States had to confront a brutal foreign adversary in the midst of such divisive political discord -- during the war in Vietnam. The evaporation of public support and political will in that sanguinary conflict resulted in the loss of 58,178 of our countrymen and the only war our nation has ever lost. In Vietnam -- as in Iraq -- we were never defeated on the battlefield. Instead, the war was lost in Washington 's corridors of power. This lesson must not be lost on our leaders today -- for we are in danger of losing once again for the very same reasons -- but with far worse adverse consequences for the American people.

The communist enemies we faced for a decade in trying to achieve a democratic outcome in Vietnam could only attack Americans while we remained on the battlefield. But as we have learned from 9-11, Madrid, London, Bali, and Amman, today's jihadist adversaries can maim and kill Americans almost anywhere in the world. Yet, those who oppose U.S. efforts to bring about a democratic outcome in Iraq are using the same methods and rhetoric that forced us to withdraw from Indochina.

By 1973, Richard Nixon, distracted and weakened by scandal and ethical charges surrounding his Vice President, Spiro Agnew; Watergate and allegations over a “secret war” in Cambodia, was unable to sustain support for helping the Republic of Vietnam. Less than two years later, helicopters lifted the last Americans out of Saigon from the roof of our embassy. Today, George W. Bush faces similar accusations over pre-war intelligence, his vice president's chief of staff and whether he “misled the American people” in the “run up to war in Iraq.”

By the summer of 1973, President Nixon's “public approval” according to the Gallup polling organization had plummeted to just 31 percent, making him “the least popular president in 20 years.” In the congressional elections the following year, Republicans lost 48 House seats and five in the Senate and opponents of the Vietnam war swept into Washington with a vengeance. Though U.S. combat troops had already been withdrawn, the Nixon administration had promised a continuing flow of money and weapons to South Vietnam. Instead, the new Congress cut off all aid. Neither Mr. Nixon's foreign ventures -- like his 1972 trip to China, nor statements that he was trying “to achieve peace with honor in Southeast Asia,” or even the pleas of his successor, Gerald Ford, were sufficient to alter the outcome.

While the personal costs for George W. Bush in the current confrontation are unlikely to be as adverse as those of Richard Nixon, the consequences for our nation are liable to be far worse if Congress insists on withdrawing U.S. forces before a stable, democratically elected government is in control of Iraq. If President Bush doesn't change the political dynamic soon -- the cause we have been fighting for in Mesopotamia may yet founder in the shoals of next year's congressional elections.

These are times that call for dramatic leadership of a kind that a badly wounded Richard Nixon could not offer. Though George W. Bush has been injured by the steady drumbeat of negative media coverage and the hammering of the opposition party, there is yet time to change the political dynamic. The White House speechwriters need to borrow a page from Winston Churchill and start reminding the American people that our real enemies aren't mean-spirited, self-serving Democrats -- our real adversaries are bloodthirsty terrorists who mean to hunt Americans down and kill us here at home.

On 10 May 1940, when the British Prime Minister made his first appearance before Parliament, he didn't use the occasion to belabor his political opponents whose appeasement had led to war. Instead he chose to rally the British people to the task ahead:

“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war by land, sea and air, with all our might and with all the strength God has given us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy… You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”

The American people understand this kind of talk. Our troops are certainly worthy of the president's demonstrated support. The critics say that they “support the troops but not the war.” It's abundantly clear that they oppose the war. Speeches like that above beg the question: how then will they support the troops?