Support our Marines, now more than ever

By: North County Times opinion staff

Our view: As Iraq war enters new phase, U.S. public must recommit to respecting troops

With the war in Iraq bleeding into its 46th month, Americans are increasingly registering their displeasure with the course of that conflict. Poll after poll reveals

a growing opposition to the American military effort

there. The numerical milestone of 3,000 killed in action

there is loudly lamented in some quarters and viewed as a

relatively small sacrifice in others.

But if there's one thing still binding the American

people in regard to the Iraq war, if there is one aspect

of our divisive debate of which to be proud, it is our

near-unanimous refusal to repeat at least one mistake of

the past:

So far, Americans by and large have done an admirable job

of separating the warriors from the war. Though passions

have run high since before the March 2003 invasion of

Iraq, the vast majority of even the war's most vocal

opponents have refrained from attacking the men and women

doing the fighting.

Nestled between the protection of Camp Pendleton to the

north and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station to the south,

North County is well-acquainted with the Marines

shouldering the heavy load in Iraq. That we greet them

with cheers at the airports and harbor and appreciative

nods and smiles at the supermarket is appropriate.

From the start, anti-war activists also took great pains

to frame their arguments in terms of "support for the

troops" ---- though some military families and war

supporters bristle at the logic. The very fact that

"supporting the troops" has always buttressed arguments

for and against this war in Iraq is a welcome sign of how

far we've come as a nation since the Vietnam War, when

returning soldiers too often came home to a

less-than-proud reception.

Instead of spittle, we should be greeting these men and

women with respect and admiration. For today's Marines,

especially, are unquestionably the best trained, most

restrained professional fighting force in history.

A few scandalous incidents involving serious charges

against a few soldiers, Marines and at least one Navy

corpsman are the exception, and should not threaten to

undermine the widespread appreciation for today's

American military forces. After the Abu Ghraib prison

abuse scandal, and more recently in the wake of

prosecutions of Camp Pendleton-based Marines for actions

in Hamdania and Haditha, a few critics have painted all

of our troops with too broad a condemnatory brush. They

must remember ---- we all must remember ---- that a few

bad apples don't come close to spoiling this worthy bunch.

The young men and women who make up the vast majority of

our fighting forces are doing the best they can in

appallingly difficult circumstances. They are attempting

to provide safety and security for the beleaguered Iraqi

people in the face of sectarian violence and an

al-Qaida-propelled insurgency whose brutality knows no

bounds. They are fighting enemies who usually wear no

uniforms but occasionally don the uniforms of the Iraqi

police and army recruits whose training is vital to the

mission's success. They are enduring long tours of duty

away from loved ones and in the middle of chaotic


President Bush promises a new Iraq strategy in the coming

weeks. He has strongly hinted that he will direct a

"surge" of additional troops into Baghdad in a last-ditch

attempt to foster stability in the all-important capital

city. How a distressed American public and a newly

Democratic Congress respond to that escalation remains to

be seen.

But Americans of every political persuasion must recommit

to this unifying principle: Whatever one thinks of the

war in Iraq, the men and women serving their country

there are deserving of our support.