BAGHDAD — There is a Christmas tree inside Saddam's big palace at Camp Victory on the outskirts of this beleaguered city, and there is also a Menorah. I bet Saddam loves that. An actual Rabbi from New Jersey, on assignment to the Army, sang at the Menorah lighting. I kind of wish Saddam could have been there with me to see it.
The rest of Camp Victory is full of American soldiers and support personnel. They eat well, have access to computers so they can email home, and morale is pretty high for being in a country as chaotic and violent as Iraq.
I have traveled to this country for one reason only: To say thank you to the men and women serving in this dangerous theatre. No matter what one thinks of the war, a clear-thinking person has to respect the sacrifice these Americans are making.
With Fox News and CNN available 24/7, the troops know full well that many Americans have turned against the war and that much of the media does not support the mission in general. But, amazingly, the soldiers and Marines I talked with, which numbered in the hundreds, were confident their presence in Iraq was necessary and noble. Well, good for them.
Because of American forces, millions of Kurds are free in northern Iraq, and that area is prospering. Likewise, some provinces in the southern part of the country are relatively calm and Saddam's reign of terror is a distant memory.
But new terror lurks, and that is the reality of post-Saddam Iraq. Muslim killers of all stripes are causing daily death and destruction, and U.S. forces are trying to stop them. In a perfect world, all decent people would be supporting that effort. But, as everyone knows, this is far from a perfect world.
So American and British troops shoulder a tremendous burden and carry on, waiting for their civilian leaders to figure out what to do in an unbelievably complex and dangerous situation.
At four o'clock on a Saturday morning, I sat watching the Dallas Cowboys-Atlanta Falcons game with a lone Marine. We could have been in any living room in the USA. The plasma TV was glowing, we both had chips and drinks, and the game was dramatically close.
The only thing different about the situation was that, occasionally, the announcer's voice was interrupted by distant gunfire. The Marine didn't seem to notice but I did. In my world, distant gunfire is an issue. In his world, it is the norm.
No one knows how the conflict in Iraq will turn out, but I can tell you this: The U.S. military are the good guys. Despite Abu Ghraib, the crimes at Haditha, and a few other bad occurrences, American forces are fighting the good fight, trying to bring freedom to people who have never experienced it and may not even appreciate the effort.
A warrior's credo is to do his duty with honor and courage. I can report with certainty that U.S. forces are doing that in Iraq. They deserve nothing but our prayers and admiration.