Here's something Rush Limbaugh can add to his list of The Undeniable Truths of Life: War correspondent Michael Yon is a national treasure.
No one -- and I mean no one -- gets as close to the action and captures the soldier's view of the Iraq War on a daily basis as well as Yon, a former Green Beret turned blogger extraordinaire. He is the Ernie Pyle of his generation, and then some.
Not even such stalwarts as Bing West and Ralph Peters -- who are invaluable in reporting the Big Pcture from the ground in Iraq -- are apt to find themselves running down a Mosul alleyway chasing Al Qaeda terrorists with bullets flying around them, taking pictures of the action and even providing a magazine or two of cover fire.
Yon keeps the Bush administration, military and mainstream media honest (okay, that last is impossible, but he's at least a check on their propaganda) with a stream of breathtakingly immediate dispatches that are bracingly honest and hard hitting at http://michaelyon-online.com.
Now, Yon has published Moment of Truth in Iraq, a book developed from his dispatches and experiences that chronicle the turning point in America's fight with insurgents in Iraq.
While Yon gives due credit to Gen. David Petraeus for the change in tactics that helped recover from the disaster of Ambassador Paul "Shadow Warrior" Bremer's reign of error, the ill-advised "flattening of Fallujah" and the perversion of Abu Ghraib, he concedes there is nothing the top commander could have done to change direction, save for the central truth Yon illustrates throughout the book: We are winning because of who we are, and Al Qaeda is losing because of who they are.
Yon examines the new tactics of the surge, and extols Petraeus' strategy, and he finds that -- contrary to the deranged ramblings of Teddy Kennedy and other liberals -- the insurgents in Iraq "won the hearts and minds" of Iraqis by brutalizing them. Americans, he writes, turned the tide against Al Qaeda because of the content of their character.
He points out the change began even before "the surge." A key factor was the Anbar Awakening that began in 2006, which he chronicles at some length. Repulsed by the terrorists' cruelty and the realization that they would never build anything in their country, the sheiks of Anbar Province — and even a tough insurgent group known as "the 1920s"-- offered to join forces with the Americans to rid their towns and villages of Al Qaeda and its allies.
While the mainstream media would have the photos from Abu Ghraib as the enduring images of the Iraq War, Yon has provided what could be the Iraq War's equivalent of the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo if the White House's press office were anywhere near on the ball .
As Yon wrote in his blog on May 14, 2005:
"Major Mark Bieger found this little girl after the car bomb that attacked our guys while kids were crowding around. The soldiers here have been angry and sad for two days. They are angry because the terrorists could just as easily have waited a block or two and attacked the patrol away from the kids. Instead, the suicide bomber drove his car and hit the Stryker when about twenty children were jumping up and down and waving at the soldiers. Major Bieger, I had seen him help rescue some of our guys a week earlier during another big attack, took some of our soldiers and rushed this little girl to our hospital. He wanted her to have American surgeons and not to go to the Iraqi hospital. She didn't make it. I snapped this picture when Major Bieger ran to take her away. He kept stopping to talk with her and hug her.
"The soldiers went back to that neighborhood the next day to ask what they could do. The people were very warm and welcomed us into their homes, and many kids were actually running up to say hello and to ask soldiers to shake hands."
More than anything, the fact that the Iraqi people, both Sunni and Shia, see this kind of action from America's fighting men on a daily basis — and have lived too long with al Qaeda's savagery—has made the current success on the ground possible.
For a time, constant liberal screaming about withdrawal and deadlines -- as well as half-baked tactics that emphasized driving terrorists from an area, rather than killing them — had the Iraqs worried that while Americans might win today's fight, Al Qaeda would be around forever. However, the tide turned when Al Qaeda began using increasingly horrific methods to keep the population in line.
In the meantime, American rebuilding efforts presented an unavoidable contrast for the people. Yes, success was inconsistent -- derailed as much by political corruption as terrorist attacks -- but while Al Qaeda was killing Iraqi children, Americans were building sewers. As Yon writes in a particularly stirring commentary:
"Though Vietnam convinced the US Military that Americans were not suited for counterinsurgency, the opposite is closer to the truth. Americans are naturally good at counterinsurgency, because we are good at removing sewage. …
"Part of counterinsurgency is soldiers letting themselves be Americans in the most romantic sense of the word. The American soldier is the most dangerous man in the world, and the Iraqis had to learn that before they would trust or respect us. But it was when they understood that these great-hearted warriors, who so enjoyed killing the enemy, are even happier helping to build a school… that we really got their attention.
"I have called al Qaeda a cult, and so it is. But in another frame is it a gang … and it models a gang notion of masculinity in which the cruelest, most destructive and bullying are seen as the toughest and the most admired. What the American soldier at his best brings to counterinsurgency — by culture, by training, by long and honored tradition — is a different model in which the strongest -- and most feared — is the one who protects and servers, who makes the people safe by putting himself at risk."
When Ted Kennedy denies that truth and attributes those qualities to Al Qaeda, he spits on that legacy, and it's every bit as outrageous as John Murtha's infamous Haditha blood libel.
Yon literally illustrates the extreme opposites of American courage and Al Qaeda savagery with two outstanding photo essays in the center of the book.
In the first, he follows the I-24 Infantry Regiment on a dangerous mission. The "Deuce Four," under the command of Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, achieved a cult following among the residents of Mosul for courage and its absolute joy at kicking Al Qaeda butt.
Yon's account and pictures of the severely wounded Kurilla fighting on until the enemy was defeated are simply breathtaking.
Next, Yon follows a mixed force of Americans and Iraqis as they uncover the evidence of Al Qaeda atrocities in a village near Baqubah. The slaughter of a few hundred residents received no attention in the American media, but it and and similar massacres are well known to the Iraqi people.
Readers who have heard Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid monotonously declare that America is trapped in an intractable Iraqi civil war may be surprised to find out how little time the American military spends quelling ethnic violence.
Al Qaeda in Iraq -- or, as the New York Times calls it, "Al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Mesopotamia Which Also Has Nothing to Do With Iraq Even Though It's Another, More Poetic Name for Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With Al Qaeda, a Homegrown Iraqi Group That Has Nothing to Do With Iraq Even Though It Is Mostly Iraqi, Albeit With Some Foreign Involvement Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq." (nod to James Taranto) is their main focus—and their main enemy.
Yon talks frankly about how media coverage is a "battle space" that must be contested in a war of insurgency. He is critical of commanders who spurn reporters, saying that if these leaders can't fight the media war, they will probably fail in their military mission, too.
Of the relentless negative domestic coverage, Yon writes:
"Enemy dominance of the media battle space translated quite directly into military setbacks. Terrorists from many countries swarmed into Iraq to be part of the victory they saw happening on the TV screens."
Lately, however, terrorism's television fans have had their own version of a writers strike. When there is no bad news to report, there are no reports, period. Even the Democrat presidential candidates mention Iraq as little as possible, except perhaps to move the goalposts and falsely contend there is no political progress there.
Unfortunately, Petraeus is not free to inquire of his Democrat congressional inquisitors whether they have achieved as many of their benchmarks from the 2006 election campaign as Nouri al-Maliki's government has in recent days.
But while Al Qaeda in Iraq has been decimated and reconciliation is happening on the ground, Yon writes, the outcome is not yet certain : The "moment of truth" is yet to come. Will America finish the job or will the determination of liberal politicos and their media stooges to make sure "George W. Bush's War" must be lost win the day?
Don't forget that when American troops ceased combat operations in Vietnam in 1973, the Viet Cong also was finished as a fighting force. If Democrats force an early pullout in Iraq and Al Qaeda (or Iran) makes a military push for power, does anyone really think President Obama would deploy forces to stop them?
Democrats are fond of calling the war in Iraq the greatest foreign policy disaster in our history (which, if so, means we've had a pretty tame history). But, Yon writes, losing by choice "will be the worst foreign policy disaster in our history. Imagine Vietnam, then multiply it by al Qaeda and Iran."
But if we win — and Yon assures us we can — "it will be a victory of the same magnitude as the fall of the Soviet Union. … The war isn't over yet. Victory remains in question. The choice is ours, the time is now — for a moment of truth in Iraq.
"What are we going to do?"
If, out of public ignorance and domestic political sabotage, the United States loses in Iraq, Michael Yon has made sure we won't have the excuse that no one told us any better.