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Vet Reporter: Leave Iraq

Despite kneejerk accusations of his lack of patriotism, decorated war reporter Joe Galloway says 'declare victory and pull out.'
 
 
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No one can accuse Joe Galloway of being anti-military, "French," or unpatriotic (although some may try). Few reporters speak more convincingly of loving the men and women in uniform. Now a special correspondent and columnist for Knight Ridder, he served four journalistic tours in Vietnam and was the only civilian awarded the Bronze Star during that war, for rescuing wounded American soldiers. He's covered numerous conflicts since, including the Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He also co-authored the acclaimed book "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." So when he says the United States should declare victory in Iraq and start to withdraw, it has a certain credibility.

When I talked to Galloway by telephone recently, he was in Colorado about to head home to Virginia after several days of maneuvers with the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment from Fort Carson, which is shipping out to Iraq in a few weeks. It was shortly after his column advocating a pullout moved on the KR wire.

"When I go to Walter Reed Hospital," he explains, "where some of the 10,000 wounded from Iraq end up, I go ward to ward and bed to bed, and reach out to shake a hand, and someone puts a stump in it. These are the best kids we've ever had in the military and this is the best Army and Marine Corps I've seen in my 40 years of marching with them. And I tell you, this war is not worth one of their lives, let alone 1,400 of them."

A Gallup Poll in mid-January showed that 46 percent of all Americans now want to start removing some or all troops from Iraq. More than 50 percent now consider the decision to invade Iraq a mistake. Yet publicly calling for a pullout, even at a slow pace, remains so controversial that very few of Galloway's fellow columnists or editorial writers have dared embrace the idea.

You can't even write about it without having your patriotism or your manhood threatened. Just before Christmas, when I penned a short, neutral, piece for E&P Online on Al Neuharth's call for a pullout "sooner rather than later" in USA Today , I received hundreds of angry letters, many of them calling him (and sometimes me) a traitor. Some expressed the wish that Neuharth would be tried and executed. The fact that he was a decorated soldier in World War II didn't do him much good.

Galloway tells me he's gotten mostly positive feedback to his column, from soldiers, retired generals, and mothers of 18-year-olds from Texas informing him, "I'm not going to see my son killed in that war." But John Walcott, Knight Ridder's Washington bureau chief, says, "We have gotten some angry e-mails, some of them arguing that any criticism of administration policy undermines the morale and mission of U.S. troops in Iraq."

He had opened his Jan. 5 column this way: "There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there may be only one good way out of the deepening disaster that is Iraq: Hold the elections on Jan. 30, declare victory and begin leaving." His reasoning: there's no way to truly win and no way Americans will be willing to pay the price of a stalemate, particularly since the war was based on "false premises and bogus assumptions."

A stern critic of how the war was fought from the beginning, Galloway last year called for the dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Those who reject withdrawal, he warns, continue to embrace the Vietnam syndrome – maybe the war was a mistake, but now we're there and we have to make the best of it.

"I say, bullshit, we can start to leave now," Galloway declares. "We can argue we overthrew Saddam and freed Iraq. This would give us a fig leaf to cover our nakedness as we get out." He points out that Robert McNamara recognized our cause in Vietnam was futile in 1965 but told President Johnson we could not cut and run. "We only had 1,100 dead in Vietnam then, less than we have now in Iraq," Galloway says, bitterly. "That's just one panel on the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. Instead, we 'stayed the course' and now there are 58,000 names on that wall."

Yet he doesn't expect the press or the public, still reflecting a "9/11 mentality," to suddenly rise up against the war. The United States finally had to change course on Vietnam because of the draft and the high casualty rate. Soldiers in Iraq have not yet rebelled, partly because they are not draftees, and partly because, Galloway explains, "the ordinary soldier sees his friends die and he has to believe it is for something. Even if no one can explain what cause he is fighting for – he will fight and die for the other guy."