During a recent interview with the Pentagon Channel, President George W. Bush said two of his greatest days as Commander-in-Chief were when Iraqis voted for the first time and when American military troops captured former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Those were indeed great days, but as a military officer who has served this President during a time of war, I would offer a couple more.
First on my list would be Thanksgiving, 2003. I was serving as a Battalion Operations Officer just outside Fallujah then. Operations in Iraq had started to get really nasty toward the end of the summer, and by Thanksgiving we were coming to the realization that we were up against a full-blown insurgency that was going to be a nasty fight. Our battalion had lost our executive officer to an IED in August and morale was hurting. When President Bush unexpectedly showed up in Baghdad, when the situation was getting
worse and not better, it was nothing short of uplifting. He showed poise and leadership and promised “We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.” It was what needed at the time, and it came from the person we needed it from the most.
Second on my personal list would be the announcement of the “surge” on January 10, 2007. Recall for a moment that 2006 was a terrible year for the United States’ mission in Iraq. American and Iraqi casualties were skyrocketing, sectarian violence was out of control, and virtually everyone expected the United States to cut its losses and withdraw from Iraq in defeat. I remember thinking prior to the President’s announcement that we were failing, and I couldn’t believe that I was part of an American Army that was about to lose a war. Even after the “surge” was announced, I harbored considerable doubts. Sure, if you put enough American forces anywhere in the world, they can pacify the place. But I expected any gains we made to be temporary at best, and I lamented the fact that many good people were about to die. I had lost my way, but the President had not. His leadership was bold and decisive, and those who doubted him, myself included, were thankfully proven wrong.
The President told the interviewer that when he leaves office, being Commander-in-Chief will be what he misses most. Well, Mr. President, this officer and combat veteran will miss you too.