Turning of the Tide

Operation Iraqi Freedom had a price but the options were much worse

By Fernando Oaxaca
Published on LatinoLA: May 5, 2003

Turning of the Tide

Luis Baez, 28 year-old sailor on the arriving U.S. aircraft carrier, the Abraham Lincoln, with tears in his eyes as he spots his wife and four children down below on the San Diego dock, is pictured on the May 1 front page of the Los Angeles Times,. In a paper on another coast, the front page of the May 1 New York Times features Abraham Lincoln sailor Lilliana Guzman, joyously laughing on being met by her one year-old daughter, Solmia, and uncle Octaviano Ramirez, on that same glorious Saturday morning in San Diego

Baez and Guzman and 5,600 of their shipmates were also greeted the day before by the President of the United States, George W. Bush. In unprecedented fashion, Mr. Bush had flown 100 or so miles out to sea in a Navy 4-passenger S-3 Viking jet and landed on the 450 foot-long flight deck of the Lincoln, going from about 150 mph to zero in about 1 1/2 seconds, as the arresting gear on the carrier functioned flawlessly.

"Needless endangerment; so many things could have gone wrong!" critics said. "The mother of all photo-ops!? said Brit Hume of Fox News. Professional administration basher and mother of all cynics, Newsweek?s Eleanor Clift, on the "McLaughlin Group" PBS show, adamantly decried the President?s arrival mode on the carrier as pure PR and followed this with a stinging rehash of why the whole Iraq thing was probably going to fail in its total mission including democratization. She also threw in a stinger along the lines of "Where are the weapons of mass destruction that Bush used as an excuse to invade Iraq?"

For those who had the pleasure of seeing the President address the Abraham Lincoln crew at sea, it was indeed a sight to behold. With the gigantic radar tower and control deck looming several stories behind him, President Bush spoke to thousands of his Navy men and women, crowded on the flight deck and below, as the setting sun illuminated his face and the gorgeous Pacific ocean and blue sky background, beyond his podium, seemed to be part of a Hollywood-like diorama.

But, as he spoke, our President almost cried. As he began his address, telling the sailors and pilots and officers to please sit down, they instead began anew a roaring of cheers and whistles that went on and on?.apparently causing a crack in his voice and a discernable tearing of the eyes. This was a wildly and genuinely appreciative sea-borne military, spontaneously and without a thought of who might be watching, showing their love and respect for their commander-in-chief; an unplanned event on national television.

Near the end of his 22 minute address, the President?s voice broke again and obvious emotion altered his face when he spoke about the other service comrades-in-arms of these sailors?..whose families would not have a homecoming like theirs. "Their final act on this earth was to fight a great evil, and bring liberty to others," Mr. Bush said.

Beyond the joy of homecoming, beyond the satisfaction of being praised for difficult tasks well done, the crew of the Abraham Lincoln heard, and yes, experienced another message from the President. As he declared the largest part of Operation Iraqi Freedom as perhaps finished, Mr. Bush then said, "The war on terror is not over, yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide."

And there it was, the message for all of us, " ?. we have seen the turning of the tide." It must be true for millions of Americans as it is for me; the overturning of Saddam Hussein represents a momentous change in the world and a tremendous event for America. After the worries and uncertainty and vague feelings of impending further violation felt by the United States since September 11, 2001, the arrival of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln into San Diego harbor is symbolic of a pause, a change, of an almost palpable turning point in the American future in this century.

A murky economy still besets us; many Americans are out of work, and there are still areas of poverty in our land. And, importantly, many of our brave troops are not yet out of danger?s way. But somehow many of us feel much better. The future "feels" much better. There is still strife in the Gaza Strip; Tel Aviv is not serene. Remnants of Al Qaeda and similar groups survive. And yes, Damascus and Tehran and Pyonyang are still potential sources of trouble for all of us (though they may have all blinked in the last few days). And there are some pissed-off Europeans who will still nip and yap at our heels; perhaps waiting till much later to come around......when it's safe.

But what this President has shown America and the world is that we are willing to talk and delay....but with finite limits on time and risk. Beyond that breaking point, we can and will act in strong and violent and deadly fashion if we or our friends might be or are being hurt or wronged. But, irony of ironies, now we can also pursue such action while minimizing damage or casualties among the innocent. And by communicating our intentions in advance, we've shown that we can occupy another people?s terriitory, for a limited while, and yet have been cheered on our arrival and asked by those on the streets for chewing gum and happened in another war of liberation of six decades ago.

These realities frustrate Mr. Bush?s critics and even anger those who were so wrong about the "inadequate" plans for and the "dire" consequences of disarming Saddam Hussein. There are still foreign policy elites, here and abroad, whose negative analysis of past or planned events continues to pour out, created in the same minds that felt impending disaster when George W. Bush did not pass their "SAT?s," of remembering foreign heads of state with difficult names ?.before his election.

Operation Iraqi Freedom had a price?.in American and Coalition lives and wounds and many more Iraqi deaths, military and civilian and perhaps in billions of dollars and gazillions of dinars?..but the options looked at by Bush & Co. were much worse. Whether the "loyal opposition" will ever concede that, or confide that the operation was worth doing, is as unlikely as the finding of opponents of our Afghanistan effort who now feel "it was worth it."

But hundreds of millions of Americans can rest a bit more easily tonight and there is probably near-unanimous agreement among the folks who made it happen?.that it was worth it! And for sure, the thousands of Latinos, blacks, Filipinos, Asian-Americans and "white" Americans who manned their posts on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln for 100,000 miles of nuke-powered "steaming" and ten long months of duty?..they all probably feel it was worth it!

And expressed or not, as they come home to rest, they deserve all America's gratitude. Thanks to them and their stubbornly focused and honestly gutsy commander-in-chief, the tide has really turned.

About Fernando Oaxaca:
Mr. Oaxaca can be reached at

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