AFTER A BRAIN-NUMBING racket of a flight, the Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane suddenly banked one wing almost perpendicular to the ground, plummeting hundreds of feet in seconds. The maneuver was designed to dodge surface to air missiles. On this day, mercifully, there were no missiles. Within minutes, the back ramp of the cavernous fuselage opened into the early morning heat and a sign could be made out: "Welcome to Baghdad International Airport."
I was part of a 15-member fact-finding group given full access to U.S. civilian and military leaders on the ground. Most of the group were so-called "TV Generals," or people you might see on the PBS NewsHour or Nightline—political appointees or policy advisers to previous White Houses. I'm a former newspaper and TV network investigative reporter, also a Vietnam veteran, a grunt Marine on DMZ in 1968, when U.S. killed in action topped 300 a week and wounded were in the thousands, myself among them.