As noted elsewhere, we will talk today about Anbar Province, which President Bush, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have all held up as the model of their new strategy in Iraq.
If you glance at a map of Iraq, there's a road that runs west from Baghdad and the Tigris, passes through Fallujah, crosses the Euphrates at Ramadi, the provincial capital, then divides. One branch runs northwest to the Syrian frontier, the other due west, to Jordan.
Sixteen years ago, just after the end of what we now call the First Gulf War, it was my road to freedom.
As some of you may remember, I was among a group of reporters captured by the Iraqi Army just after the fighting ended. The whole story is too long and complicated to relate here - shameless plug, I tell much of the story in a chapter of my book Play by Play - Baseball, Radio and Life in the Last Chance League - but, after a week or so that included some scary moments, we were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad, piled onto a bus, and spent much of the day driving across Anbar, across the border and on into Amman.
It's a desert, but does not match the shifting sands Lawrence of Arabia image. Most of what I saw is flat, hard stony ground that stretches away forever. Unimaginably vast, with just a few villages scattered here and there. I remember seeing a communications tower in Fallujah toppled by a smart bomb, and being amazed that the buildings nearby appeared almost undamaged. In 2004, of course, Fallujah was largely destroyed. Back in 2001, there were dozens of charred trucks littered on the side of the highway - attacked by U.S.A.F. fighter bombers in the belief that they were mobile launchers for the Scud missiles Iraq fired at Israel. It later emerged that none of the mobile Scuds was hit, and that the wreckage I saw was of trucks driven by brave or foolhardy men willing to take the risks of the highway in hopes of great profits in Baghdad.
It all seemed so awful and so sad. And it's hard to fathom how much more awful, and much sadder it is now.