This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Dec. 28, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: With daily attacks from terrorists and insurgents, the war in Iraq looks pretty bad from afar. But how does it look to the soldiers who serve and fight there?
Karl Blanke was an infantry platoon commander in the Marines who served two stints in Iraq. And he joins us now to talk about a soldier’s view.
Karl, thanks for joining us.
KARL BLANKE, FMR. U.S. MARINE LIEUTENANT: Happy to be here.
ANGLE: Let me ask you first, when you came home from your two tours, and I think you got back from the last one earlier this year, what surprised you most about what people here at home thought about the war?
BLANKE: I think what surprised me the most, Jim, was the lack of seeing the success, the progress that’s being made every day in Iraq. The success in terms of getting the Iraqi people to start to take ownership of local government, the infrastructure improvements, things like that that are really going to make the long-term success in Iraq feasible.
We just don’t see those things in the media. We see the negative. We see the terrorist attacks. But outside of that, I was pretty disappointed to see that we’re not seeing the other side of the issues.
ANGLE: Well, obviously the attacks by insurgents and terrorists make news here at home. One would expect that. But you’re saying that’s only part of the picture.
BLANKE: Absolutely. I understand that the media is going to cover, you know, what’s sensational. But if we’re actually going to have unbiased reporting by the media, we need to see the successes as well as the struggles. And I guess that was my big concern, was we’re just not seeing an even coverage of what’s going on in Iraq. We’re not seeing a true picture of the Iraqi people’s response and their appreciation of what’s going on and what our soldiers, Marines, sailors are doing in Iraq.
ANGLE: What is the response of the Iraqi people? We occasionally see some video of soldiers interacting with Iraqis. It looks, what we see, as fairly friendly, with the exception, of course, of the attacks by insurgents. So there’s a very stark difference here. What kind of relations did you have with Iraqis during your two tours there?
BLANKE: I’ll give you a couple of examples. First of all, when we — during the initial push into Baghdad, the initial push north, immediate response from the Iraqi people was extremely positive. As we were engaged in firefights, interacting with special Republican Guard units, we would actually have people line the streets cheering, as we were going in. Which was actually a problem, because, you know, we happened to make sure that they were not injured in the firefight. But their response was just incredible.
ANGLE: People lining the roads cheering as you charge forward?
BLANKE: Absolutely. It was incredible. We never would have — they just had complete trust that we would not target them, would not harm them in any way. And they literally were out there with their children watching and were so excited to see the special Republican Guard and Baathist units be destroyed by U.S. forces.
When we came back the second time, it was now different. We heard the things in the media, you know, things are maybe not as good in Iraq as the initial response was.
ANGLE: And now we’re mid occupation at this point?
BLANKE: Exactly. And this is coming back the spring of this year. And our battalion was sent back to Sunni Triangle, just outside of Fallujah. And we really — you know, had a lot of negative reports through the media what we were seeing.
But again, as I interacted with the people on a daily basis on patrols, extremely appreciative of everything we had done. Great example is, as one night we were out on patrol, we had another car crossing, stopped. And we just got out to talk to the gentleman. And they came up to me and said thank you, thank you, thank you. That’s all they could say.
What they did was then they showed me, they pulled up their shirts, pulled up their trouser legs, and showed me all the scars where they’ve been tortured by Uday and Qusay and went on to quite an extensive length about the horrors that they had faced. And that, you know, that’s not one isolated incident. We had a whole series of those types of incidents.
ANGLE: Now, that was after the whole controversy about Abu Ghraib?
BLANKE: That’s absolutely right, even right there. And Fallujah is not very far from Abu Ghraib at all, very current in Iraqi events at the time. People still said, despite Abu Ghraib, thank you still for what you’re doing. It’s making a huge difference in our lives.
ANGLE: Now, the sense we sometimes get here, and as you were saying, obviously, the attacks by the insurgents do make news here. But the sense we sometimes get is that the occupation and the effort to build a new Iraq is not going well. What is your sense? What was your sense when you were on the ground?
BLANKE: My sense is that it’s a difficult process. And a lot of people want to draw correlations to Vietnam. I think that’s not the right correlation. I think the better example is going back to World War II. We had a different media then. We didn’t have the 24-hour news coverage. And we had a different culture, a cultural mindset within the media.
But I think the rebuilding that we’re doing in Iraq is much more similar to what happened in Germany and Japan afterward. We had a similar situation. We had radical extremists still loyal to an old regime that we had removed that actively attacked troops, were able to inflict casualties on us. But by being steadfast, by holding the line and staying true to their goal, U.S. succeeded. We just didn’t see it in the media the way we do today.
ANGLE: Well, in fact, media reports from the time, we pulled up an old "Life" magazine report that, in fact, suggest that we’re losing the peace in Europe in the post-war era. Now, we know 50 some odd years later that that’s simply not true. But at the time, it didn’t look very good. And I suspect that’s the way it looks to a lot of people now in Iraq.
BLANKE: Exactly. And I think that article really highlights you’re going to have a lot of problems. After a major war, you collapsed a government. It’s going to take some time and some hard work to rebuild a government. You can’t expect results overnight.
ANGLE: Now, when the U.S. went into Iraq, we were expecting to find lots of weapons of mass destruction. That didn’t turn out to be the case. Did that change your sense of what your mission in Iraq was?
BLANKE: I think for us, as we interacted with the Iraqi people and they started to tell us about the atrocities, the torture examples that you gave you earlier, the mass graves that have been found, literally thousands of people, some of whom were buried alive. Things like that made it very clear to us that there was a human rights dilemma. I mean just a horrible situation there that the world was not aware of.
There were some human rights organizations that were maybe talking about it, but it was not on the world’s front stage. And for example, our battalion, as we went into the outskirts of Baghdad, before we pushed into Baghdad, we found a prison of nothing but children, all 10, 12, 14-year-old children that were in prison as a way of manipulating their parents for political goals of Saddam.
ANGLE: Now as you look at things, and it’s obviously very difficult there, what is your sense of the prospects for success?
BLANKE: I think the prospects are good. And I know that flies in the face of everything we see in the media today. But I think what people need to understand is it’s going to take time. The Iraqi people have been under the most incredible repression for 30 years. It’s going to take time for them to take ownership, to feel like they can make a difference.
And I think once they do that, the election obviously this month, excuse me, next month, huge step in the right direction, but it’s just going to take time for them to understand that they really do have the power to make a difference in their country.
ANGLE: Karl Blanke, thanks very much for joining us. A former first lieutenant in the Marines, now going to law school.
BLANKE: Thanks, Jim.
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