Obama vows to re­build mil­i­tary; tells VFW he would honor ‘sa­cred trust’

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Christina Bellantoni

Sen. Barack Obama on Aug. 21 told a vet­er­ans group that he would re­build the mil­i­tary as pres­i­dent and gave a harsh re­buke to the Iraqi gov­ern­ment.

The Illi­nois Demo­crat, speak­ing to the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars (VFW) con­ven­tion in Kansas City, Mo., said the na­tion hasn’t given troops enough sup­port abroad or once they re­turn home.

“We en­ter into a sa­cred trust with our vet­er­ans from the mo­ment they put on that uni­form,” Mr. Obama said, pledg­ing that he would honor that trust.

For­mer Sen. Fred Thompson, a Ten­nessee Repub­li­can who is con­sid­er­ing a pres­i­den­tial bid, told the VFW that the mil­i­tary is “stretched too thin,” but he re­jected calls for with­drawal from Iraq.

“Some peo­ple [. . . ] think if we can pull out of Iraq, our prob­lems will be over,” he said. “Suc­cess won’t solve all our prob­lems but fail­ure will make our prob­lems much, much greater.”

Mr. Obama’s speech made lit­tle dis­tinc­tion from re­marks a day ear­lier by his pri­mary ri­val, Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton of New York.

“There are no good op­tions,” Mr. Obama said, “no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion in Iraq.”

“No mil­i­tary surge can suc­ceed with­out po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and a surge of diplo­macy in Iraq and the re­gion,” he said. “Iraq’s lead­ers are not rec­on­cil­ing. They are not achiev­ing po­lit­i­cal bench­marks. The only thing they seem to have agreed on is to take a vacation.”

Mrs. Clin­ton said that the United States has “some very hard de­ci­sions to make” in Iraq.

“I’m not sure there are any good op­tions,” she said. “I think the best way of honor­ing [the troops’] ser­vice is by be­gin­ning to bring them home and mak­ing sure that when they come home that we have ev­ery­thing ready for them.”

Mrs. Clin­ton told the VFW that the surge of troops into Iraq this spring is work­ing but that the United States is “years too late” in chang­ing strate­gies.

“I do not think the Iraqis are ready to do what they have to do for them­selves yet,” she said. “I think it is un­ac­cept­able for our troops to be caught in the cross­fire of a sec­tar­ian civil war while the Iraqi gov­ern­ment is on vacation.”

For­mer Sen. John Ed­wards, North Carolina Demo­crat, said Mrs. Clin­ton is try­ing to “have it both ways.”

“You can­not be for the pres­i­dent’s strat­egy in Iraq but against the war,” he said. “Sug­gest­ing that the surge is work­ing com­pletely mis­rep­re­sents the facts about Iraq. By cherry-pick­ing one in­stance to val­i­date a failed Bush strat­egy, it risks un­der­min­ing the ef­fort in the Congress to end this war.”

Repub­li­can can­di­date Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, a dec­o­rated Viet­nam vet­eran, told the VFW on Aug. 20 that “our de­feat in Iraq would be cat­a­strophic” for both Iraq and the U.S.

The White House hope­fuls struck sim­i­lar themes on vet­er­ans care and promised im­prove­ments to Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

Mr. Obama car­ried the “sa­cred trust” theme through­out his speech, say­ing he would de­ploy troops on “pre­dictable ro­ta­tions,” and only when they are trained and ready, and would work to en­sure no vet­er­ans be­come home­less.

Mrs. Clin­ton said she would “sum­mon the re­sources and will of this na­tion to give our vet­er­ans the gold-stan­dard health care, earned ben­e­fits and sup­port they de­serve.”

The VFW does not make pres­i­den­tial en­dorse­ments, but its mem­bers are ac­tive vot­ers.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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