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