VFW, American Legion Back Iraq War

VFW, American Legion Back Iraq War
August 16th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: VFW, American Legion Back Iraq War

VFW, American Legion Back Iraq War
Boston Globe
August 16, 2007 Groups urge patience to let 'surge' work
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation's oldest and most influential veterans' organizations, have broken their relative silence on the merits of the Iraq war, joining some of the staunchest war supporters to lobby Congress and the public to give the military "surge" more time to work.
This month, the American Legion issued an "action alert" to its three million members, declaring "the war in Iraq is not lost." Last week, the commander of the VFW, Gary Kurpius, reported that troops he met on a recent fact-finding trip to Iraq want "a little more time and patience" for the stepped-up US offensive to succeed.
"We owe them that much," he said.
Since the US invasion in 2003, the Legion and the VFW have focused on pushing for greater benefits for returning Iraq war veterans and proper equipment for troops in combat. Having avoided the highly charged debate over the future of the war, advocating for the surge is a sharp departure for the "old guard" veterans' organizations -- and one that some observers contend could influence policy.
A few years ago, the American Legion would say only that the United States must "continue to involve as many nations as possible" in rebuilding Iraq. In July, however, the group's national commander, Paul Morin, derided the Democratic lawmakers' attempt to legislate a withdrawal of US troops as "Operation Turncoat."
Likewise, after saying little about the war, VFW officials in recent months have begun to echo some White House arguments -- including the contention that victory in Iraq is essential to battling terrorism.
Both organizations' stances could boost President Bush and supporters of the widely unpopular war, according to advocates on both sides of the debate.
Established in 1899 by veterans of the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection, the VFW has 2.4 million members and 8,400 posts worldwide. The American Legion, created by an act of Congress in 1919, has 2.7 million members and helped draft the original GI Bill.
Together, both organizations wield enormous influence in Congress, with a vast national network of men and women who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam -- and the potential to wage a powerful, grass-roots campaign.
Both organizations, which the White House has aggressively courted, have recently issued prowar position statements and lobbied skeptical Republicans to back the current Iraq strategy. They are also recruiting members to argue for the surge strategy at town hall meetings, and have made their leaders available to the national media to declare that victory is still within reach.
The VFW, whose national convention begins this week in Kansas City, will feature Bush as its keynote speaker.
Legion and VFW leaders insist they must speak up now because the sharp partisan discourse in Washington -- the result, they say, of well-organized antiwar groups such as MoveOn.org and Code Pink -- has drowned out reports of military progress in Iraq.
"Every time we lose a soldier there, it is tragic," Martin F. Conatser, a candidate for national commander of the American Legion, said recently after visiting Iraq. "But the media dwell on the negative and report very little on the considerable successes. Everything I saw points to the fact that the surge is working."
Others say the groups' vigorous appeal for patience stems from the fact that the bulk of their membership served in Vietnam.
"The perception is that we lost the Vietnam War and that is not true," said Kurpius, who is a Vietnam veteran. "That really bothers me. I don't want that to happen to another generation of veterans . . . so we are a little more vocal."
Other groups who want US troops to stay in Iraq welcome the new support.
"They have been speaking out more strongly than in the past," said Pete Hegseth, an Iraq veteran who heads Vets for Freedom, which supports the surge.
But other veterans' organizations said they are concerned that the VFW and American Legion, which have struggled to attract younger members, are out of step with the new generation.
"They are choosing to point their organizations in a certain direction, but they have failed to capture the new generation of veterans," said Paul Reickhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has been critical of the Bush administration's war strategy. Reickhoff was an Army platoon commander in Iraq.
Unlike the Legion and VFW, Reickhoff said, his group has not taken a position on the war or the surge strategy. He acknowledged that the American Legion and the VFW both have "tremendous influence," but their recent outspokenness "compromises their ability to advocate on behalf of veterans."
Even so, stay-the-course supporters acknowledge that their push to change minds is an uphill battle.
Antiwar groups "are extraordinarily organized and well funded around the country," said Clifford D. May , president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a right-leaning Washington think tank that helps coordinate prowar groups. To succeed, "we need to work very hard to educate both members of Congress and the general public."

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