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President Bush Addresses VFW Convention: Some of What Has Been Said

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President Bush spoke to the VFW convention in Kansas City on August 22, 2007.

Two From President Bush

"The ideals and interests that led America to help the Japanese turn defeat into democracy are the same that lead us to remain engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq."

"Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields."

Several From Others

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "President Bush's attempt to compare the war in Iraq to past military conflicts in East Asia ignores the fundamental difference between the two. Our nation was misled by the Bush administration in an effort to gain support for the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, leading to one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our history."

Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington: "If in fact he is drawing analogies between Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, one wonders what in the world Iraq has to do with it. The Iraq who we attacked in 2003 had no connection to 9/11."

Military analyst Anthony Cordesman: "This was history written by speechwriters without regard to history, and I think most military historians will find it painful ... because in basic historical terms, the president misstated what happened in Vietnam."

Historian Douglas Brinkley: "If we get into a Vietnam argument, the country is divided, but if you are going to try to sell this concept that the blood is on the American people's hands because we left and were weak-kneed in Asia, that is a very tenuous and inane historical argument."

MIT professor John Dower (who was quoted by President Bush without Dower's foreknowledge): "They [war supporters] keep on doing this. They keep on hitting it and hitting it and hitting it and it's always more and more implausible, strange and in a fantasy world. They're desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse. I have always said as a historian that the use of Japan [in arguing for the likelihood of successfully bringing democracy to Iraq] is a misuse of history. Whoever pulled that quote out for him [Bush] is very clever. I'm not being misquoted, but I'm being misrepresented. In the case of Iraq the administration went in there without any of the kind of preparation, thoughtfulness, [or] understanding of the country they were going into [an understanding] that did exist when we went into Japan. [T]here were years of mid-level planning and discussions before they went in [to Japan]. [Before we invaded Japan] they were prepared. They laid out a very clear agenda at an early date."

And From A Letter to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Wednesday, President Bush addressed the largest gathering of veterans in the country - the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Kansas City. Instead of taking the opportunity to discuss the urgent issues facing veterans today, the president offered a history lesson -- and actually compared Iraq to Vietnam. This was an ideal opportunity for the President to show real leadership on the crisis facing veterans' healthcare, but he failed to do so.

Plenty of people are making arguments about the historical accuracy of the President's Iraq-Vietnam comparison. We are more frustrated by what Bush did not say.

We have often admonished the President for not addressing veterans' issues. This speech today represents a new low. After taking credit for increasing the veterans' budget, even after years of under-funding the VA, the President was strangely silent on the real issues facing new veterans, including naming a replacement for Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson who steps down in October, and implementing the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala Commission to fix the nation's military and veterans' hospitals.

What happened to all the outrage and promises after Walter Reed? The words "Dole-Shalala" were not even mentioned in the President's speech. The Dole-Shalala Commission's Report set out six clear recommendations to be implemented (most by the President), and now they are gathering dust on a shelf somewhere while the President and Congress are on vacation for the summer.

So if we're going to talk about the legacy of Vietnam, we need to remember what happens when a nation fails to take care of its veterans. We cannot abandon another generation of combat vets to untreated mental health problems, substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and suicide. As President Bush said today, "History does remind us that there are lessons applicable to our time. And we can learn something from history." Let us learn that the men and women who have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, (and all wars) deserve to be provided for. Not just used as a backdrop for another political photo op.

Paul Rieckhoff
Iraq Veteran
Executive Director
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

This Week's Not Commented on Topic

SENATE VETERANS' COMMITTEE HOLDS FIELD HEARING IN HAWAII AND HEARS OF VETS' WOES -- "My husband describes the struggles we have had with Tripler Army Medical Center as being as painful as sustaining the injury itself." Senator Akaka said he is pushing for more funding and better care for soldiers with traumatic brain injury, the signature injury of the Iraq war. He also wants to extend eligibility for medical benefits for recently released combat veterans from two to five years, because "invisible wounds" such as post-traumatic stress disorder can take time to manifest. Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, Hawaii's adjutant general, noted that traumatic brain injury wasn't even on the "checklist" in health assessments when the Army National Guard 29th Brigade returned from Iraq early last year. "My husband could barely keep his balance, let along figure out where he was supposed to go and who he was supposed to see. Unfortunately, the system he reported to didn't know, either." Senator Daniel Inouye said, "Time, patience, counseling should also be part of the rehabilitation package. Our obligation does not end after the operating table."

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt