Bush, Cleland offer clashing views on Iraq war
Ex-senator, Vietnam vet says do it right or get out
President Bush on Saturday said the United States is fighting “terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world,” and a former U.S. senator who fought in the Vietnam War denounced the Iraq war effort, saying “its plan for victory is not working.”
Bush delivered his remarks in his weekly radio address and former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia spoke in the weekly Democratic radio response.
Their words reflect the different priorities of Americans concerning the war in Iraq, which the United States launched more than two years ago, versus the conflict in Afghanistan, which began a month after al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.
The president, noting that the four-year anniversary of 9/11 is approaching, said “since that day, we have taken the fight to the enemy,” saying the country has upended “terror cells and their financial support networks” and have taken insurgents on “in foreign lands before they can attack us here at home.”
“Our troops know that they’re fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to protect their fellow Americans from a savage enemy.
“They know that if we do not confront these evil men abroad, we will have to face them one day in our own cities and streets, and they know that the safety and security of every American is at stake in this war, and they know we will prevail,” Bush said.
Cleland, who came home from Vietnam a triple amputee, said that the U.S. military must give the troops what they need to win or get out of Iraq.
“I learned in Vietnam that the best way to support our troops is to either give them the forces and equipment needed to win or bring them home so we can care for those who have borne the battle,” he said. Critics say the administration has not properly equipped troops and underestimated the number that would be necessary to fight.
Next week, Bush said, he will visit troops in Idaho and veterans in Utah and thank them for their service.
The troops include National Guard members as well as the “men and women of the Mountain Home Air Force Base who played a leading role in the air campaign in Afghanistan after the September the 11th attacks.”
He said he will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Salt Lake City.
At the end of August, he said, he said, he will be in San Diego “to commemorate the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, the day that ended World War II.”
He said the tasks that “troops have given their lives for” must be completed.
“Like previous wars we have waged to protect our freedom, the war on terror requires great sacrifice from Americans. By their courage and sacrifices, today’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines are taking their rightful place among the heroes of history, and the American people are thankful and proud.”
Cleland: ‘Miscalculations’ rampant
“The “administration needs to step up the plate,” Cleland said. “It’s time to face the truth. It’s time for a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy to get out.”
He said the administration miscalculated the number of troops needed to fight, saying “we don’t have the forces there to make it secure.”
Bush, he said, sloughed off the advice the “top military brass who said that at least 500,000 troops were needed to secure Iraq. The president committed only one-fifth of that force to the war.”
Currently, Cleland said, the military, including the National Guard and Reserves, is struggling because of this. Service members are returning for more tours and the casualties are growing, with almost 2,000 service members dead and more than 15,000 wounded, he said.
“The toll on the service men and women in a war where a distinct majority of the casualties are due to explosive devices is especially devastating,” Cleland said, who noted that “I’ve seen the toll that war can take on our troops and on limbs on that battlefield.”
In contrast, he made a common argument critics of Bush have raised in questioning the timing of the war. “Osama bin Laden and his terrorist cadre who did attack our country on September 11, 2001 are still on the loose,” which was Cleland’s one reference to the Afghan conflict.
Another miscalculation Bush made was that he declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, 2003, Cleland said.
“This judgment was wrong. Major combat is not over. The cost has been extremely bloody for this nation.”
He also criticized the administration’s budget for veterans, arguing that “at least $3.5 billion more is needed. We should be expanding V.A. healthcare — especially counseling for veterans and their families dealing with the emotional aftermath of war.”