Bush speaks to vets supportive of war policy

Thursday, August 23, 2007
President Bush, right, shakes hands with the Commander in Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Gary Kurpius, after giving a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convertion on Wednesday, August 22, 2007, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Top Missouri politicians and former soldiers already supported keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, giving President Bush a friendly audience when he defended his war policies to a national veterans convention.

About 4,000 Veterans of Foreign Wars members heard Bush predict that if U.S. troops stay, they'll help build a strong democracy. They applauded when he said withdrawing from Iraq would be "devastating." Many stood and cheered when he promised to give the troops and their commanders "everything they need to succeed."

"I totally agree with the argument that he laid out. I think it's pretty obvious," said Jesse Jones, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran from Fulton, Mo., and former state VFW commander. "I don't see how a person could come to any other conclusions."

Bush received the warmest welcome -- and spoke to the largest crowd -- of any political figure addressing the VFW's annual convention this week. Some previous speakers, including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, had emphasized their belief that U.S.-led coalition forces are making progress in quelling violence and restoring stability.

Warm reception

Though polls have suggested the war is unpopular, there wasn't much evidence of opposition during the convention. On Wednesday, Kim Anderson, a Prairie Village, Kan., artist, and her husband stood on a street corner outside the hall to protest Bush's visit.

She held a sign that said, "Take the 'T' out of treason" and "Impeach." She called the war illegal and said she was more worried about Bush than terrorists because the president's administration has trampled on civil liberties. She said only from 20 percent to 30 percent of Americans back Bush and, "The rest of us know what is going on."

But inside the hall, Gov. Matt Blunt, in welcoming the VFW, described the war in Iraq as a fight against totalitarianism. The Navy veteran, a Republican, added, "Radical Islam is a real threat to our existence."

Sen. Kit Bond, another Republican, criticized what he called the "retreat and defeat crowd" in Congress.

"They're accomplishing their mission," he said of U.S. troops. "Don't screw it up with politics."

Some VFW members blamed opposition to the war on news coverage, saying it hasn't focused enough on the soldiers' accomplishments.

"I think you listen to the young troopers over there telling you the job is getting done and the surge is working -- that's who need to listen to," said Olin Parks, of Caruthersville, who served in the Army's armored cavalry in Vietnam and is district VFW commander for Southeast Missouri. "They know what's going on. They live it every day."

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