(CNSNews.com) - Three veterans of the Iraq war on Thursday said lawmakers who support a quick end to the conflict should exercise patience in waiting for political reconciliation to grow out of increased stability in the region.
"We're not going to be able to expect the kind of military progress that we've had to immediately translate into political reconciliation," 1st Lt. Pete Hegseth said Thursday at the American Veterans' Center annual conference in Washington, D.C. "You have to create the space militarily for real political reconciliation and there is no timeline."
Hegseth served in Iraq in 2005 and is now the executive director of Vets for Freedom, a group that supports keeping troops in Iraq. He said the Iraqi people feel "wounds so deep ... that they're not going to be healed because of a six-month surge."
"I think we do need to be patient," Hegseth said, insisting that "you can't put a definitive timeline on it."
Hegseth said the "surge" strategy implemented earlier this year has been successful, calling it "finally the right strategy to be using in that country. We're finally protecting the population at a neighborhood level." He pointed to the month-to-month decrease in military and civilian deaths since the surge was implemented as evidence of its success.
As Cybercast News Service has previously reported, Pentagon statistics from October showed a decline in monthly deaths, continuing a trend that started in May 2007 when the surge was fully implemented.
Hegseth criticized the media for playing up the fact that 2007 has been the deadliest year for American troops while largely ignoring the positive trend in recent months.
Hegseth's colleagues had more harsh opinions of anti-war officials and spokesmen. Staff Sgt. David Bellavia, who fought in the Battle of Fallujah and founded Vets for Freedom upon his return to the United States, said war detractors "have chosen to become partisan rhetoric and divide a nation that doesn't need division."
He specifically targeted vocal war critic Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), saying the congressman's words and actions have been "really shameful and ill-advised" and that Murtha "was a hero, [he] was a patriot, and now he's judged by his last actions."
Bellavia criticized elected officials who seek a timeline for success in Iraq tied to a withdrawal strategy.
"You would never ask that question of Gen. MacArthur," he said, referring to the World War II general who led U.S. forces in the Pacific. "The reason why the 'greatest generation' was great was because the World War II generation understood they had to win their war."
Bellavia, who returned to Iraq as a reporter after his tour of duty was finished, said "there is success now and no one will acknowledge it ... people are still not believing it." He said war detractors are "waiting for a miracle that's already happened."
Sgt. Marco Martinez, who served in Iraq in 2003 and is now a member of Vets for Freedom, said he believes servicemen and women are being misrepresented by a vocal minority who oppose continuing to fight in Iraq.
"I have not met one man when I was in that wanted to come back," Martinez said, referring to suggestions that a large number of troops do not support the mission. He said anti-war soldiers are "idiots [who] signed the contract not knowing what they were getting into."
"You're going to get a couple guys who didn't know what they were doing," Martinez, who received the Navy Cross for valiant service, said. "The media's quick to jump on those guys and make them the mouthpiece of the military and that's wrong."
Hegseth said that "far too often our legislators hear from the CodePinkers and the MoveOn.org people screaming in their face," referring to vocal anti-war groups with well-organized legislative outreach campaigns.
He added that his group seeks to counteract anti-war efforts by organizing meetings between elected officials and soldiers who support the war.
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