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Recent U.S. Veterans Are Coming To Consensus On Iran And Iraq — Across Party Lines

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the killing of Iran's top general in Iraq last week brings new urgency to a familiar debate. Is it time for America to end two decades of war? NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: It's a less and less partisan debate, at least among vets - so much that two diametrically opposed veterans lobby groups have formed a coalition on the issue of ending these wars and avoiding new ones. Jon Soltz is an Iraq vet from the liberal group VoteVets.

JON SOLTZ: Neither votevets.org or, you know, our conservative counterpart in this coalition, Concerned Veterans - we're not anti-war organizations. It doesn't mean that we just fight wars all over the world forever, these endless entanglements that cost trillions of dollars and thousands of lives, because they're not making us safer.

LAWRENCE: Nate Anderson leads Concerned Veterans for America, way over on the conservative side.

NATE ANDERSON: If anything is worth putting aside differences and coming together on, it's to save lives. It's to avoid unnecessary conflict.

LAWRENCE: That consensus is growing among the 3 million Americans who've served in these current wars. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America does an annual survey. Executive director Jeremy Butler says he sees a clear trend.

JEREMY BUTLER: The longer they go on - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - the views are that they're becoming less and less thought of as worth it.

LAWRENCE: Polls last year showed that over 60% of Iraq and Afghanistan vets now say the wars were not worth fighting. When it comes to Iran and the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, Butler says he hasn't polled yet, but his membership wants more information about why the strike was done now and whether it's part of a larger strategy in the Middle East.

BUTLER: I mean, this isn't a partisan statement. I think we've had a very hard time as a country explaining our strategy, understanding our strategy, discussing our strategy and, really, having a broad consensus as to why we're there and what our intentions are.

LAWRENCE: The liberal and conservative vets coalition agree. Here's Jon Soltz, the liberal Iraq vet.

SOLTZ: We heard that we turned the corner in Iraq 15 years ago. Bin Laden's been dead for almost 10 years. What exactly are we accomplishing? If you've been on the hamster wheel, you might perhaps feel differently about large-scale deployments.

LAWRENCE: And here's Nate Anderson, the conservative former Green Beret.

ANDERSON: In Fort Bragg right now, as elements of the 82nd Airborne deploy, a lot of these men and women - you know, they're going to miss good days at home. They're going to miss tough days at home. And that's the best-case scenario because if we continue down this path of escalation with Iran...

LAWRENCE: That could mean some of them not coming home at all, he says. There's still a range of opinion among vets. Some who were wounded or lost friends to Iranian bombs in Iraq see the killing of Soleimani as simple justice. Others see that even without a clear strategy, Iraq is a clear strategic interest. Doug Ollivant is a retired colonel who still returns to Iraq regularly. He understands wanting to pull out.

DOUG OLLIVANT: But then you need to start going through the, OK, so then what? American withdrawal from the country will just be backfilled by Iran and possibly Russia as well, and so there are real reasons that it makes sense to keep a U.S. presence there.

LAWRENCE: He says if the Iraqi government tells the U.S. to leave, they must. But he hopes for both countries' sakes, they can find a way to stay on.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICROPHONES' "INSTRUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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