Speaking before the Marine Corps League’s annual national convention in Charleston on Thursday morning, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., praised their heroism and urged cutbacks in American military involvement abroad.
“In West Virginia, a majority of our coal miners are veterans. They’re very patriotic. We will continue to fight for this country,” Manchin said.
Manchin became a U.S. senator in November 2010. Appointed to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he remembered Thursday an appearance of Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mullen talked about security threats posed by countries like Libya, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Russia and Syria.
“Then Mullen said, ‘The finances of the United States of America is the biggest threat. We’ve got to get control over our spending.’
Manchin was particularly critical of our government’s policies in Muslim countries.
“Don’t put a Christian nation in a Muslim country and think you are going to change it,” he said. “We took Saddam Hussein down. Did we change Iraq? We took out Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. Did we change Libya?”
“Our invasion of Iraq will be one of the biggest mistakes in our history. It was unprovoked,” he said. “More than 4,000 lives were lost and more than $2 trillion was spent.”
Manchin also criticized the United States’ continuing involvement in Afghanistan. After he said, “We need to get the hell out of Afghanistan,” Manchin received enthusiastic applause from hundreds of Marines in the audience.
Humanitarian efforts to help other countries can be more effective in many circumstances, Manchin said. “Military might should be the last thing that we use. It produces carnage.”
Manchin also vigorously defended efforts to protect our own security. “We cannot occupy other countries. But if you want to do harm to America, we will come after you wherever you are.”
Talking about the recent battles between Russia and the Ukraine, Manchin said Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants to bring the Soviet empire back again. He can’t do it. There is no support in Congress to put boots on the ground in the Ukraine.”
“I don’t believe leaving 10,000 troops [in Afghanistan] is going to do anything. There is great tribal pride in Afghanistan, but not pride in the government,” Manchin said. “We cannot change it. Enough is enough in Afghanistan.”
Manchin said he is “one of the last moderate Democrats in Congress.” He urged continuing government support to those who need it.
“We must help those who can’t help themselves. But we have too many people who are not helping themselves,” Manchin said.
Manchin also said he believes many Veterans Administration hospitals must be fixed.
“More and more veterans are coming back with more problems than ever before.
“Alaska doesn’t have one VA hospital. But Alaska takes care of all its veterans within seven to 10 days.”
Hershel “Woody” Williams, a West Virginian born in Fairmont who is the oldest living recipient of a Medal of Honor, attended Thursday’s event.
“It is always thrilling and an honor to be among Marines,” Williams said during an interview.
“One time in history, you take an oath to defend America and say, ‘You can take my life. But you cannot take away our freedom.’”
Born on Oct. 2, 1923, Williams fought in World War II. Today, he heads the “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, based in Huntington. The foundation says it endeavors to “educate and raise awareness in the American public about the Medal of Honor and what it represents by promoting the values of courage, sacrifice, selfless service, patriotism, education and example.” The group also raises money to help create Gold Star Memorial Monuments and build Medal of Honor Walls of Memory throughout the country.”
Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5164.