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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, President Bush tried to put to rest speculation that his administration is losing confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Kansas, City, the president said, without qualification, that Maliki has his backing. Those remarks follow a much more tepid endorsement of the Iraqi government by Mr. Bush yesterday. The main purpose of the speech to the VFW today was to lay out a case for continuing the mission in Iraq by comparing it to past U.S. wars specifically those fought in Asia.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Kansas City.

DON GONYEA: This speech today wasn't supposed to be about Prime Minister Maliki, but the president felt compelled to say this about the Iraqi leader.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job and I support him. And it's not up to the politicians in Washington, D.C. to say whether he will remain in his position.

GONYEA: Such a statement was made necessary because of something the president said or rather didn't say yesterday at a summit in Canada. He was asked about criticism of Maliki and in answering stopped short of an endorsement, and the White House was not pleased with news reports portraying him as distancing himself from Maliki.

As for the rest of the today's speech, Mr. Bush again turned to history for support.

Pres. BUSH: Many times in the decades that followed World War II, American policy in Asia was dismissed as hopeless and naive. And when we listen to the criticism of the difficult work that our generation is undertaking in the Middle East today, we can hear the echoes of the same arguments made about the Far East years ago.

GONYEA: The president asked if that sounded familiar, then he said he wasn't talking about September 2001, but of Pearl Harbor in World War II. And he said there were criticisms after that war of U.S. efforts to turn a defeated Japan into a close democratic ally.

Pres. BUSH: Many times in the decades that followed World War II, American policy in Asia was dismissed as hopeless and naive. And when we listen to the criticism of the difficult work that our generation is undertaking in the Middle East today, we can hear the echoes of the same arguments made about the Far East years ago.

GONYEA: He also spoke today of how the U.S. honored its commitments in Korea. And he touched on the other big U.S. war in Asia, Vietnam. Now the Vietnam comparison to Iraq is one that this president has always rejected. But today, he focused on the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by looking at the years following the end of the Vietnam War.

Pres. BUSH: Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like boat people, re-education camps, and killing fields.

GONYEA: The president's audience today was welcoming. Even so, opinions about Iraq and his comparison to earlier wars were mixed. Fifty-seven-year-old Jimmy Keithly(ph) of Texas, served in the Air Force in Vietnam. He supports the president.

Mr. JIMMY KEITHLY (Vietnam War Veteran): I truly believe in it myself. I mean, coming from Vietnam like we did, you know, and the way we got through it and we come home. I think once we get over there, we just do the job before we bring anybody back. You know, I mean, we keep them over there and run them - the enemy out, because otherwise we're going to be - end up just like Vietnam.

GONYEA: But Korean War veteran, 72-year-old Manny Almida(ph) from New Jersey says he can't support the arguments the president is making.

Mr. MANNY ALMIDA (Korean War Veteran): The Middle East is not Japan. It's not Korea. It's not Europe. It's a different situation, in my opinion. I hope the boys come home.

GONYEA: And that kind of skepticism coming even from a veteran is what the president has struggled to overcome. Mr. Bush will continue to make his case in advance of the much-anticipated Iraq progress report by General David Petraeus to Congress next month. And the president will deliver another Iraq speech next week to another veterans' group, the American Legion in Nevada.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Kansas City.

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