VANCOUVER -- Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard presided over an anti-war rally Thursday night that sometimes took on the trappings of a spiritual revival.
No one shouted "amen," but Gard's criticisms of U.S. Rep. Brian Baird's support for President Bush's troop increase in Iraq yielded several "yeahs." And Gard's condemnation of the president drew a standing ovation.
Gard appeared in the Fort Vancouver High School auditorium where Baird, D-Wash., faced about 550 anti-war activists three weeks ago.
Baird encountered an audience angry that he had reversed course on his vote in 2002 to oppose authorizing the president to invade Iraq. After a fact-finding trip to Iraq and the Middle East in August, Baird supported an extended stay for troops in Iraq and praised the leadership there of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Since then, Baird has been pummeled nationally for his stance, particularly by MoveOn.org, which rallied its members to attend Thursday's event.
About 260 people came to hear Gard, who served as an assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War. Also speaking was former U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews, a Maine Democrat who once served on the House Armed Services Committee.
"Your district, like it or not, is in the national spotlight," said Andrews, national director of Win Without War, which co-sponsored the event with MoveOn.org. "You have a huge responsibility to pay attention to this issue."
Gard accused the U.S. military, in the past year, of altering its manner of reporting combat statistics to skew a perception of success for the troop increase.
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"Even with the surge, we simply don't have enough troops to cover a limited number of sectors" in Baghdad, Gard said.
He cited several polls showing that Iraqis don't want U.S. troops in their country and questioning how effective the extra troops are.
Gard wrote an open letter to Baird that appeared in full-page ads Wednesday in The Columbian in Vancouver and The Olympian, the two largest newspapers in Baird's 3rd Congressional District.
Earlier Thursday, Baird disputed any comparison to Vietnam, which Gard drew in his published letter.
"We have a very unique situation and a very different situation," in Iraq, Baird said. "It confuses rather than clarifies the situation."
The differences between Vietnam and Iraq, he said, include the cultures, the history of U.S. involvement in the conflicts, and "an era of satellite television. . . . There are many, many other factors."
Baird added that he did not hear from Gard before Thursday's event.
"He's not obliged to," Baird said, "but it might have been nice."
© 2007 Oregon Live LLC