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The president’s words ring hollow to them

By Louis Sahagun at Los Angeles Times

When the president insisted that the days of funding a war “with a blank check are over,” one woman scoffed, “Yeah, right.”

When the commander in chief suggested critics were wrong to compare the military effort in Afghanistan with the Vietnam War, several laughed out loud.

And when Barack Obama said the United States could not afford the cost of two wars, a woman muttered, “You got that right.”

Members of the antiwar advocacy group Military Families Speak Out had already made up their minds on the Afghanistan dilemma by the time President Obama outlined his plan for the 8-year-old war Tuesday.

Gathered around a television in a Long Beach home, members had plenty to say about the president’s plan to deploy thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.

“It’s one thing to expect it, and another thing to actually hear it,” said Marselle Sloane, 57, whose niece is deployed in Iraq. “I’m just extremely disappointed,” she said, shaking her head.

Their emotional responses to the president’s comments — witnessed by about two dozen news reporters — underscored the sense of distrust and skepticism that some feel toward the government.

Among them was Jake Diliberto, 27, a spokesman for a group called Veterans for Rethinking the Afghanistan War and a former Marine who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He described himself as “a right-leaning, pro-life evangelical Christian.”

“But I’m with these people tonight because they must bear the costs of having sons and daughters in this war,” he said. “In World War II, the average combat time was 60 days. Now, it’s 280 days of people taking pot shots at you.”

Under the president’s plan, he added, “More of our men and women in the military are going to suffer as never before — and that wasn’t addressed in this speech.”

Kimberly Harvey of Long Beach was also disillusioned. She said her son, who served in the Army as a petroleum supply specialist, came home from Iraq a year ago “with post-traumatic stress syndrome issues.”

After listening to Obama’s comments, she said: “I feel conflicted. I think Obama inherited a big mess — but it is very hard on families.”

After the speech, the group gathered outside for a candlelight vigil.

“Tonight, we’re here after hearing some sad and powerful news about what’s going to happen to our loved ones,” said Pat Alviso, the mother of a Marine who has served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

“We’re also going to keep a candle lit in front of our homes,” she added, “until every troop comes home.”