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Eric Gay, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry gestures while addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars 112th National Conference, Monday, Aug. 29, 2011, in San Antonio. Perry was invited to speak on behalf of Texas before he formally entered the presidential race.

SAN ANTONIO — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry discussed foreign policy Monday, telling the nation's oldest major veterans organization that U.S. forces must be led by American commanders rather than "multilateral debating societies."

Addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars' annual convention in San Antonio, the Texas governor urged the United States to renew its commitment "to taking the fight to the enemy before they strike at home," as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches.

He drew sustained applause from the hundreds of veterans in a cavernous, concrete-floored convention hall when he said no one but U.S. brass should be leading American troops in missions abroad.

"It's not our interest to go it alone. We respect our allies and we must always seek to engage them in military missions. But at the same time, we must be willing to act when it is time to act. We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies, and when our interests are threatened American soldiers should be led by American commanders."

Perry did not elaborate on what kinds of world bodies he was referring to, but the Obama administration has backed NATO-led airstrikes in Libya.

The Libya operation is being run by a Canadian general from a NATO headquarters in Italy, but an American officer is the top NATO commander — and always has been.

The war in Afghanistan is also led by NATO, though overseeing it on a day-to-day basis is a U.S. Marine general who answers to the NATO commander and to a separate U.S. chain of command.

Perry also cautioned that the U.S. should avoid a foreign policy of "military adventurism."

"We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened, and we should always look to build coalitions among the nations," Perry said.

Perry was invited to speak on behalf of the convention's host state before he formally entered the presidential race Aug. 13. He travels to Tulsa, Okla., as part of his campaign later Monday. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is scheduled to address the VFW convention Tuesday.

An Air Force veteran, Perry flew C130s from 1972 until 1977, though he never saw combat. Earlier this month in Iowa, Perry said one of the reasons he's running for president is to ensure "every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States."

Perry avoided such hot-button sentiments Monday, but suggested that the Vietnam War showed what could happen when soldiers are "called to war that our leaders were not prepared to win because they were not prepared to use the full force of the military of the United States."

U.S. forces were fully engaged in Vietnam for years and Perry noted Monday that more than 58,000 Americans were killed, saying it "stands as a stark reminder of the cost of war."

But he also said the conflict proved, "a president should never send our sons and daughters into war without a plan to win and the resources to make that possible."

"It's a dangerous world that we live in today," Perry said. "Our enemies often don't wear uniforms or swear allegiance to a particular flag but instead to an ideology of hatred."

After a speech that took about 10 minutes, Perry shook hands with a line of VIPs and was heading off the stage when he had to be called back to receive a set of ceremonial flags from the VFW.

The convention runs through Thursday.