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You may notice that posting is a bit light around Draft Zinni! these days. Well, that's because I'm spending a lot of my time over at BLUE FORCE, a new community blog on progressive national security interests and Security Democrats.
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Democratic Veterans Running For Office

Draft Zinni! is dedicated to recruiting, supporting, and highlighting National Security personnel who run for office as Democrats. If you know of any candidates who are not listed on the left-hand sidebar, please leave them in the comments.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's New Promo Video

I've talked a lot about IAVA on this site before, but here's what I said over at my youth voting blog, Future Majority, about them, in response to a question of what groups are doing effective online/offline outreach and organizing:

I first heard of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) when they started blogging at MFA (they were known as Operation Truth back then). I was extremely excited to find a military organization reaching out to young people, and I have been beyond impressed at the amazing work that Paul Rieckhoff and his crew (who are all over the nation) do-- from advocating for the safety of our troops, to reaching out to Vets with PTSD and advocating on their behalf, to starting a PAC (which has since been spun off) which supports vets of OEF and OIF who run for office. The thing that impressed me the most about IAVA was Paul's extremely strong managerial skills, and his unreal ability to connect people and make things happen (I have my own selfish reasons for enjoying Paul's connecting skills- my current job- but if you want to see just how amazing IAVA is then you really need to see When I Came Home, which is about a homeless Iraq vet- Harold Noel- in NYC, who IAVA helps to get housing). I also highly suggest watching their new promo video. Anyway, I think that Paul has not only an org that can reach out to two communities that Democrats need to reach very, very badly- young people and the military (many of who are in their youth)- but he has the no-nonsense, results oriented, and battle tested managerial skills that the leaders of almost every other left wing groups lack (and I believe they could learn from Paul). IAVA, like Cosmopolity, also does a lot of work with relatively little funding, but I am sure that both of these groups would be able to have even larger, and longer-lasting, effects if they were given the resources to expand.

As I noted in the quoted passage, IAVA recently came out with a new promotional video. Give it a look and, if you're looking for a deserving organization doing some really important and impressive work, throw a few bucks their way. Also, check out my review of Paul Rieckhoff's book here.

Support Democratic Veterans for a Secure America (DSVA)!

Six of the "Fighting Dems," including three of my long-time favorites--Pat Murphy, Chris Carney and Eric Massa--have pulled together to create an organization called Democratic Veterans for a Secure America. They sent out an e-mail today announcing their first event, which will feature Gen. Wesley Clark and will take place out on the far end of Long Island (a good place for a summer fundraiser!). If you're out in the Hamptons (or surrounding areas) and you want to meet some of the great Fighting Dem candidates who are working their asses off to help change the direction of this nation, please consider going to this event!

Here's the info on the event:

SIX VETERANS RUNNING FOR CONGRESS

Chris Carney: PA 10 | Ken Lucas: KY 4 | Eric Massa: NY 29
Patrick Murphy: PA 8
| Tim Walz: MN 1 | Mike Weaver: KY 2

Sunday, August 13, 2006

5:00 p.m. — Host Committee Reception
(Join the Host Committee:minimum contribution $500)

6:00 p.m. — Program featuring General Wesley Clark,
                         Congressman Tim Bishop, the six candidates
                         and other special guests.

                    (Tickets: $100
| $50 for Veterans, Students, Seniors)

American Legion Hall
Route 27 and Abraham's Path
Amagansett, NY

We Can Change Our Nation

Fifteen seats are needed for Democrats to take back the House of Representatives. Victories by the six DVSA veterans, all of whom are making strong runs for Congress against incumbent Republicans, will be a big step toward that goal. Please join us in giving our vets your full support.

Tomorrow in NYC: Hear Paul Rieckhoff Discuss His New Book

I got the following from IAVA today. If you've never met Paul Rieckhoff in person, you don't know what you're missing. If you're in the NYC area tomorrow, do yourself a favor and go check this out. You can find my review of Paul's book here.

...........................

You may have seen IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff last week on "Hannity and Colmes" or "Hardball with Chris Matthews." Now you can hear from him in person.

Tomorrow in NYC, Paul Rieckhoff will be joined by Patrick Healy, the chief political reporter for the Metro Section of the New York Times, for a conversation about the war and Paul's new memoir, Chasing Ghosts. The discussion will be followed by a Q+A session and book signing.

Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington
Tuesday, June 27
7pm
Housing Works Bookstore and Café
126 Crosby St (between Houston and Prince)

Chasing Ghosts is not just another Soldier's memoir of war. Rieckhoff vividly describes life as an infantry platoon leader in Iraq, and explains how policy affects people.

Vietnam Veteran and former Senator Max Cleland has called Chasing Ghosts, "full of courage, GI talk, humor and pure patriotism." And Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, has this to say:

"Chasing Ghosts gives us the best reporting to come out of the Iraq War-possibly the best reporting to emerge from any war. No book since Catch-22 has depicted this gruesome subject so compellingly."

But you can decide for yourself. Check out a sample chapter here, and then come to the reading and learn more.

Hope to see you there.

Sincerely,

The IAVA Team

How Important Is Zarqawi's Death?

I was out at Yearly Kos when the announcement of Zarqawi's death was made, and I didn't really get a chance to take a look at the news surrounding this event. But I fully expected to find the Bush Sycophant-Groupies to tout this as yet another corner turned or mission accomplished (in the broad, banner behind the President, sense of the term). But regardless of what the lapdogs have to say, I wonder how important his death is to our efforts in Iraq. On the one hand it's always nice to hear about a sociopath/fatalist religious-fanatic right-winger bite the dust, and I'm sure that his death will have more than a morale boosting effect on our efforts in Iraq. But I really doubt it will have very far reaching effects. After all, as Dave Schuler of the Glittering Eye points out, The Iraqi insurgency has no Central Command, which obviously means that the death of one person, no matter what their position within the various aspects of the insurgency is, is only so important. But, again, how important?

King Daddy has some thoughts:

While encouraging, the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is not momentous. Unlike Abimael Guzman, the captured Sendero Luminoso leader, Zarqawi was not the leader of a unified insurgency. Instead, he was one insurgent leader among many. Instead, Zarqawi's death will have the same relative effect as the apprehension of Saddam Hussein: the insurgency will continue. This is not an action movie, in which the chief villain's climactic death marks the end of his criminal enterprise. This is war.

He also bemoans media coverage of this event:

Right after the announcement of Zarqawi's death, I wrote this post about the strategic insignificance of this event. Watching the news, you would have received the opposite impression. That's a good measure of how useless the information that the "mainstream media" (MSM) provides about Iraq really is.

Christopher Allbritton, of Back to Iraq, has this to say on Time Online:

Zarqawi's killing is a major step forward in America's fight in Iraq, but it will not end the insurgency, which has numerous factions, not all of whom are loyal to Zarqawi — obviously, since someone tipped off the Americans. And it won't end the sectarian violence, because Shi'ite death squads are still operating out of the Interior ministry and other police forces and many Sunni insurgents are not foreign jihadis aligned with Zarqawi. These fighters have their own beef with Maliki's mainly Shi'ite government, which they see as a tool of Iran.

And while Zarqawi wasn't quite the all-powerful bogeyman the Americans made him out to be several times during the war, he brought in money and inspired recruits. Zarqawi was a tremendously charismatic leader of the foreign jihadis who, while small in number, had an outsize influence on the Iraqi insurgency, able to lure former Ba'athists and local Islamists into their camp. His death will certainly put a crimp in the jihad's money and manpower pipeline into Iraq.

More important, Zarqawi's death is a sign that the American plans to bring the Sunnis into the political process may have finally borne fruit, that the political deal in Baghdad between the Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis may yet hold — if the Shi'ites do their part.

Bobby Bran, who I often disagree with, but whose opinion I hold in pretty high regard, picks up on this last point:

...of far greater interest than Zarqawi's death are the causes that may have led to his death. According to a USA Today article,

[Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Al-Maliki said the airstrike was the result of intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by residents in the area, and U.S. forces acted on the information. [bold added for emphasis]

Review of “Chasing Ghosts: Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington” by Paul Rieckhoff

I first heard of Paul Rieckhoff and his Veterans organization (at the time called Operation Truth, now known as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA) in February of 2005 when OpTruth started cross-posting stories of Iraq and Afghanistan vets on Music for America’s website. I had been volunteering with MFA, an organization focused on youth outreach through cultural events, for nearly a year by that point, and I was extremely excited to read stories about these wars from soldiers who fought in them. The debates about the wars, especially the Iraq War, were lacking a good dose of reality- with the right accusing all war critics of being anti-American or anti-troop, and the left claiming, amongst other absurd things, that this was “not our war”—and OpTruth seemed like a perfect organization to broaden and deepen the debates surrounding the war while at the same time giving soldiers an opportunity to express themselves.

Over the past year I have been a frequent visitor to IAVA’s site and have become even more enamored with the amazing work and words of IAVA, and especially Paul Rieckhoff. Whether Paul is educating people on the problems facing returning Vets (from PTSD to stop loss to other issues), helping veterans speak out on what they believe, helping get movies made about soldiers, or providing support to Vets who run for Congress, he is always showing the mix of altruism and action that led him, I believe, to become a soldier. (The fact that a portion of every sale is going to HOPE For New Veterans—a project that prevents homelessness among Iraq Vets—is just another example of his dedication to his causes.)

It goes without saying then that I was extremely excited to hear that Paul had released a book looking at the experiences that led him to found IAVA, though when I received my copy I was preparing to skim it for the moment and return to it later when I had more time. Unfortunately for my already crowded schedule, I couldn’t put the book down after the first few pages. I knew that the book would be good, but it was too good to simply gloss over. And so I stole every free minute I could over the next few days and devoured page after page of sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, and always informative writing. The war that Paul fought in, and that our armed forces continue to fight, might not be as intense as the Eastern Front of World War II that Guy Sajer wrote about in The Forgotten Soldier or the Pacific Front of the war that EB Sledge wrote about in With the Old Breed, but Paul’s story was every bit as compelling, and much more important for our generation.

Here we have a book which criticizes the war from the perspective of someone who was there, who had to live with decisions made in Washington that more often than not seemed to make things worse on the ground. Paul enters Iraq just days after Bush announces “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, and he details the next fateful year as he saw it on the ground, giving us a unique and important view of the unraveling that has brought us to where we find ourselves today. No matter where you find yourself in the debates about Iraq; if you think it was a stupid move, if you think it was the stupidest move, or if you are… still convinced that invading Iraq was a good idea, everyone needs to try to understand what our soldiers are really facing and being asked to do in Iraq.

More after the jump...

Will Veterans Pay For The Loss Of Their Personal Info?

Last week it was revealed that the personal information of 26.5 Million Veterans was stolen from a Veterans Administration employee who had brought the information home. The employee's home was burglarized and the information, which was located on the employees laptop and external hard drive, went missing. Now the VA faces a monumental task of making sure that the Veterans it is charged with caring for don't become victims of identity theft, a crime that has reached epidemic proportions in this nation, with 10 million victims in 2003 alone.

The costs of identity theft vary, but they are significant. According to a 2003 FTC study:

The survey found in the past 12 months that 3.23 million consumers discovered that new accounts had been opened, and other frauds such as renting an apartment or home, obtaining medical care or employment, had been committed in their name. In those cases, the loss to businesses and financial institutions was $10,200 per victim. Individual victims lost an average of $1,180. Where the thieves solely used a victim’s established accounts, the loss to businesses was $2,100 per victim. For all forms of identity theft, the loss to business was $4,800 and the loss to consumers was $500, on average.

And while this information has to do solely with the costs of identity theft itself, there is another big cost in the case of the 26.5 million lost identities (which is, incidentally, the largest single loss of social security data in US history)- mitigating the threat posed by this monumental blunder, which will not be cheap (the VA is estimating costs will be in the range of $500-million). This raises a big question: who will pay for these losses? One would hope that the VA would pay for its own mistakes, but it is already extremely strapped for cash with the huge influx of new vets and a stagnant budget.

Wounded Iraq Veteran and Fighting Dem, Tammy Duckworth, sent a letter to the Secretary of the VA last week demanding that the VA garuntee that this money will not be taken from its already strapped budget, which is posted in full after the jump:

IAVA PAC Demands Apology from Senator Ensign

Last Sunday Senator John Ensign of Nevada stood before the state party convention in his state and said that anyone who criticizes the War in Iraq or its execution is basically a traitor.

"Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy - let me tell you, I say this without reservation - they have hurt our military, they have emboldened the enemy," Ensign told Republicans gathered for the state party convention on Saturday.c

"They're fighting for the freedom of speech, they're fighting for the right to protest, they're fighting for all those things. But when we are at war, especially the leaders in this country need to be very, very careful of what they say and what they do," Ensign said.

He also raised the possibility that he lies when he thinks that his true feelings go against his party ideology nation. This makes perfect sense: what our nation needs most right right now is more lying politicians (what would we do without them?), and all we need to do to win the War in Iraq and bring our troops home is lie to ourselves.

Yesterday, in response to this utter nonsense, IAVA PAC's Jon Soltz sent Senator Ensign a letter demanding an apology:

May 24, 2006

The Honorable Senator John Ensign
356 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Ensign,

I read with great disappointment your recent comments to the Nevada Republican Party Convention that those who question the execution of the war in Iraq have only "emboldened the enemy." I am writing to ask for your apology for that statement.

I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the United States Army, and have come home to lead the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America PAC (http://www.iavapac.org/), an organization dedicated to aiding those running for public office who served in Iraq and Afghanistan honorably.

IAVA PAC is non-partisan; we have endorsed members of both parties for Congress. We are not anti-war.

The wellbeing of our troops and a victory strategy in Iraq are both dependent upon the servicemembers and their leaders being able to ask the tough questions and to hold our leaders accountable - without fear of being told they are "emboldening the enemy."

Because the tough questions weren't asked by you and others, American troops went to war under-equipped, undermanned and without a viable victory strategy. Tough questions must continue to be asked - lest we repeat past mistakes, or make new ones, that will put our troops needlessly at risk.

Because of the previous failure of politicians to speak for us, we have been forced to speak for ourselves on matters regarding the war in Iraq. Your comments are insulting to those of us who have chosen to do so. For that, I demand your apology.

Rest assured, those who served in the war, like our candidates, will continue to ask the tough questions. We deserve to do so without fear of a U.S. Senator telling us that we are "emboldening the enemy." We have risked our lives in service to our nation, and deserve better than to have you insinuate that our questioning the execution of this war only helps those we put our lives on the line to fight.

The truth is, if we are to fully provide for our troops, we need more questions, not fewer.

Rather than wait for a form letter back from your office, I would appreciate your apology in person. I will be at your office at 1pm on Thursday, May 25th - tomorrow. I look forward to speaking with you then about this matter.

Sincerely,

Jon Soltz
Veteran, Operation Iraqi Freedom
Executive Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Political Action Committee

Today, when Jon went to Ensign's office he was met by a staffer, who told him that Sen. Ensign would not meet with Soltz.

Sen. Ensign, I have a suggestion for a slogan for your upcoming reelection campaign:

Vote for Senator John Ensign: Because what our nation needs right now is a man brave enough to lie to the American people; a man smart enough to hide from those who he speaks against; and a man with the wisdom to not learn from his mistakes.

Crossposted at Blue Force

Weldon and Fitzpatrick Support Veterans by Starving the VA

Jon Soltz, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Political Action Committee (IAVA PAC), has an opinion piece in today's Daily News blasting Congressmen Curt Weldon and Mike Fitzpatrick for their wavering support of America's Veterans.

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, on his campaign Web site, claims that helping veterans has been "a top priority on his agenda." Fitzpatrick is likely to face Iraq veteran Patrick Murphy in the general election. Rep. Curt Weldon, who is facing Afghanistan veteran Joe Sestak, writes on his congressional Web site that he is a "leading advocate for vets." Unfortunately, the rhetoric doesn't match the reality.

It is useful to examine where our nation is, in terms of its ability to care for the hundreds of thousands of troops who have returned home from war and who will be returning home from war.

In early 2005, because of budget constraints, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities began to cut back on services to veterans, had to postpone construction and repairs on facilities, kill orders for desperately needed medical equipment and keep staff positions unfilled - just to stay afloat. These cuts affect our returning heroes, they wait longer to be seen or receive services, pay more for their prescriptions and now have to pay fees to enroll in the VA system.

I guess that Weldon and Fitzpatrick, who may both be facing vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (we'll see later tonight whether Murphy can beat Warren), must think that their yellow ribbons can magically assist Veterans deal with missing limbs, shrapnel wounds, and PTSD. As Soltz points out, despite the lofty rhetoric on their websites, both have voted against giving the VA the resources that they need to treat our wounded warriors.

Both Reps. Fitzpatrick and Weldon repeatedly voted no on helping these 21st-century patriots. They voted no on a bill to extend the military health care program to members of the National Guard and reserves, on an amendment that would have increased funding for VA services by $2.6 billion, and another that would have increased funding by $3.1 billion.

Rep. Weldon also voted against adding $1.8 billion to VA health care in 2003, and for legislation in 2004 that cut a promised increase to the VA by half.

Curt Weldon and Mike Fitzpatrick can say whatever they want about supporting our soldiers- their actions and inactions speak much louder than their empty rhetoric. Fortunately we have the opportunity to send these two on an extended vacation and replace them with two respectable, honest, and progressive candidates who can not only help to turn things around for our nation's vets, but for our entire country.

Crossposted at Young Philly Politics