An organization of veterans disillusioned with President Bush's handling of the Iraq war plans to launch a political action committee today dedicated to electing antiwar veterans to Congress.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America PAC hopes to raise as much as $10 million this year to support veterans seeking House and Senate seats on platforms promoting a change of strategy in Iraq, said Jon Soltz, the group's executive director.
"These are people we want to send to Washington to articulate a better understanding of the war," said Soltz, who served as an Army captain with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq. "We need credible knowledge inside Washington to change the course of this war."
So far, eight Iraq war veterans are seeking House seats as Democrats in various states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Paul Hackett, a Marine reservist who served in Iraq, is seeking the Democratic Senate nomination in Ohio. The seat is held by Republican Mike DeWine, who is seeking reelection. Hackett narrowly lost a special election for a House seat to Republican Jean Schmidt last year.
One Iraq veteran, Van Taylor, is seeking a House seat in Texas as a Republican.
Although the leaders of the new PAC say it will support candidates from both parties, their pedigree and agenda lean strongly toward Democrats.
In 2004, Soltz coordinated veterans' outreach in Pennsylvania for the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). Former NATO Supreme Cmdr. Wesley K. Clark, a contender for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, will head the new group's advisory board.
Charles W. Larson Jr., a Republican state senator in Iowa who served in Iraq as an Army major, said the group's criticism of the war "categorically does not represent returning veterans."
"If there is one truism that I find with returning veterans, it is that they have seen the success we've accomplished in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they believe in the mission and want to complete it," said Larson, who last summer founded the group Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission.
The new PAC's policy agenda -- which Soltz said candidates must endorse to obtain its support -- makes it unlikely it would support many, if any, Republicans.
The group has not endorsed a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, according to a policy statement it plans to release today. But the statement says Bush must produce "a victory strategy for Iraq that includes hard" measurements of success that trigger the reduction of U.S. troop deployment.
The statement also charges that the administration failed to provide soldiers in Iraq adequate body armor and other equipment.
Taylor, the Iraq veteran running for a House seat in Texas, disputed that accusation.
"I was given everything I needed to complete the mission," said Taylor, who served as a Marine in Iraq. "No one has ever gone to war with enough stuff, enough information, enough training. You always want more."
The new PAC intends to prod candidates to endorse increasing active-duty military personnel and greater funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Soltz said he hoped the group would raise enough money to work against incumbents who cast votes the PACs sees as anti-veteran.
"Part of our goal is holding accountable elected officials in Washington who have voted for the war and against the troops."