The Military

Big fundraisers for vets and military families

Recently, two groups that really help families and vets held fundraisers, and I attended parts of both.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation featured Jon Stewart as emcee; they vet and fund a growing network of nonprofits that help out directly.

The Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America advocates and provides lots of support for vets. (I'm on their board.)

Here we see Stephen Colbert accepting a civilian work award for his support for vets.

Stephen Colbert

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What's best about our country, rests on our veterans' shoulders

We often do not observe Veterans Day as it should be. It's a day where we actively remember our ancestors, our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones and our family members who have served for the betterment of this great nation.

The thing to remember about war is that there are very few moments of individual gallantry. The individual combatant rarely dwarfs his surroundings. No John Waynes to ride through a hail of enemy fire to save the day.

In fact, those one-dimensional embodiments of masculine striving are usually the first to die. Moments of war rarely allow for clarity.

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The GOP's foreign-policy quandary

On the heels of the death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and President Obama's announcement late last week that U.S. forces will soon be pulling out of Iraq, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is accusing the president of making military and national-security decisions based on politics. "I would argue Iraq and Afghanistan is being run out of Chicago, not Washington, in terms of decisions," Graham said on Fox News Sunday.

No surprise there — we knew President Obama can't get credit from Republicans for his foreign-policy and defense successes, no matter how many he piles up. But the real news from Graham's comments is his concern that GOP presidential candidates may be giving the president a free pass. "To the Republican Party: National security matters; step up on it," said Graham. "We've got a jobs problem. We've got a national-security problem that is growing by the day."

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Early autumn headlines

Under the headline “Why We Need a Third Party,” Washington Post columnist Matt Miller condemns both the Democratic and Republican parties for being “prisoner to interest groups” whose chief aim is “to win elections, not solve problems.”

Some deep thinking there. Miller goes on to list unemployment, the budget, healthcare and education as problems “we need to truly fix,” then quotes the late Sen. Pat Moynihan saying, “If issues can’t be discussed, they can never be advanced.”

What’s needed to bring about “a new politics of problem-solving,” writes Miller, is a third party that would offer “candidates with the vision and nerve to fill today’s void.”

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Serious innovation from the VA

Over the last two years or so, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been doing some seriously innovative work on behalf of the troops. I've seen this firsthand, focusing on efforts like working at the grassroots worker level and with private-industry vendors. This really does serve vets better, and looks like taxpayers get better return for tax dollars.

VA is also using social media to help vets understand how VA can help, in forms including the VA blog and outreach via social media including Facebook.

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Obama’s war

Marcos Cintron.
Brian Backus.
Alvin Boatright.
Edwaard Dixon.
James Harvey.
Josue Ibarra.
Tyler Kreinz.
Gustavo Rios-Ordonez.
Scott Smith.
Alan Snyder.
Jared Verbeek.

These are names of young Americans whose deaths were publicly announced the morning after President Obama’s message about our role in Afghanistan. President Obama has sacrificed their lives and others in a futile and extraordinarily expensive war. Ask their families if they think the president’s approach to troop withdrawal in Afghanistan is "balanced,” as advertised.

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Let’s hear from Gen. Petraeus

When we went to war at the beginning, we were fully unprepared. We went from peace to war overnight. Our army under Tommy Franks and the administration with Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush had no hands-on experience, and Congress was made up of peacetime people concerned with housekeeping issues. Not until Defense Secretary Robert Gates came to the position did a steady hand come to policy in the Middle East conflicts. But Gen. David Petraeus also brought stability and success to a mess he did not create. At his confirmation hearing today to become the next CIA director, he should speak plainly about his assessment of the situation as we enter the post-Gates period.

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Petraeus calls the shots

It remains to be seen how President Obama will explain his decision on the Afghanistan drawdown tonight, but if early reports are to be believed, he has listened to the military and ignored those within the administration and his own party arguing for a shift to a counterterrorism strategy.

If he does announce a withdrawal of only a token number of troops this month, and not front-loading the drawdown, Obama would be heeding the advice of outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chief commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus. Both have advocated keeping a substantial number of the 30,000 “surge” troops through next year’s fighting season. Yet public opinion in general now favors the removal of the troops as quickly as possible.

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Counting down in Afghanistan

We are only weeks away from President Obama’s announced troop drawdown in Afghanistan. But with the scheduled withdrawal supposed to begin July 1, the president has not yet decided on whether the number will be “significant” — his words — or “modest,” in the words of the Defense secretary, Robert Gates.

I heard a couple weeks ago that about 20,000 soldiers, or two-thirds of the “surge” troops, were expected to return home next month. But that is considerably higher than the anticipation now that only about 5,000 would return — the argument being that it would be a mistake to sharply reduce troop numbers during the Taliban’s fighting season. Gates, making his farewell tour of Afghanistan, has said that he would opt to “keep the shooters and take the support out first.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants only 3,000 out.

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The Pentagon’s flawed logic on cyberwar

The Pentagon is readying a new strategy that would treat cyberattacks from a foreign nation as acts of war.

The quote that caught my attention was the military official who told The Wall Street Journal: "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."

That’s all very well, but what would that particular official say if Iran — which believes Israel and the U.S. to be behind the Stuxnet cyberworm that sabotaged its nuclear program — applied the same logic and felt entitled to strike back by putting a missile down an American or Israeli smokestack?

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