One of the most outspoken critics of the war in Iraq is heading back there on military assignment, likely as part of the last arm of a U.S. mission he has vehemently opposed.
Jon Soltz, the chairman and co-founder of VoteVets.org, a leading critic of the Iraq war, told the Huffington Post on Wednesday that he was taking a year of absence from the group to deploy to Iraq as part of Operation New Dawn.
“This has always been a possibility,” he said. “I have always been a member of the army reserves, it is just not anything I talk about for legal reasons. The bottom line is, I can’t if I’m on active duty, be in charge of VoteVets anymore.”
“I’m not an idiot. I’ve known the possibilities of this for a long time,” he added. “I get the honor to be probably in the last rotation in Iraq. My order is for 12 months and if you take a look at that timetable, December 2011 will be when all U.S. troops come out anyway.”
It is, he admits, a telling irony that he will be part of the unit to formally close out America’s mission in Iraq. Starting in 2006, Soltz and VoteVets were some of the loudest, most frequently quoted voices arguing that continued troop presence in Iraq was damaging to larger U.S. national security interests. They opposed the war and, soon thereafter, the troop surge announced by President George W. Bush. To now be the coda on the policy prescription that he so vehemently opposed says a lot, not just about the war but Soltz himself.
“I think he is, first of all, very wise to keep his commitment alive to the army and go back in and continue his army service,” said retired General Wesley Clark, who serves on VoteVets’ board of advisers. “I think that is what public service is all about. When you are a soldier you go where the country tells you to go. When you are out of uniform and on civilian time you can express your personal opinion.”
Soltz, who will be leaving for Iraq sometime after the Holiday season said there were no disappointments about his own deployment or regrets that, as an organizational header, the group’s overarching mission of ending U.S. involvement in Iraq remains unresolved.
“Would I have liked this war to end earlier? Yes,” he said. “I’m on record with that. But I don’t think it is an indictment of VoteVets. VoteVets should be judged over 50 years or 60 years.”
In the interim, the group will be chaired by another Iraq War Veteran — and former congressional candidate — Ashwin Madia, who has been the group’s Vice Chairman since 2009.