TAC: Iraq Vets Ask: Was It Worth It?

Thanks to Kelley Vlahos at The American Conservative for including me in her piece, Iraq Vets Ask: Was It Worth It?, last week.

If you are not familiar with Kelley’s work, she is a super-star when it comes to asking hard questions and not accepting simple, and proof-less, answers regarding our wars. Follow her and give her your support.

The Definition of Insanity…

…is, as is widely quoted, doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result.

When I spoke at Holy Cross College in MA a couple of years ago, the head of the Naval ROTC detachment, a Navy officer nearing on 30 years of service, who I dined with prior to the lecture, offered this observation: “I’ve been in the Navy since the early 80s. I have spent over half that time, nearly 20 years, in and around the Middle East. First hand, I can ask, what have we accomplished?”

Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, a historian, philosopher and 23 year military veteran, and a personal hero of mine, asks this question on Bill Moyers. If you have twenty some odd minutes, take the time to watch one of our country’s keenest minds and perspectives on foreign affairs, national security, and national conscience and values.

And, if I may extend the definition of insanity theme to a personal issue: when I struggle with drinking, when I have that desire to drink, to give up and submit, to take a bottle and wash my misery afloat in my head and strangle my soul, it is often that thought, that understanding that drinking again will do nothing more than it ever did before, that helps me gain control again and think rationally. I’ve found, or, more aptly, I’ve been taught, that if I can withstand the first 20 or 30 minutes of desire for drink and surrender, then rational thinking and reason can assume priority and I can avoid relapsing. As always, if I can be of any help to anyone struggling, please contact me.

Bombs are Medication for Guilt, Not Peace, in Iraq

Young Sunni boys in Salah ad Din Province in Iraq clamor not just for the photograph, but for the promise of our occupation in 2004. Of those who survived the last ten years, I imagine many of these boys make up the ranks of ISIS and the current Sunni insurgency.
Young Sunni boys in Salah ad Din Province in Iraq clamor not just for the photograph, but for the promise of our occupation in 2004. Of those who survived the last ten years, I imagine many of these boys make up the ranks of ISIS and the current Sunni insurgency.

I have friends in Iraq, Iraqi friends, many of them Sunnis, living in areas and cities north of Baghdad. I became friends with most of them in 2004-2005 while serving as a civilian Department of Defense official on a US Embassy team in Tikrit. Some of these friends were circumstantial and conditional. I did control large amounts of cash, at one point I had $26 million in $100 bills in two safes where I slept in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. Of course, money makes friends. Yet some of these friends were genuine, men with whom I shared not just common interests and passions, and exchanged tales of families and future plans, but with whom I endured hardship, suffering and combat.

My Iraqi friends are less in numbers now, their ranks thinned by murder and slaughter; some killed by the very people who comprise the army of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham, (the Levant or Greater Syria). ISIS is a horrific and barbaric phenomenon; with roots in the worst of the groups that arose in Iraq following our invasion in 2003, groups that wrought unimaginable years of terror on the Iraqi people. Large numbers of non-Iraqis form the core of ISIS, young and not so young men from the Islamic world, who have traveled to wage an unholy crusade to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. On their own, these postmodern Muslim Knights of the Templar, consist of hundreds, maybe thousands, and, in a perfect world, should be dealt with harshly by local Iraqi forces, leaders and justice. However, those local forces in northern Iraq, Sunni forces, are allied with ISIS and are the reason for the recent routing of the Iraqi Security Forces and the capture of North Iraq. It is for this reason, with the full recognition and understanding of the danger and horror engulfing my Iraqi friends that I have to argue against US military action in Iraq.

Let me get my guilt out of the way. My guilt over the war, my participation in it and what was unleashed on the Iraqi people, is a primary cause of my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Moral Injury. Like hundreds of thousands of other veterans, I will struggle to manage those disabilities the rest of my life (I recognize my suffering is insignificant compared to the suffering of the Iraqi people). How simple it would be to re-engage, to try and right a wrong through action, through forceful, demonstrative, and deadly action. However, the nature of this war in Iraq is political, a struggle between sects for control of population, resources, money and governance. It is a split among ethnicities and amongst religions. This civil war in Iraq is a war caused by our invasion and nearly decade long occupation, no doubt, but it is a war that will only worsen if the United States once again returns and takes a side. In its current form, in northern Iraq, we see a Sunni dominated movement, headlined by ISIS seizing control of Iraqi cities, sending both Iraqi military and population fleeing, nearly all non-Sunni members of the military and the population.

I was in Iraq, serving with the Marines in Anbar Province, in 2006 and 2007, and saw first hand the abatement and diminishment of violence in that part of the country. With no amount of uncertainty in my mind, that drop in violence was caused by the re-integration of the Sunnis, in particular their traditional tribal leadership, into the Iraqi systems of power and revenue, and not by added American troops or celebrity generals. For several years, violence remained, but relative to previous years, the daily count of the bodies of the dead was much reduced. Following the departure of American forces, and American money, in December of 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia dominated government began to upset the balance, once again disenfranchising and marginalizing Sunnis. The result has been a return to the bloodshed and the carnage, horrifically to levels not seen for years, and a resumption of Sunni leadership and society searching for partners that could help the Sunnis regain what they felt was unjustly usurped from them in 2003. That partnership has been manifested with ISIS.

American military involvement will serve as an accelerant to and a prolonger of this Iraqi civil war. American bombs, bullets and dollars will further strengthen the bond between Sunnis and extremist groups like ISIS, increasing Sunni desperation by intensifying their backs to the wall dilemma and justifying the propaganda and rhetoric of ISIS: a narrative of a Western campaign of international subjugation enacted through Shia, Kurdish and Iraqi ethnic minority puppets. Further, such American support will strengthen the resolve of the al-Maliki government not to reform and not to address Sunni grievances. With the renewed backing of American might and money, al-Maliki’s government will feel no need to restore a balance of power in Iraq and will continue a policy of disenfranchisement and marginalization of the Sunni population and leadership. Only by withholding support to al-Maliki’s government, and not by sending advisors, tomahawk missiles or cash, will there be a reason for al-Maliki’s government to negotiate and seek peace.

Putting US troops back in Iraq, while assuaging our well deserved and well earned feelings of national and personal guilt, will put Americans once again in the middle of a religious, sectarian civil war. As with so many modern wars, a solution lies not in violence, but in accommodation; not in division, but in unification; and not in killing, but in compromise. The United States has an obligation in Iraq, our war there from 2003-2011 is the bloody stain of my generation’s soul, but our recourse should be to find and force a political solution through pressure on al-Maliki’s government and dialogue with Sunni leaders. To make the mistake again of sending American troops to Iraq will turn our stain into a bleeding wound.

If my friends in Iraq will ever find peace, if their children and their grandchildren have any chance of growing up without the butchery of beheading knives and the devastation of car bombs, it will come through negotiation and settlement, as it briefly did post-2007, and not through an American strategy of taking sides in a civil war and indulging in the self-satisfactory and guilt-erasing, yet illusory, medication of bombing.

 

Another Petition, this Time, Sadly, it Needs to be for Iraq

I have a petition going through MoveOn.org urging President Obama to not involve the US militarily in Iraq, but to pressure Nouri Maliki’s government to enact political reforms to address the underlying Sunni grievances of disenfranchisement and marginalization. Amazing, over ten years later and we have seemed to have learned nothing.

If you want to have your voice heard, please contribute your name to this petition. Last I checked we had nearly 70,000 signatures.

For my conservative friends who don’t want to sign something put out by MoveOn, I haven’t seen anything from any conservative groups at this point urging against US military intervention in Iraq. If there is something out there, please direct me to it, or if you know of an organization willing to put out something on Iraq, please let me know, I’m happy to help them too. We don’t need further loss of American lives in wars overseas nor do we need to continue our Nation’s inept, and deadly, meddling abroad. Partisanship should not supersede such sense.

—————————————————————————————————

Tell President Obama and Congress: Keep America Out Of Iraq!
Petition by Matthew Hoh

To be delivered to The United States House of Representatives, The United States Senate, and President Barack Obama

President Obama and Congress, don’t take new military action in Iraq. The solution to the chaos is not another American military intervention, including bombing strikes. President Obama was right to end the Iraq War in 2011, and it would be a tremendous mistake to restart it now.
There are currently 69,917 signatures. NEW goal – We need 75,000 signatures!
PETITION BACKGROUND Fallujah. Mosul. Baghdad.

Hearing these names again sends a chill down my spine. As a Marine who served in Iraq, I know well the bloody costs paid by Americans and by Iraqis in these and so many other cities over the past decade. I have friends who to this day remain on the front lines of a sectarian conflict that is tearing their homeland apart. And I am saddened to see the renewed and growing violence once again gripping Iraq.

But I also know that the solution to the chaos in Iraq is not another American military intervention. The president was right to end the Iraq War in 2011, and it would be a tremendous mistake to restart it now.

The United States and Iraq have already paid dearly for George W. Bush’s disastrous decision to launch the Iraq War. With Iraq once again descending into violence, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. No military intervention, whether a massive invasion like the one in 2003 or the limited airstrikes some are calling for today, will solve the deep and complex challenges Iraq is facing. Iraq’s problems can only be solved by Iraqis, not American bombs. Launching another military intervention in Iraq would only throw more fuel on a fire that is raging. Even worse, it would once again risk American lives in a fight that is not ours and that we cannot win.

Over the past few days, the news has been filled with stories of a swift insurgent advance through northern Iraq. Sunni militants, under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have taken over city after city in northern Iraq. These militants, fresh from the fight in neighboring Syria, have made dramatic progress, capturing American-made weapons and supplies left behind by the fleeing Iraqi security forces. Their advance is fueled in no small part by the repressive sectarian policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The situation may get worse before it gets better, but one thing is clear: American bombs are not the solution.

Even more chilling than watching the violence in Iraq is listening to the pundits here at home. The very same men and women who lied to the American public and sent thousands of my fellow men and women in uniform to their deaths are now leading the charge for another military intervention. Many of these men should be in jail; none of them should be listened to.

If my friends in Iraq are to ever find peace, if their children and their grandchildren have any chance of growing up without the butchery of beheading knives and the carnage of car bombs, peace will come through negotiation and settlement, as it briefly did post-2007, and not through an American strategy of choosing sides, choosing winners and losers, and indulging in the self-satisfactory, self-indulgent, guilt-erasing, yet illusory, medication of bombing.

 

 

ExposeFacts.org

ExposeFactsTransitShelter

Last week I took part in the ribbon cutting of a new effort to encourage men and women in government and corporate service to listen to their conscience and find the courage to speak out and confront what they know is not right.

Expose Facts is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy and has received support from the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

In addition to a website that will serve to assist whistleblowers, we placed our first billboard  encouraging truth tellers. Outside the State Department you will now find a billboard of Daniel Ellsberg, a building I once walked into daily in 2005 and 2006 while working on Iraq policy. It was an honor to help cut that ribbon with Colonel Ann Wright.

If you like this idea, you can support more billboard placements throughout DC and in other cities

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#ISUPPORTBOWE

I have been very fortunate this past week to have been able to speak publicly in support of Bowe Bergdahl and his parents, my friends, Bob and Jani. Much thanks to CNN for having me on most of this last week, as well as RT TV and Huffington Post Live.

Still, two weeks later, I am overwhelmed by the spirt of blood lust that took hold of members of our political establishment, media and public. With nearly 7,000 American service members over this last decade+ having not returned to their families, the callous and cruel treatment of Bowe and his family is a nadir for our society. Attacks with no purpose other than serving partisan, parochial or personal interests have suffocated the joy we as a nation should have expressed in unison for the end of a family’s suffering and the return of an American Prisoner of War.

Please keep Bowe and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

True Love

My good friend Danny Davis has published this piece on the Huffington Post on Christianity, love and homosexuality. Please take a read and give his words some thought.

True Love

“That Religion, or the Duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and convictions, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”

–Article XVI, Virginia Declaration of Rights, 12 June 1776

(written by author of US Constitution, George Mason)

by Daniel L. Davis

On May 10th, former Missouri football player Michael Sam became the first openly gay player ever drafted in the National Football League. The selection set off a firestorm of reaction across social media, mostly in support for Mr. Sam. A few, however, voiced displeasure. One of the highest profile was Washington lobbyist Jack Burkman, who said he was going to lead a boycott against the St Louis Rams for drafting Mr. Sam, claiming that by signing the gay player, the Rams were “trampling on Christian values.” Is Mr. Burkman right? Have the St. Louis Rams and Mr. Sam “trampled” Christian values? In a nation where 77% of the 315 million residents self-identify as Christians, the question deserves examination.

I was born in 1963 to a football coach and a stay-at-home mom in small-town Texas. My conservative parents were members of a local church and took my family there every time the doors were open. As a six year old, I became a Christian. The next four decades saw me graduate high school and college, become an officer in the US Army, get married and enjoy the thrills of becoming a daddy, experience the searing pain of divorce, and engage in combat during four wartime deployments. My Christian faith has been subjected to the pressures of many fiery trials.

What I’ve discovered is that some of the tenets of the faith I learned as a little boy were proven absolutely correct and have served me well through many stormy seasons. But owing to some of these storms my understanding in other areas was exposed as having been amiss. Beginning in my late 20s, I purposed no longer to base my spiritual identity solely on what others said, but on a careful examination of the Bible. After more than two decades of studying Scripture and observing how the concepts have played out in the trials of a real life, I have come to a few conclusions.

On the most fundamental level I have observed that the Bible is right and true. But I have also regrettably observed that a considerable number of believers in this country have squandered the chance to demonstrate that life-enhancing truth from within the crucible of life. Fortunately, I believe a recalibration with the truth will make it possible for Christians to regain lost opportunity. One of the key areas where we’ve gone off the tracks over the past several decades has been in how we have interacted with our society on the subject of gay lifestyles.

Though it is mentioned in numerous places in both the Old and New Testament, one of the most oft-cited passages is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which states “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Many believers cite this passage to stridently oppose gays. Regrettably, the way this opposition manifests itself often exposes an insufficient knowledge of Scripture and, if I may be allowed, reveals a problem of the heart among some of us who call ourselves Christians.

Viewing the passage in context, it is clear Paul is not suggesting that Christians set about to oppose gay people. To the contrary, he expressly noted a few verses earlier (Chapter 5, v.9-13) he “did not at all mean” the believers were to avoid association with people outside the church who engaged in immoral behavior “for then you would have to go out of the world.” Paul explicitly wrote that it wasn’t his job to accuse or judge people outside the church of anything. “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?” he said. Paul’s purpose for including the list of what the Bible defines as sinful behavior was to take the Christians to task for not living to Jesus’ standard within the church.

How, then, should believers behave towards those outside the faith whom they meet, especially when those people are characterized by one or more of the behaviors listed in chapter 6, verse 9? Though Jesus never directly addressed the subject of homosexuality, He did provide two direct examples of how He responded to those guilty of two of the sexual sins listed in 6:9.

The first is the well known story of the “woman at the well (John 4:9-24).” Jesus shared with a Samarian woman how she could have eternal life. At a certain point in the narrative, Jesus reveals to her that he is fully aware she is a multi-divorcee and was presently living with a man outside of marriage. Yet he did not condemn her for this obvious violation of Jewish law, instead reiterating His offer of eternal life. But perhaps the most pertinent to our discussion was the John 8 account (chapter 8:3-11) of the Messiah’s encounter with an adulterous woman.

The religious leaders of the day were trying to put Jesus in a no-win situation by presenting Him with a woman who had been caught “in the very act” of adultery, in order to put Jesus to shame: they reasoned that if He agreed with Moses (Leviticus specifies death for adultery), He’d look bad in the eyes of the people for passively watching as this poor woman was stoned to death; let her go without punishment, and He would be guilty of putting aside the law – heresy among the Jews of that day. After marveling at the coldness of these religious leaders’ hearts, He spoke some of His most well-known words: “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” After all the accusers dropped their stones and walked away, He told the woman “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” In that moment, He demonstrated the mercy and love He had for the woman, offering her acceptance and love, yet without compromising His own standards.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul emphasized the centrality of embodying the heart and spirit of Jesus in empowering believers to engage the world as did their Savoir. “I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” Paul explained, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Jesus commanded – not ‘suggested’ – that His followers “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Instead of following our Leader’s example and demonstrating sacrificial love for others, however, a number of Christians in contemporary America seem to be characterized more as judgmental than compassionate.

The Bible does identify homosexual activity as wrong. But the 1 Corinthians passage also identifies other wrongs: the sexually immoral, adulterers, thieves, the greedy and drunkards, among others.

There’s no soft way to say this, so I’ll just be blunt:

With what justification can we Christians cite the Bible as the standard for opposing gay lifestyles, yet not give equal emphasis to standing against heterosexuals who engage in sex outside of marriage, those who commit adultery, those who steal (or cheat on taxes), are greedy or get drunk? If we are to be consistent, we have to recognize all categories of the sins of that 1 Corinthians 6 are equal in the eyes of God. Yet we don’t. Instead, we pick those sins that seem to affect other people, while wholly ignoring our own. How many “normal” heterosexual Christians have remained sexually pure their whole lives? Evidence suggests a very small minority (full disclosure: I’m not one of the pure).

Upon what logical basis, then, can a person be guilty on some of the sins of 1 Corinthians 9, be unrepentant of same, and yet with vigor and righteousness condemn others who may be guilty of sins from the same list?

In the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks to this issue of myopic believers when He warns to be careful of judging others, lest we be judged by our own standard of measure. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye,” He continued, “but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? …You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

So we circle back around to the issue raised by Mr. Burkman of whether the St. Louis Rams have “trampled” Christian values by drafting a gay player. If a Christian supporter were to logically endorse this effort, there would need to be concurrent boycotts planned against any team that drafted heterosexual players that had sex outside of marriage, routinely got drunk, were greedy or slandered others. One might imagine the NFL would have trouble fielding a single team if those who engaged in the sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6 were prohibited from the league – and I would imagine that were the same standard applied to those supporting the boycott, none would qualify to conduct it.

Instead of leading a coalition of Christian leaders to boycott an NFL team owing to the presence of a single gay man, how much better would it be to see instead devoted followers of Jesus building a coalition who would commit themselves to loving others as Jesus loved, and themselves living pure and moral lives? Imagine the impact that could have on our society.

Such an effort would encourage men and women who follow Jesus to live the hard, disciplined life required by the Bible of Christ-followers. Such people would genuinely care about others; would love them sacrificially; be no respecters of status, class, race, gender, nor any other category; and put the needs of others above their own. In short, they would prove a fair representation of the genuine Jesus in a world desperate for His authenticity.

Let each believer, then, examine his or her own hearts. Let us live to the example of Christ; givers of true love. Let us henceforth be known more for our love of and service to others, rather than for judgment and condemnation of those who may be different from us. As was seen in this country as a product of the First and Second Great Awakenings, when believers live out their faith as it was modeled by Jesus, societies have been positively transformed. Let us, then, as professed followers of Jesus Christ, live what we say we believe to the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow citizens.