I Stand With Charlie Hebdo, But I Also Stand With The Victims Of Our Bombs

From yesterday’s Huffington Post:

Two young boys, whose names I do not know, killed by American bombs in Harem, Syria, in November, 2014. It is rare to see such images in American media.

The killings at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris are abhorrent. But let us not forget the daily abhorrence of our wars in the Muslim World, wars that have seen over a million Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans, Pakistanis, Somalis, Syrians and Yemenis killed and millions more wounded and maimed physically and psychologically, while millions of men, women and children endure another cold winter, homeless and hungry.

So as we question and fume, shocked and aggrieved at the hateful killing of journalists and satirists, police officers and a janitor, we should not be so insensible as to not acknowledge the horrid cost we have exacted on the populations of the Greater Middle East in pursuit of democracy, freedom and liberty; campaigns undertaken in the name of our values that are executed in the very manner as those murderers in Paris on Wednesday proselytized and witnessed their faith as Muslims.

We must recognize the extremists and war-mongerers in our societies, who like the members of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, want war and require war to justify their own cosmic, religious and Manichean world views, or profit from the bounty of being an empire that has over 700 military bases around the world and sells nearly three-quarters of the world’s arms.

For to believe that the attack in Paris was a tragedy singularly about a cartoon or as an event solely to be defined as an assault on freedom of expression, is to be daft and incongruent with the history and reality of American and Western policy in the Middle East. For decades, American and Western policy, through action and subsequent backlash, has provided the world and, most sordidly, Muslims with such Frankensteins as the Saudi Royal Family, the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and, now, the Islamic State. What played out and ended with the sickening execution of a wounded policeman on a Paris sidewalk is a direct outgrowth of American and Western policies to try and manipulate sects, tribes, ethnicities and religions in the Middle East to preserve or remove regimes in an absurd and defiled real life version of the board game Risk. It is a game that makes sense to very few outside of Washington, DC and London, but serves to validate and enrich a $1 trillion dollar a year US national security and intelligence industry, while making composite and real the propaganda and recruitment fantasies of al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other extremist groups that are parasites of war.

So I stand with Charlie, but I also stand with all those millions of voiceless victims of our wars and our policies in the Middle East. To do other, to condemn the killings of innocents in our lands, without offering the same condemnation of our government’s killings in their lands, is not just a cruel blindness to the human suffering inflicted by our own machines of war and their munitions; but it is unwise, because what we saw this week in Paris is just one other moment in the ever-continuing, never-ending cycle of violence between the Western and Muslim worlds.

Those in the West who proclaim the defense of democracy, freedom and liberty as justification for our bombings in the Middle East are of the same ilk, cloth and substance as those whose corrupted interpretations of Islam leads to slaughter on Western streets and genocide in Muslim lands. Stand with Charlie Hebdo, stand with our Muslim brothers, sisters and their children, and stand against the purveyors of hate and war in all societies.

Iraq War Veterans Should Know Better

With my friend and fellow Iraq War vet, Matt Southworth, in The Hill:

We read with disappointment the comments in The Hill (Iraq vets on Hill call for stronger response to ISIS, August 17, 2014), by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) on the ongoing civil wars in Iraq and Syria and the accompanying desire by many in Congress, including Gabbard and Kinzinger, to re-enter the United States militarily into the middle of the Iraq Civil War.

Rather than promote stability and resolution to the conflicts that rage in the Middle East, expanded U.S. engagement—a brand new war for Americans—will only harden the resolve of the extremists, drive those looking for security into the clutches of these groups and further entrench the dynamics of the broader conflict.

While we have both become accustomed to the short-sighted advocacy of politicians towards the deployment of American bombs and troops to crises overseas, our disappointment, in this case, results from Gabbard and Kinzinger’s biographies as veterans of America’s war in Iraq. Simply put, both Gabbard and Kinzinger should know better.
As combat veterans ourselves, we experienced first-hand the failure of United States’ policies in the Middle East—policies that in our lifetimes have been nearly exclusively military in their orientation, make-up and execution. Not surprisingly, the result of these policies has been greater conflict and less stability across the Middle East.

That there is no evidence of the American military-first policy in the Middle East bearing positive outcomes over the long term is clear. While there may be examples of limited achievement, such as the removal of Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait in 1991, such events are temporary and ephemeral in their impact. Similarly, current calls to action in Syria and Iraq must be viewed and measured against the totality of the civil wars in both countries.

The U.S. cannot wash its hands of millions of dead, injured and displaced Iraqis created since its 2003 invasion. Re-entering the Iraqi Civil War, or the broader regional war, under the guise of civilian protection is a course of action that will only exacerbate the violence. The Islamic State is actually quite small. Their strength comes from the support of the Iraq Sunni population, who, often as a measure of self-preservation, align Islamic State. American bombs will only further this cycle.

Entering the conflict on behalf of the Kurds, as promoted by Gabbard, (and coincidentally, the one million dollar a year Kurdish lobby industry in Washington, DC) in order to help the Kurds protect the oil-rich territory they hold would put the United States, again, into direct combat with non-Kurdish Sunni and Shia communities throughout Iraq.

Such combat will not force the political compromise necessary for the reduction and eventual cessation of violence, but will make such a compromise much less likely. Why would the Kurds be inclined to make concessions while they enjoy robust US military support and greater autonomy from Shia governed Iraq?

Kinzinger’s suggestion of “all options on the table”, which includes putting young Americans back into Iraq, is even more problematic. Groups like the Islamic State, as well as Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shia militias, will realize a recruitment windfall if foreign troops re-enter Iraq and American troops will once again find themselves trying to pick winners and losers in a foreign land. After 4,486 US casualties in Iraq, is one more American life worth this fight?

The Islamic State is barbaric and heinous, but, as veterans of the war in Iraq, we can attest that all sides in that conflict, all ethnicities and sects, have been brutalized, tortured and murdered. Events unfolding today are the latest in thirteen years of mass atrocities in Iraq and the result of nearly a quarter of a century of US military led policies there. If a political solution is not found, one that is inclusive to all sects and groups within Iraq, then, most surely, more atrocities will occur.

A re-introduction of American troops into Iraq to fight the Islamic State will find American boots once again in the middle of fighting Iraqis. Continued arming, funding and training of all warring parties in the Middle East by international and regional powers will only continue to undermine any long term prospect for peace and stability.

To advocate American military involvement again in Iraq simply makes no sense. By advocating for such, Gabbard and Kinzinger fail in their responsibilities not just as elected leaders, but also as veterans of the Iraq War.

Hoh is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Southworth is the Major Gifts officer for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Both men are Iraq War veterans.




Laughing From His Grave

I published this on HuffPo on Saturday:

Laughing From His Grave

Saddam Hussein

Nearly 12 years ago, the United States Congress, representing the American people, provided President George W. Bush with the authorization to invade Iraq. Friday, seemingly under this same authorization, American bombs fell again on Iraq.

This is not, however, the Bush Whitehouse. After coming into office and adopting a proto-Bush approach to foreign policy by escalating the war in Afghanistan, participating in Libya’s civil war, and enlarging America’s targeted assassination and drone bombing campaign, the Obama White House has appeared, recently, more reticent in its use of military force.

With the current emergency in Iraq, so far the most apt and discerning quote, and the course of action most likely to bring about some form of peace and stability in Iraq, has come from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest:

“There are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq… These problems can only be solved with Iraqi political solutions.”

This was reinforced by the President himself late Thursday evening: “There’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.”

I pray their words are sincere. Certainly the experience of our Nation overseas militarily over the last 13 years supports no other narrative.

If American bombs and bullets were the answer to the civil wars and political disorder in the Muslim world, then the situation would have been resolved in Iraq in 2003. The Obama Administration’s surge of nearly 70,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 would have produced reconciliation among the Afghans and not the bloodshed of the last five years. The American bombs that fell on Libya in 2011 would have created peace rather than the civil war that is still ravaging Libya’s countryside and cities.

Getting re-involved militarily in Iraq’s ongoing civil war would be a mistake. Yes, the current civil war is a result of our 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation, and yes, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is horrid and barbarous. It would be a feel-good, guilt-assuaging, self-justifying exercise to drop bombs, particularly with the images of desperate and dying refugees haunting our television and computer screens. Neoconservatives and liberal interventionists in both parties could applaud this exercise of American “leadership”, regardless of how ineffective or counter-productive the results are. But any help our bombs would provide would be short-lived, completely one-sided and would serve to exacerbate Iraq’s civil war. Sure, we can bomb and we can kill, but then what?

In the North of Iraq, many of Iraq’s Sunnis have aligned themselves with ISIS out of political necessity. This alignment has given ISIS the manpower and popular support needed to conquer territory and continue their campaign of terror against non-Sunni Iraqis. This alignment comes as Iraq’s Sunnis find themselves disenfranchised and marginalized by Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia dominated, and horribly corrupt and cruel, government in Baghdad. Excluded from the government and security forces, as well as large shares of revenue from oil exports, Iraq’s Sunni minority finds themselves, as many Sunnis see it, not just as losing in a contest for relevance, representation and resources, but in an existential fight for survival.

Re-entering the Iraqi civil war, whether by backing Maliki’s Shia dominated forces or the forces of the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region, will put the United States back in a position of supporting one side against the Sunnis, just as occurred from 2003-2006 when the Sunnis, with similarly no other choice, sided with ISIS’ predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq. Further marginalization of an already desperate Sunni population will push them closer to ISIS.

Any goal we have in Iraq, and I say that fully recognizing how much we have already overstepped any reasonable bounds in that country with our previous invasion and occupation, should be to re-integrate the Sunni population back into the government, the security forces and revenue. Bombing the Sunnis will force them closer to ISIS, while strengthening an exclusive government in Baghdad. Similar to the mistakes made in Afghanistan by backing Hamid Karzai’s corrupt and exclusionary government with military force, continuing to do the same in Iraq will only provide incentive to al-Maliki’s government not to reform. Answering the political grievances of the Sunni population is the only way to peace and stability in Iraq. Such a path is not available through 500-pound bombs or depleted uranium shells.

I am confident of only a few things. I believe the future holds more terror and bloodshed for the Iraqi people and I am confident of our culpability in that death and destruction. However, I am also confident that, as President Obama rightly stated, America’s military will not fix an Iraqi political problem.

I am also confident, that 11.5 years after we deposed him from power, Saddam Hussein is laughing from his grave.

Just as public pressure stopped the United States from getting involved in the middle of Syria’s Civil War in 2013, calls to Congress will have a similar effect on any potential American entry into the Iraqi Civil War. Please call your senators and representative and tell them to keep American soldiers out of Iraq.