Veterans Day Interview with Amy Goodman Part 1

I did a lengthy interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on a number of issues, some of it very personal, for Veterans Day. This first part deals primarily with our current intervention in the Iraqi Civil War:

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the nation prepares to commemorate Veterans Day, President Obama has authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq. The plan will more than double the current U.S. force in Iraq and will reportedly cost $5.6 billion. At a news conference Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby announced the decision.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: The commander-in-chief has authorized Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to deploy to Iraq up to 1,500 additional U.S. personnel over the coming months, in a noncombat role, to expand our advise and assist mission and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces. Secretary Hagel made this recommendation to the president based on the request of the government of Iraq, U.S. Central Command’s assessment of Iraqi units, the progress Iraqi security forces have made in the field, and in concert with the development of a coalition campaign plan to defend key areas and go on the offensive against ISIL.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. In a significant expansion of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, military advisers will reportedly establish training sites across Iraq. The request for $5.6 billion will reportedly be presented to Congress during the lame-duck session that begins this week. In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation broadcast Sunday, President Obama said the increased troop deployment to Iraq marks a “new phase” against Islamic State militants—an offensive strategy, rather than a defensive one.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re now in a position to start going on some offense. The airstrikes have been very effective in degrading ISIL’s capabilities and slowing the advance that they were making. Now what we need is ground troops, Iraqi ground troops, that can start pushing them back.
AMY GOODMAN: The timing of the announcement has raised questions about whether the Obama administration waited until after the midterm elections in order to shield Democratic candidates from war-weary voters. The antiwar group CodePink has criticized Obama for sending more troops to Iraq, saying in a statement, quote, “For months we’ve been hearing ‘no boots on the ground’ over and over from the administration … When will we learn from our mistakes and stop repeating history?” they wrote.

Well, for more, we go to Raleigh, North Carolina, where we’re joined by Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, former State Department official who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over the U.S. policy there in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh served in Iraq. From 2004 to ’05, he worked with a State Department reconstruction and governance team in Salah ad-Din province. And from 2006 to ’07, he worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province.

Matthew Hoh, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you share your response to the increased boots on the ground?

MATTHEW HOH: Hi, good morning, and thank you for having me on. My response is, as many people, I think, in the United States, scratching their head and wondering: What are we doing? What does the United States government really think it’s going to accomplish by putting more American troops into the middle of the Iraqi civil war and into the middle of the Syrian civil war, particularly coming off of 13 years of war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Somalia, in Yemen, etc.? So, my response, Amy, is more or less the same as most people’s, of a—very concerned and, you know, lack of a better phrase, this is crazy.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to CBS’s Face the Nation, President Obama insisted U.S. troops will focus on training Iraqis to fight ISIS and coordinating airstrikes, rather than engaging in active combat.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What hasn’t changed is, our troops are not engaged in combat. Essentially what we’re doing is we’re taking four training centers, with coalition members, that allow us to bring in Iraqi recruits, some of the Sunni tribes that are still resisting ISIL, giving them proper training, proper equipment, helping them with strategy, helping them with logistics. We will provide them close air support once they are prepared to start going on the offense against ISIL. But what we will not be doing is having our troops do the fighting.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama refused to rule out further increases in U.S. troops in Iraq.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As commander-in-chief, I’m never going to say never, but what, you know, the commanders who presented the plan to me say is that we may actually see fewer troops over time, because now we’re seeing coalition members starting to partner with us on the training and assist effort.
AMY GOODMAN: That is President Obama on CBS’s Face the Nation. Matthew Hoh, do you believe what he’s saying?

MATTHEW HOH: No, I don’t. And I think it’s very easy for us to revisit this in a few months’ time, just as now we’re revisiting this from several months ago, and see the increase, the graduation of entry of American forces back into the conflict. But I think it’s a slippery slope—excuse me—and that very quickly this will spin out of control for the United States. What happens when American troops are killed? What happens when we lose several young men to a suicide bomber? How is the president going to react to that? How is the United States going to react when our troops are in combat and we only have 3,000? And the president, who can’t seem to face down the same critics in Congress who are always demanding for war, the John McCains and Lindsey Graham, how is he going to face them down then, if he can’t face them down now? So, I don’t believe his words, and I think that this is going to be the beginning of an unfortunate and tragic re-entry of America back into this civil war.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the fate of the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Iraqi officials claim he was wounded in an airstrike on ISIS leaders in Iraq’s Anbar province, Anbar province where you were, Matthew Hoh.

MATTHEW HOH: It may be true. I mean, certainly it could possibly happen, but I don’t put much stock in that having a great effect on the Islamic State. They’ll just get another leader. Look, Osama bin Laden has been dead for three-and-a-half years, and the administration is citing how dangerous al-Qaeda still is, in order to justify spying on Americans or justify bombing in Syria. The precursor to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq, which didn’t exist, of course, until we invaded Iraq, but al-Qaeda in Iraq, which morphed into the Islamic State, their leader, al-Zarqawi, was killed in 2006, and here we are now in 2014 facing an even stronger, more dangerous, more barbaric force in the Islamic State. So, I don’t—if he’s dead, you know, I don’t think it’s going to affect things in the mid or long term in terms of what’s occurring in Iraq, what’s occurring in Syria, because the issues here go well beyond one man or one group. It goes into issues relating to sectarian violence, that has been fostered and pushed by policies from the United States, from the West, from the Gulf nations, that have created this Frankenstein, ISIS, and that have enabled the environment for civil war to flourish.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about that, how ISIS was created, its support, and what you feel is the alternative?

MATTHEW HOH: Sure. Well, the Islamic State, as I just mentioned, came from the al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was an organization that sprang to life after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, one of the things that—when I was there in Iraq, as well as in the State Department and the Pentagon in D.C., one of the things we always noticed about it and one of the things that we saw was that it was—while it had a number of foreign fighters in it, a number of young men who were coming from other Arab nations to fight against the Americans in Iraq, very often, though, the—or I should say, the majority of the constituency of al-Qaeda in Iraq were Iraqis in 2006, 2007, because so many people were supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq based on sectarian reasons. So, basically, what was occurring in Iraq was you had this civil war, so the Sunnis in Iraq were supporting al-Qaeda because they had no other choice.

In 2006, 2007, we made a deal with the Sunnis. We gave them money. We brought them back into the power structure. We pulled Shia forces out of the Sunni areas. And so, the Sunnis then turned on al-Qaeda. What happened after that was, when the United States left in 2011, the Shia government in Baghdad, which is incredibly corrupt, relentlessly went after the Sunnis. They persecuted them to an extent that I don’t think people realize the violence behind that. This wasn’t just excluding the Sunnis from government, this was actively killing them, actively chasing them from their homes, actively mass arrests—actively arresting them in mass numbers, to the point that the Sunnis have revolted and have thrown their weight behind this group, the Islamic State, which is the successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq. So what you see here is this horrible group, Islamic State, that’s very barbaric. They have this extreme religious fanaticism and ideology behind them. But they are receiving the support of many Sunni Arabs in the area, in Iraq and Syria, because of the alternatives to the Islamic State are government forces that the Sunnis see as much worse to them than the Islamic State.

My alternative to the U.S. bombing campaign, to the U.S. military intervention is this. This is the consequence of decades of United States policy in the Middle East that has played one sect against the other. The Islamic State is a Frankenstein of our creation. And as horrible as it is, the purposes behind the United States policy in the Middle East must change to be one of preventing conflict rather than fostering conflict. For decades now, we have supported various regimes in the Middle East that have been despotic, that have been dictatorships, that have oppressed their people, or, in the alternative, we have supported these groups that have then morphed into these organizations like al-Qaeda, like the Islamic State. And it’s now out of control. And so, for me, the alternative in Iraq is to stop supporting a Shia government that is horribly corrupt, that is persecuting its own people, stop buying their oil, stop selling their weapons. Look, Amy, when we—as the United States, when we sell the world 70 percent of its weapons, we have to take responsibility for the havoc that’s going to result from that. So, a lot of this, to me, is not so much what do we do now. What do we do over the next decades to disengage ourself from this policy where we have created these Frankensteins, we have created conditions for civil war, where we have set one group, whether it be by religion, by sect, by ethnicity, against the other? And how do we walk away from that? How do we back out of that and become a much more responsible partner in the world? And how do we seek to actually bring about justice, bring about stability, rather than fostering either war or oppression?

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, can you describe your own transformation, how you came to the position you have? You fought in Iraq. You served in Afghanistan. You quit as a State Department official in protest of the war in Afghanistan. Explain the trajectory you took over the years.

MATTHEW HOH: Well, I think, for me, it begins in 2002 when I’m stationed in the Pentagon. I was put in a very senior position. Just happened—just happened I worked directly for the secretary of the Navy as a Marine Corps captain. And so, in the run-up to the war, the Iraq War, and during the initial phases of the Iraq War, I was very close to the decision making, the policy making. I could see how things were done, how decisions were made, how assessments were conducted. And I could see very quickly, particularly once the war began in Iraq and once we started receiving our communications from our forces in Iraq, our classified communications detailing what was occurring on the ground, the dissonance, the disconnect between what policy was being promulgated in Washington, D.C., what assessments were being made, what statements were being made, and what the reality was on the ground.

Of course, when I got there in 2004, 2005, I saw that firsthand. I saw how our presence was fueling the occupation, how we were setting one group against the other, how we were aiding corrupt and thuggish militias in power in Iraq. The same thing, too—I came back to D.C., worked in the State Department again on the Iraq desk and again, in an inter-agency process, saw that disconnect between what’s occurring in Iraq and what we’re actually saying, and the refusal by people in the administration, by people in the military, in the government, to acknowledge that our policies weren’t just harmful, but they were malignant, that they were causing further violence, they were causing groups like al-Qaeda to gain support.

And so, this continued until finally I was in Afghanistan in 2009 and seeing all the same things again, seeing the narrative that we have the white hats on, that American troops are dying to protect us, to keep us free, seeing that really what we were doing in Afghanistan was taking part in a civil war, our presence was fueling the insurgency, we were propping up a corrupt kleptocracy, and that al-Qaeda had left Afghanistan years before. I decided at that point in 2009 I no longer could take part in it. And, you know, here we are five years later.

With American Help Iraq’s Cycle of Violence Spirals

I published this last week in the Huffington Post:

Amnesty International published a report yesterday on Iraqi Government and Shia militia war crimes against Sunni populations in Iraq. This important piece of documentation helps to illustrate the cycle of violence that has been devastating the people of Iraq for 11 years and why US military intervention, on behalf of the Shia government and against the Sunni population, is not working, will not work, and will only prolong the suffering of millions of Iraqis.

Over the last several years, since the US military withdrew in late 2011*, the Shia government in Baghdad has persecuted the Sunni minority population relentlessly. Persecution against Sunnis has included killings, disappearances, mass arrests, indefinite detainment without charges or trial, torture, and exclusion from national, provincial and local political, security and revenue structures.

The result has been Sunni alignment with the Islamic State and organized revolution against the Shia dominated government in Baghdad with the all too predictable accompanying sectarian slaughter. Mass Sunni retaliation against non-Sunnis, led by the Islamic State, highlighted the news cycle this summer, although this type of bloodshed was nothing unique or new to the people of Iraq. The cycle of violence continues as Shia forces, now with American military support, engage in retribution against Sunni civilians.

This cycle of violence started with our invasion of Iraq in 2003, and while it diminished for a period of time from 2007-2011, it has since been progressing steadily. Nearly 10,000 Iraqis were killed in sectarian violence in 2013, and, if nothing changes, at the current rate, nearly 20,000 Iraqis, maybe more, will die this year.

What can and should be done?

Address the political grievances of the Sunni population. Give the Sunnis a reason not to support the Islamic State. Right now the Sunni population of Iraq is choosing to side with the Islamic State because that is a better option than to further acquiesce to the Shia government in Baghdad. To accomplish Sunni rejection of the Islamic State pressure must be put on the government in Baghdad to reform by incorporating Sunnis back into the security forces, into the political system and into the revenue streams, as well as removing Shia dominated security forces from Sunni areas. Greater autonomy must be given to Sunni areas; note this is not a Sunni only demand, but the government in Baghdad is so corrupt, that the Shia province of Basra in southern Iraq wants autonomy too.

The government in Baghdad will not reform or stop its persecution of Sunnis while we provide it with unconditional support through weapons sales and the use of the American air force or while we allow the continued sale of Iraqi oil. With no reform and no negotiation the Sunnis will remain attached to the Islamic State. With no political efforts the Islamic State will continue to grow stronger.

Sound familiar? Like our misadventure in Afghanistan? The greater we supported the corrupt government in Kabul and the more American troops we sent, the more the Taliban prospered. A similar dynamic is at play in Iraq. Consequently, without a change in American policy the cycle of violence in Iraq will continue its ghastly spiral, Amnesty International will find cause and need to publish more reports, and parasites of war, like the Islamic State and American defense companies will be the sole beneficiaries.

You may find the Amnesty International report here.

*This is not an endorsement for US forces to have remained in Iraq, but rather acknowledgment of one of the consequences of massive policy folly and foolishness. Despite a revisionist view currently circulated by hawks in D.C. and on TV, the prospect of American troops staying in Iraq past 2011 was wildly unpopular with a majority of Iraqis and would have led to a re-opening of the Iraq Civil War, including Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces once again killing American troops in large numbers. One of the foremost lessons that somehow, amazingly, we have not learned as Americans, is that once war has begun, war is impossible to control and there may be no options that result in anything other than death, maiming and destruction.

Part Two of Interview with Bill Moyers

Here is part two of my interview with Bill Moyers.

http://billmoyers.com/2014/09/26/web-extra-americas-return-war-middle-east/

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Here is the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan, you were as I said one of the few reporters who got it right in 2003 in the run-up to the Iraqi invasion. Do you see any similarities today?

JONATHAN LANDAY: No, except for the involvement of the United States military. This president, as opposed to George W. Bush, basically had to be dragged kicking and screaming into intervening in Iraq and now Syria. He campaigned on a promise to get America out of Afghanistan and out of Iraq.

And the US intelligence community had been tracking the threat by the Islamic state for several years and warning the administration that this was a grave threat, this was a growing threat to the region, not just to Iraq, not just to Syria but to the region. And yet this president resisted and resisted and resisted doing anything beyond trying to get the former Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki to try and respond in a forceful way and failing to do so because Maliki simply was not going to listen to the Americans anymore.

And eventually the Americans even knew three days before the Islamic State’s offensive across the border from Syria into Mosul in northern Iraq and then down into sort of to the doorstep of Baghdad. Three days before they launched it, the Americans knew this was going to happen. Tried to get Maliki again to respond and he didn’t.

BILL MOYERS: Where were you in 2003?

MATTHEW HOH: I was actually in the Pentagon in 2003–

BILL MOYERS: And what–

MATTHEW HOH: –working directly for the secretary of the Navy.

BILL MOYERS: And do you see any similarity between now and then?

MATTHEW HOH: Yes, in a sense that for decades now we’ve had a policy in the Middle East where we play one sect against another. I have friends who served 20, 30 years in the military, and they will all say, I have spent half my career in the Middle East. And what’s come of it? I see us having a policy that again for decades has been a military first policy that has either rewarded despotic authoritarian regimes with arms sales or facilitating the purchase of their oil or the regimes we do not agree with, facilitating sectarian unrest sponsoring rebels, sponsoring groups that have then morphed into a Frankenstein like the Islamic State.

And so certainly I see in Iraq now, one, the cause of the conflict or our invasion of 2003, our subsequent occupation. I would say in Iraq we have the world’s largest embassy. But yet as Jonathan was saying, we did nothing to stop what was coming. My view is a little more harsh in terms of putting the blame on the government in Baghdad and their repression of the Sunnis. If you have a government that is repressing one of its minority sects, stop selling them weapons. Stop facilitating the purchase of oil, don’t turn a blind eye. What happened in Iraq is in the summer you had the Iraqi army collapse and then the Sunnis fill that void just as the Kurds filled the void in the north as well. And so this is certainly something that we should’ve seen coming and certainly the parallels to previous experiences there as well then to our policy is what has put much of this in place.

JONATHAN LANDAY: The sale of weapons to the Maliki government was something the administration resisted for quite a while.

BILL MOYERS: The Obama administration?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Absolutely. They were asking, there was this incident and a lot of people didn’t pay attention to it. I believe it was back in March of 2013. There were a whole bunch of Syrian soldiers who ran across the border from Syria, into Iraq, seeking refuge and sanctuary from an attack by the Islamic State.

The Iraqis brought these guys, put them on busses the following day and took them, were taking them back to Syria to another border crossing when they were attacked inside Iraq by the Islamic State, killed more than 40 Syrians. That incident, following that incident, Maliki’s office asked the United States, please we need air strikes, we need weapons. As far as we could tell that was one of the first times they asked for it. And they were not forthcoming. They, Iraqis, we sold the Iraqis, concluded contracts for the sale, I think, of F-16s and helicopter gun-ships, I think the F-16s in 2011. They still have not been delivered.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think was the decisive tipping point that turned Barack Obama around and prompted him to order the bombing this week?

JONATHAN LANDAY: I think this assault first of all on Mosul and the collapse of the Iraqi army and an army that we had poured billions of dollars into in weapons and training that just collapsed overnight. Four divisions just collapsed and their officers took off allowing the Islamic State to sweep down literally to the doorstep of Baghdad.

What that did was essentially end up trisecting Iraq into a northern part where the Kurds were able to hold onto their piece, although they were under attack by the Islamic State, a middle part, a “Sunnistan,” if you will, where there’s no resources, where you have this minority who join, a lot of whom joined the Islamic State or supported, allied themselves, creating this potential space where the Islamic State could plot and plan attacks elsewhere and push out from. And then in the Baghdad south you have this area dominated by Iraqi Shiite majority. So the United States looked at this and said, we need to be able to keep Iraq together because if this place falls apart, we’ve got an even bigger crisis in the Middle East. And so you saw–

BILL MOYERS: Another vacuum like Afghanistan–

JONATHAN LANDAY: Absolutely, absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: –in the ’94, ’96 when the Taliban moved in?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: Russians left, the United States was not there–

JONATHAN LANDAY: That’s right. And you already had that situation in northern Syria let’s not forget. There’s this gigantic ungoverned space where you had–

BILL MOYERS: Ungoverned space?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Ungoverned space except you had Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the official Al Qaeda syndicate in Syria, and the Islamic State, which once upon a time was part of Al Qaeda, controlling these pieces of territory already in Syria. Then you had the potential collapse of Iraq as a state that we’ve known since the end of World War I.

And then, and so that’s when you started seeing the air strikes. But what I think really turned him into this, you know, brought us this phase where he is now backing this huge international, or leading this huge international coalition was the switch in American public opinion. You had American public opinion which was dead set against any kind of intervention in Syria or Iraq and turned because of the videos of the beheading of two American journalists.

BILL MOYERS: But it was only when two American journalists were beheaded that the public woke up, right?

MATTHEW HOH: Absolutely. Last year in 2013 almost 10,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in bombings. This year over 12,000 have been killed–

BILL MOYERS: Suicide bombings–

MATTHEW HOH: Suicide bombing, car bombings, gunfights, bombs put in marketplaces, but 10,000 in 2013. So I think the important thing for people to understand about this conflict and, of course, the Syrian conflict, is that this didn’t just begin this summer. This is something that’s been going on for a long time.

The government in Baghdad is very corrupt. And to show how corrupt the government in Baghdad is, and this is a Shia-dominated government, but at least two provinces in southern Iraq that are Shia, including Basra, have also made noises about secession. So this is not anything that we should be surprised how the state of affairs in Iraq.

We should not have been surprised that the Sunnis are not allying themselves with the Islamic State. This has been coming for years now. The question to me is what do you do? How do you how do you rectify this? And how do you stop and halt this cycle of violence? Because this year it’ll be, you know, if the numbers keep up, it’ll be 20,000 civilian dead in Iraq. Next year it’ll be 30,000. We have to remember that in Syria over the last three years you had 200,000 dead. How do you stop the cycle of violence?

BILL MOYERS: Why do so many people ignore the fact that air power didn’t win in Vietnam and it didn’t win in Afghanistan where you were in the foreign service. It didn’t prevail in Iraq recently. You don’t think air strikes are going to resolve this crisis, do you?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Not air strikes alone. I’ve got to go back to something though you said earlier. And you brought up the period in Afghanistan beginning in 1994 with the emergence of the Taliban who then went on to conquer Afghanistan and create essentially what was, I mean, they governed it, but it was this space in which Al Qaeda was able to come, get sanctuary and plot the 2001 attacks on the United States.

I think that there were a lot of, there were people within the military, within U.S. intelligence that were looking at northern Syria and the fact that you had exactly the same kind of situation take place there with the defeat of, in a lot of these rural areas abutting Iraq, of the Syrian army of President Bashar al-Assad and the conquest of these areas by Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, by the Islamic State, by other Islamist groups. And I think they looked at that and drew a parallel between what could happen there and what happened in Afghanistan in the 1990s and said, we cannot allow that to take place.

Now, originally, you know, the idea was we’re going to help Iraq do this, we’re going to reconstitute the Iraqi army, good luck with that, and you know arm the Kurds and get them to be our ground forces. And there is a model for that. It is Afghanistan 2001 where yes, it was U.S. air power and some special forces on the ground. But the United States actually had ground troops there. They weren’t Americans, they were the Northern Alliance.

And they swept out of the north, backed by American air power, and drove the Taliban out of the country. Subsequently we see there were enormous policy missteps and mess-ups that failed to crush the Taliban. I don’t know if it could ever happen. But that’s a model I think they’re looking at.

BILL MOYERS: But Matthew resigned from the foreign service because he said the war the American war in Afghanistan was only making the situation worse.

MATTHEW HOH: I still hold that conviction. I, you know, you look at the state of Afghanistan after we’ve surged 150,000 foreign troops into Afghanistan. You have a Taliban that is stronger, they launch more and more attacks every year, they control a large part of the terrain. You have a political process in Afghanistan that’s completely broken. You have this unity government that has come out of an election that was so fraudulent that no numbers can be released from it. The only thing that has, the only thing that has done well in Afghanistan has been the drug trade.

Every year there’s record poppy and opium exports out of Afghanistan. And so what has that achieved? And on top of that, Afghan civilians have paid the cost. And for me I look at this and I say you have these schisms in this country. We are supporting one side against the other. By doing so in 2009, I felt our policy was military victory first. I actually had experiences in Afghanistan in my post where we had the insurgency come to us, want to negotiate, want to talk and we were instructed not to speak with them, that we were going to–

BILL MOYERS: By your superiors?

MATTHEW HOH: –win militarily, yes, that was our policy.

BILL MOYERS: Who told you what?

MATTHEW HOH: We were going to, this is not, we are not in the business of reconciliation. And you’d see this then echoed through statements by Secretary Clinton or General Petraeus or others in the Obama administration that we are going to drive the insurgents, we are going to drive the Taliban to the negotiations table. And of course that didn’t happen.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think the president, when these air strikes fail to solve the situation, will send troops?

MATTHEW HOH: The, I think there’ll be a lot of pressure. I think you’re seeing members of Congress already make noise about having ground troops. You’re seeing think tanks in Washington, DC put out numbers at 25,000 ground troops would be appropriate. And so I feel and I fear that there’s going to be a lot of pressure put on the president to send troops back into it. I think that would be a horrible mistake. You, if, in my opinion, if you want to stop this conflict, in Syria, I think we may have missed that window. For years in Syria, we refused any meaningful negotiations. We, our goal in Syria was Assad’s removal. So in any of these peace talks in Syria, we always limited the options Assad had.

We refused to allow the Iranians to participate, which is Assad’s main ally. So we always stacked the deck in these negotiations so that it was never going to be an outcome that– where you would get some negotiated settlement where each side would give up something and get something in return. In Iraq, I still think there’s time. And Iraq, but I think you have to hold the gun to Baghdad’s head, not the Sunni’s heads. For as long as it–

BILL MOYERS: That didn’t work with Maliki.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Right. And I have to say–

BILL MOYERS: He’s gone now because it didn’t work.

JONATHAN LANDAY: And I have to say, I don’t think it was just the Americans that stacked the deck in the negotiations. There was no way Assad was giving up, the Assad family’s going to give up 40 years of power. No way. And let’s not forget, I mean, do you really negotiate with a guy who’s allegedly used chemical weapons against his own people? I mean, some of the atrocities that have taken place, not just at the hands of the Islamic State, but at the hands of these of Assad’s forces, are just unbelievable. So I don’t think it’s just the Americans that were preventing, you know, the, I don’t think these negotiations were going to work one way or the other.

I think, you know, after 40 years, and let’s not forget, this isn’t the first time that the Sunnis in Syria have fought the Assad family. It’s not. You know, remember what Bashar’s father did in 1982, in Hama where between 20,000 and 40,000 people killed in the space of several weeks. I mean, these are grievances that have built up over decades and pressures that have built up over decades. In Iraq, you know, I agree, I don’t know how they’re going to, you know, the I don’t even know if it’s possible to put it back together in Iraq. The Kurds, for the time being, have given up their demands for independence.

And I remember meeting with a very senior Kurdish official in Washington, was there to basically tell the White House, yeah, we’ll participate in a post-Maliki government, but only to negotiate the terms of our divorce. We are going to hold a referendum and we’re outta here. That’s gone away. And I can see the, you know, the behind-the-scenes negotiations, if you want us to stage air strikes to prevent the Islamic State from overrunning your capital Erbil, you better give up this referendum. And they have for the time being.

MATTHEW HOH: But we have to start pulling back out of these affairs. We have to start trying to become a more neutral arbiter.

BILL MOYERS: How do you do that though without creating the vacuum that you say emerged in Afghanistan, and caused so much grief?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Absolutely. And, you know, and I just have to say also, I think Afghanistan’s still a work in progress too. You know, I’ve been going there since 1986. The first time I went there was with the mujahideen. I crossed the border during the Soviet occupation. And then I went legally in 1987, the first time I was allowed in. And I have to say, the contrast between the Afghanistan that I saw then, and the Afghanistan I see now, with all the attendant problems that Matt has talked about, there is an unbelievable difference.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think it?

MATTHEW HOH: Certainly in certain parts of the country, absolutely. I mean, so how do, you know, in the north, in the west of the country, in, certainly of the urban areas in Afghanistan, absolutely. But when you go to the south and the east where the fighting is, and it’s hard. It’s horrible. I mean–

JONATHAN LANDAY: Absolutely.

MATTHEW HOH: –I mean, so how do you answer grievances, how do you get to a point where these groups aren’t at each other’s throat, where there isn’t a fighting over resources where there isn’t a fight over population centers–

JONATHAN LANDAY: But I also have to say that there are, you know, I’ve gone back and I I’ve looked at places where we’ve intervened militarily. There aren’t a lot of successes out there. There’s Grenada, there’s Panama, there’s Kosovo, and there’s the Balkans, writ large. And you know, yes, there are real problems in Bosnia because of this political system that the United States cooked up to try and put that place back together again. But it did stop the war. And, you now, have Croatia is part of the EU, Slovenia is part of the EU, Bosnia is looking to get into the EU and looking to get into NATO. Serbia is looking is on the track for the EU and looking to get into NATO. Kosovo, the same thing. Macedonia, the same thing. So you got to say to yourself, well, is it possible? Yeah, maybe.

BILL MOYERS: How does the president do that? Very quickly, both of you.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, I think we see where he’s trying to go, which is this idea of American air strikes in conjunction with the creation of some moderate Syrian force that will fight ISIS, and then perhaps after that, go fight Assad. Come, and you put that together with this effort to try to put together a more representative government in Baghdad. You know, all these financial measures to try and stop the flow of money, stop the flow of foreign fighters, but again, you know, go back to my original point, how do you deal how do you stop all of this without dealing with the, addressing the underlying problems of that region, that I don’t see the local leaders trying to deal with, the lack of jobs, the fighting the corruption, the lack of representative government, the lack of accountability. You know, lack of educational opportunities, healthcare? Unless somehow that is tackled, we could find ourselves continually trapped in this cycle.

MATTHEW HOH: How do you break the cycle? I mean, I hate to say it, I mean, as Jonathan was saying, like, how do you negotiate with either sides? And now it’s so far gone, and the violence is so revenge oriented and sect against sect, even among the moderate Syrian forces, their hatred of the Shia and the Alawite people is clear in their messaging and what they say. And in Iraq, my view is, hold the gun to the government of Baghdad. Iraq is basically filled now to its borders within the country, by the various ethnic groups. The Sunnis have their area, the Shia have their area, the Kurds have their area. Hold the gun to Baghdad’s head economically, because Baghdad will not reform as long as we’re, as long as we’re their air force.

Why would they? What incent do they have to meet any Sunni grievances? And at the same time, the Sunnis won’t divorce themselves or split from the Islamic State when they see no other alternative. And that’s what’s so horrific about the situation in Iraq, is that the people talk about the Sunnis, they’re going to wake up to the fact that the Islamic State is a bad thing. I’m pretty sure they’re aware of that already. But and so the scary thing is, in spite of that, they have aligned themselves with the Islamic State, because the Islamic State’s barbarity, their grotesqueness is a better option for the Sunnis right now than anything else they see. So how do you change that? And to do that, you have to have serious reform in Baghdad. You have to answer the Sunnis’ grievances, the Shia need to make concessions.

I think the Kurds in the north have to make concessions. Remember that when this happened this summer in Iraq, the Kurds enlarged their territory by 40 percent. They took control of most of the northern oil fields. So now the Sunnis in a different, in addition to the mass arrests, the mass killings from the Iraqi army, the Shia army that they’ve been dealing with, now they’re looking at economic existential danger from the fact that they no longer have these resources up there.

The Kurds control all the oil. So again, what do you give the Sunnis to make them break from the Islamic State and how do you beat down this organization that’s doing so well propaganda-wise? You know, Haaretz, the Israel daily, reports that 6,000 foreign fighters have joined the Islamic State since the United States began bombing. So how do we defeat that propaganda, how do we take away that recruitment potential, how do we stop validating their narrative that they’re defending the Islamic people, and particularly, the Sunnis, against the crusaders and against the apostate Shia and Kurds?

BILL MOYERS: You’re the one who said to us earlier this week, this is the nightmare of Groundhog Day. Exactly what does that mean?

JONATHAN LANDAY: Well, I mean, it’s the cycle that we keep getting trapped in. And we keep repeating a lot of the same mistakes. You know, I look at what 12 years, I think it has been in Afghanistan, and sort of the campaign that we launched into Pakistan’s tribal area to degrade and destroy Al Qaeda. We certainly have degraded them. We certainly have not destroyed them. Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda Central, as it’s referred to, just announced the creation of an India wing of Al Qaeda. So but, and so yeah, I know, you know, it is, it’s the nightmare of Groundhog Day, because we keep going finding ourselves trapped in this endless cycle. But perhaps that’s the curse of being the country that we are. The country we have been since World War I where, you know, we, as much as President Obama wishes we weren’t the world’s policemen, perhaps we are. And there’s no escaping that curse.

BILL MOYERS: This has been a wonderful conversation, Jonathan Landay and Matthew Hoh, thank you very much for being with me.

MATTHEW HOH: Thank you.

JONATHAN LANDAY: Thank you.

My Response to the President on Iraq and Syria

Here on Huffington Post.

Perpetual War, and Shame, Is Our Policy

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings. — President Barack Obama, Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009

The United States’ official policy in the Middle East is now perpetual war. What has been known for some time, including by those of us who have served overseas, by the millions who have suffered through our bombs and our bullets, and, of course, by the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been ripped from their families and from any promised futures, President Obama solidified last night.

The United States, by agreeing to airstrikes without end in support of a corrupt and sectarian government in Baghdad; by championing a Shia and Kurdish invasion of Sunni lands; and by promising arms, munitions and money to rebel groups in the middle of the Syrian Civil War, the same groups that sold Steven Sotloff to his beheading, has adopted a policy that will exacerbate the civil wars in both Iraq and Syria and deepen the nightmare existence of their people. President Obama’s speech will be remembered as a mark of moral shame on the United States, so very opposite and so very contradictory to the courage shown by the president five years ago in Cairo, Egypt.

Today, on the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is clear to me that the cowardice evinced by the president is directly proportional to the never-ending 9/11 fear mongering that continues to paralyze and retard this country. In reply to the deliberate provocation by the Islamic State through the ghastly executions of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the United States has fulfilled the Islamic State’s wishes by committing to add more violence to the uncontrollable cycle of violence that has already authored the deaths of 700,000 Iraqis and Syrians.

Pressured by the panicked and hysterical cries of members of Congress, President Obama offered no solutions to the underlying political causes of the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, instead he obligated the American public to a renewed partaking and sharing in the bloodshed and slaughter along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

Towards Iraq, the president offered familiar axioms about the necessity of a political resolution, but he gave no assurances that Sunni grievances would be addressed nor did he explain how the United States would force the government in Baghdad to make much needed concessions in order to achieve political order. Rather, the reality of what America has pledged to do in Iraq is to assist in Shia subjugation of the Sunnis by U.S. bombing of Sunni villages, towns and cities. The American military will also ensure the Kurds keep the oil fields they seized this summer in Northern Iraq, effectively strangling the Sunnis economically. In turn, the Sunnis, in existential desperation, will give full support to the Islamic State. How this does not bring Iraq back to the violence of 2006, or worse, I do not know.

With regards to Syria, the president did not even attempt to make comments towards a political process to end the fighting and the killing. The United States will simply add more to Syria’s death and destruction. Yes, that is all; we will simply add more to it.

Whatever remaining partitions separating the wars in Iraq and Syria will soon disappear. When that occurs, I am unsure of how a political solution appears that will not require a re-drawing of boundaries and the creation of new states. Sadly, with the president’s plan, I do not believe such a political solution will be available until murderous exhaustion has overcome the belligerent sects and ghostly no-man’s lands delineate the end of one people and the beginning of another. Through all that, as long as the United States is shackled with the debilitating psychosis of 9/11 and the resultant moral weakness of our elected officials, the Middle East will be full of targets for our bombs, Iraqi and Syrian mothers and fathers will raise children destined to kill and be killed, jihadist narratives of Crusaders will be validated, and our perpetual war will be as boundless as our shame.

MORE:

The Beheadings Are Bait

From September 4th in the Huffington Post:

“All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there and cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses…” — Osama bin Laden

On the last day of March, in 2004, four American contractors were ambushed and killed in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah. Mutilated and immolated by a mob, their remains were strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River.

Barely a month later, in May, Nicholas Berg, a young American who had traveled to Iraq looking for work and had been captured, was beheaded.

Videos of the swinging American bodies and Berg’s execution were posted online and aired hourly on cable television. Americans were horrified and shocked. Operation Iraqi Freedom was unraveling. With this graphic confirmation of barbarity and terror President Bush reacted forcefully, desperate to demonstrate American resolve, strength and revenge.

U.S. Marines attacked twice into Fallujah, in April and then again in November 2004. In some of the worst fighting of the war, large parts of the city were destroyed, thousands killed and the majority of the city displaced. Throughout Iraq, American forces went on the offensive, attempting to stamp out “terrorists” by launching greater and more violent operations than had been seen since the invasion.

This military action, which was quite successful in sheer numbers of Iraqis killed or interned in detention camps, backfired as the often arbitrary, uncontrollable and escalatory nature of violence, as so happens in war, further enflamed hatred of the foreign occupation and led to greater Iraqi support, directly and indirectly, to the insurgency. This, in turn, strengthened al-Qaeda in Iraq, as well as al-Qaeda’s broader global narrative of fighting “Crusaders” and defending Muslims. When the release of the Abu Ghraib torture photos added to this narrative, thousands of outraged Muslim men traveled to Iraq to join al-Qaeda’s cause and fight the Americans.

Alongside this increased military action, the U.S. accelerated the transfer of “sovereignty” to the Iraqis through an inept political process that replaced the incompetent American-led Coalition Provisional Authority with a corrupt network of mostly Shia expatriate Iraqis. This interim government in Baghdad, full of Iraqis whose chief qualification was that they spoke English and dressed in Western suits, oversaw a political vacuum that deepened the chaos.

Shia groups battled other Shia groups for power and money in Baghdad; Sunnis and Shias massacred one another; minorities, such as Turkmens and Christians, fled Baghdad; the Kurds smartly walled themselves off in their homeland in North Iraq; and everyone who was not on the United States payroll fought the Americans, primarily young American men, many really boys, who were mired in a rising and bloody civil war in which they were ordered to pick winners and losers, with the barrel of a rifle, in a society and land they did not understand. With that, 500,000 Iraqis were killed, millions wounded and maimed, and one in eight Iraqis were displaced forcibly from their homes in a civil war that is still raging ten years later.

Now, in 2014, with the ghastly beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, America is poised to make the same mistakes. While escalating American airstrikes and sending more troops to Iraq may assuage the fear and horror affecting the American public, and motivating America’s politicians, acting on those feelings will ensure greater conflict and loss.

The Islamic State, like al Qaeda, requires the United States to serve as a villain in order for the Islamic State to receive manpower, logistics and financial support from Sunni Muslim communities. Additionally, an American military re-entry into the Iraqi Civil War in support of Shia and Kurdish factions, without lasting and serious political concessions from Baghdad towards Sunni grievances, will worsen the same political disenfranchisement and sense of existential danger that has pushed the Sunnis to align with the Islamic State. In the short-term American bombs may hurt the Islamic State, but in the long-term it is what they need and want.

The Islamic State is a parasite of war. Its members and its narrative need war for their personal, organizational and ideological validation and success. That is why the only way to defeat the Islamic State is to take the war away from them. Abandoning support to all sides in the conflict, including oil sales from the Iraqi government and American support for the oil fields seized by the Kurds this summer, will put all sides of the Iraqi Civil War at a disadvantage and force concessions in order to meet Sunni grievances. Achieving a permanent political solution will divorce the Islamic State from the Sunni community. Notions of American support to a Shia and Kurdish invasion of Sunni lands, again, will only strengthen the Islamic State by giving them the Sunni population’s support they require and by feeding into the Islamic State’s members own romantic visions of their historical and divine place defending Islam.

In our rush to return to war in Iraq we are playing into the Islamic State’s hands, just as we played into the hands of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 and into Osama bin Laden’s larger strategy with our morally disastrous Global War on Terror, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

After tens of thousands of American dead and wounded, with veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq killing themselves at rates three times greater than their civilian peers, and with a total cost of the wars projected at six trillion dollars, it is safe to say that Bin Laden’s goals, with respect to the above quote, have largely been achieved.

We seem likely to take the bait again.