I’ve been fortunate to have been on CNN and MSNBC this past week to discuss our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, I appeared on Russia’s RT. Here’s the video:
I published this on HuffPo on Saturday:
Laughing From His Grave
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.
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.
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.