Presidential War Lies, Standing Ovations and the Great Waste of Everything

From yesterday’s Huffington Post:

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
— Aeschylus 525-456 BC

As reported by the BBC this month, the Taliban have rejected an offer by the newly installed President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, of Cabinet positions and governorships in three Afghan provinces. The provinces include Helmand and Kandahar, where thousands of American and Western troops have been killed and wounded, particularly since 2009 when President Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan rather than seeking a political solution to end the war.

Five years on and Afghan civilian and security force casualties are at record highs, the Taliban is larger and stronger than it has been at any point since 2001, government and police corruption is massively untamed, and Afghans last year were subjected to their third incredibly fraudulent national election in five years. In fact, the only thing going well for anyone in Afghanistan, besides the Taliban and those on the take of Western foreign aid, are the bumper narcotics crops, which each year produce historic yields.

The Taliban, having been offered power in their home region, have spurned any opportunities for reconciliation and compromise. “Moderates” within the Taliban, whom we could have negotiated with in 2008 and 2009 prior to President Obama’s escalation of the war, have been proven wrong and largely eliminated. The hard-line elements of the Taliban, having seen the Taliban weather the full force of the United States of America, see history as repeating itself or, at the very least, rhyming. Like the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, it is now just a question of time before the foreign backed regime in Kabul collapses. Time, among many other factors, was always on the side of the Afghan insurgents.
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Veterans Day Interview, Part 1, Segment 2

Appropriately, on Veterans Day, this segment deals primarily with the issue of suicides within the veterans community. Unfortunately, the satellite drops before we finished talking.

TRANSCRIPT

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

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Matthew Hoh, you write on your website, quote, “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.” That was what you said. As the nation commemorates Veterans Day tomorrow, what do you want people to understand about the impact of war on those who serve?

MATTHEW HOH: You know, with this recent—and I appreciate you bringing it up, Amy, and certainly, just if anyone is listening or watching, you can contact me through my website, and I’m happy to talk about my own struggles with PTSD, with alcohol abuse, with suicidality, because other people helped me, and that’s how we survive this. You know, the costs of these wars, I think, are something that’s hidden, Amy. The suicides are a constant in the veteran community. This is something that has always occurred. I don’t like using the term “epidemic,” because that implies that it’s somehow worse now than it was before, and I don’t think that’s ever been the case. I think men and women coming home from war have always been afflicted with suicide. But we’re at the point now where—

AMY GOODMAN: What are the numbers per day? Do you know?

MATTHEW HOH: The numbers are—yes, the numbers are quite striking, and these numbers are conservative because we don’t have full data from all the states. It was only a couple years ago, Amy, that the Veterans Administration actually started tracking veteran suicides on a national level. But right now we’re looking at at least 22 veterans kill themselves every day. More than two of those veterans every day who kill themselves are Iraq or Afghanistan veterans. Those numbers will climb as those veterans get older. But what that means for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is that more veterans have killed themselves after coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan than have been killed in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. And as I said, we can expect those numbers to climb. The things I have seen, I have been—it has been explained to me that over the course of our lifetime, Iraq and Afghanistan vets, one in five veterans who saw combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, will attempt to kill themselves. And—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, these are astounding figures. Twenty-two veterans a day in the United States?

MATTHEW HOH: At least, Amy, at least. And I say “at least,” because, as of now, we have only about 30 states contributing data to the Veterans Administration on how many veterans kill themselves. We only—

AMY GOODMAN: More than 8,000 a year.

MATTHEW HOH: Exactly. And that’s what we know of. Again, that’s what we know of. It’s 8,000 a year. It’s been always said within the veterans’ community that if you were to build a Vietnam veterans’ war memorial for those who killed themselves after they came home from Vietnam, that memorial would be longer than the memorial we have in Washington, D.C., with its 60,000 names on it.

I just had a friend of mine, one of my former officers, one of my lieutenants, just texted me yesterday to tell me one of his former marines tried to kill himself, shot himself in the head. And that kid, that young man, is now brain-dead. And this is something that in the veteran community we all know this. We see this, this experience. And so, the importance is, how do you get help? And the problem is, is like—and as you mentioned when you read from my website, the problem is, is that we don’t get help until we hit rock bottom. And that seems to be another constant in this, is that—

AMY GOODMAN: It looks like we just lost Matthew Hoh, former State Department official who resigned in protest over his post—the satellite in Raleigh, North Carolina. Matthew Hoh quit in 2009 prior to his assignment in Afghanistan. He served in Iraq. From 2004 to 2005, he worked with a State Department reconstruction and governance team there. From 2006 to ’07, he worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province. He’s now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to New Haven, Connecticut, to Yale University, where a public health worker has just returned from Liberia. He was there and is just finishing his quarantine. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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.

 

 

 

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.

“Bonfire at Midnight”

A good and dear friend of mine, Fareed, who had a great deal of influence in pushing me to address the spiritual desert, or maybe it was a wasteland, I was in, started me on reading the poems of the 13th century Sufi scholar and mystic, Rumi. I am sure many of you are familiar with Rumi’s works, if you are not, I encourage you to give his writings a read. I have found quite a connection with Rumi’s poetry, so much that I now keep a book of daily readings of Rumi’s next to my bed. Please don’t ask how often I am dutiful and consistent in my reading though… 😉

What has been most jarring to me, as I get to know Rumi, has been the sense of meandering, the sense of resignation, the sense of spiritual and emotional homelessness I find in his poems. I identify with those lost and lonely feelings, but I am reassured by Rumi’s confidence in the journey he is on and the courage he possesses, because of the strength provided by something greater than him and by his companion Shams, who was a light of mindfulness, peace and friendship.

Now I have many Shams in my life; yes that is a cheesy thing to say, but it is true. My progress forward is a testament to their strength more than mine, just as Rumi found his strength and confidence in Shams.

But to one of his poems.

The other night I was grabbed ahold by the first stanza of Rumi’s “Bonfire at Midnight”:

A shout comes out of my room

where I’ve been cooped up.

After all my lust and dead living

I can still live with you.

You want me to.

You fix and bring me food.

You forget the way I’ve been.

Was that not me? A life of lust and dead living? And is not the acceptance and forgiveness of me, by friends and family alike, the core and foundation of my recovery? Was not the fear of not receiving such acceptance and forgiveness the terror that kept me alone with alcohol as my only friend? Is not acting and living upon that acceptance and forgiveness the instrument that has resuscitated my soul and gifted me once more with a future?

Is such knowledge of that acceptance and forgiveness not a Bonfire at Midnight for me? Is it not a beacon to my soul and mind of a clear and sound determinant of life, peace and hope?`

What I love so much about art, be it written word or image, is the transfer of someone’s emotion, someone’s story, someone’s fear, affection, despair, joy, horror, beauty…someone’s life through centuries, societies and cultures to another person, who in turn, understands and recognizes himself in the artist’s message. About 800 years ago Rumi wrote the words to a “Bonfire at Midnight”. Today, half a world from Rumi’s land, in an age that would appear fantastical and magical to him, I share in Rumi’s joy and appreciate his gratitude.

There is something bigger than me in my life. There are also many Shams in my life.  I have no doubt today, on Thanksgiving, as to where my thankfulness lies.

Peace to you all and Happy Thanksgiving.