Time for some straight talk. Almost 19 years of war and we’re still in Afghanistan; my generation’s Vietnam with a better homecoming.
Failed American foreign policy strategy over three Presidential Administrations (both parties), has led to the destabilization of the Middle East, set the stage for civil war in Syria, caused the rise of ISIS (and terrorist spin-offs) and ultimately contributed to the massive refugee crisis Europe continues to face. What was once open borders across the EU is now trending closed border and razor-wire barricades. I was on the outskirts of Paris this summer, and it felt more like Afghanistan to me than any Paris I read about or saw in movies.
“I’m not sure,” said Mary Walker former USAF General Counsel replied when I asked her what she thought U.S. strategy was in Afghanistan over a private dinner hosted by my law firm around 2012.
I applaud Mary for her honesty, where others in politics seem to adopt the, “Fake it till you make it” on American strategy abroad. How many Benghazi’s do we need before we realize America has lost its north star? Trump, and the political pundits owe it to the rest of the free world to get their collective shit together. Period. End of transmission. “Make Foreign Policy Make Sense Again”.
A major reason I opted out of the Navy in 2006 after 13 years, 6 months, and 6 days of service as a Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer, was that I took a business school class that talked about reading the trends. What trend did I see developing in Washington? An endless war on terror, driven by economic and political gain, that was pushing the American warfighter to the limits of what was sustainable physically and mentally. Now most combat units have higher casualty rates from suicide than actual combat, the VA is a disaster at best, and it’s business as usual.
Today, there’s a good reason a quick Google search on “SOF war crimes” will reveal a steady stream of content. Do I blame the operators? No. How could we? American politicians have put them into the most terrible of situations for almost two decades, asked them to do horrible things, and allowed the Pentagon to create a system of advancement that promoted combat deployment after combat deployment in order to make rank. Rather than a system of advancement that forced downtime in-between. So, I blame our political leaders, not the warfighters.
Personally, I wanted better for my family. I owed them that much and I left before my retirement. My first son was born 11-30-2001 while I was forward deployed to Afghanistan with SEAL Team 3. It was one of the best decisions in my life. I can rationalize the things we did in 2001/02 because we had a clear mission. I struggle to understand how a warfighter in 2019 can rationalize the things he has seen and done.
So what do we as Americans do about it? One of the great things about our country is our freedom of speech. We need to start voicing our opinions on all social channels available — one of the reasons I’m writing this — and holding our politicians accountable on both sides of the aisle. We should pressure serving politicians who have military experience to start pushing for clear and sensible foreign policy from within the ranks. Then call people out, like Senator McConnell, who could likely not point out Damascus on a map, less alone opine about their version of foreign policy versus Trump’s from the safety of the nose bleed seats.
We also need to start talking citizen-to-citizen without fear. I have friends who are literally afraid to voice their political opinions for fear of retaliation and “opinion shaming.” I’ve judged 16-year-old kids at high school debate tournaments arguing about public policy who act more adult than most of the politicians and talking heads we see on cable news networks today.
It’s time to start accepting that our differences are what make us unique as a free country, and to encourage open debate and discussion about the things that matter in this country. Healthcare, War, Education, Student Debt, the Middle Class that doesn’t exist anymore. And we all need to remember to keep an open mind for Christ’s sake (he’d approve of this message). Let’s remember that it’s harder to be kind to one another than it is to be cruel and quick-witted. Because it wasn’t long ago a certain Italian physicist and astronomer was jailed by the Catholic Church for having the audacity to suggest that the earth revolves around the sun.
Open minds are a good thing history has taught us.
Why? Because as Veterans Day approaches, we owe that much to those that gave all for this great country, their families, and the Americans who continue to risk it all so we can sleep safely in the comfort of our homes each night and kiss our children on their foreheads goodnight.
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