A decade ago, I lived full-time in Iraq as a U.S. State Department official. One winter day, I joined a U.S. Army battalion commander on patrol in Sadr City, home to a million impoverished Iraqis and site of fierce fighting between the U.S. military and Tehran-backed Shia militias.
Looking toward a nearby curb, I noticed a large chunk of concrete had recently been blasted away. The lieutenant colonel explained that just days before a new variety of advanced roadside bomb – technology honed in Iran – had decapitated a U.S. soldier at our location.
This kind of “explosively formed penetrator” (EFP, for short) turns metal molten in an instant, like buckshot from hell, and was responsible for the deaths of many U.S. service members during the Iraq War. A friend from Logan, Baylen Orr, who served in the same area while deployed as a soldier, described how a similar bomb had eviscerated his close friends’ Humvee. He likened the scene of human carnage in Baghdad to his uncle’s meat plant in Monticello, Utah, writing in his journal at the time, “The smell, was just like it.”
The targeted killing of Iranian general and Pentagon nemesis, Qassem Soleimani, by a U.S. drone strike was a high-risk decision by President Trump — and, unwisely, decided without consultation of congressional leaders or key U.S. allies around the world. After spending seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan with the U.S. State Department, I wrote a thick book cautioning against starting another war in the Middle East. Our country, tragically, could be headed in this direction.
All of us should be very concerned and reminded of what President John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, back in 1794: “Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war.” President George Washington, a veteran himself, wrote even more directly: “My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.” If only Washington, and all the other commanders in chief who followed him, could have ensured as much.
The untrustworthy Trump administration argues we are safer after the death of Soleimani. Based on my prior career representing the U.S. government in war zones across this combustible region, I believe the world today is less safe for all Americans — service members, diplomats, tourists, students abroad, LDS missionaries — than it was last week.
Asymmetric warfare (hitting “soft targets” in unpredictable ways) is where the Iranians will likely direct their efforts and in a timeframe that will extend well into this new decade and longer. Ominously, Iran’s government has also already announced its abandonment of the international agreement to freeze and oversee Iran’s nuclear program. Proliferation of doomsday weaponry remains an existential threat to our entire planet.
Inexcusably, Congressional oversight of war since September 11, 2001, has been minimal and tied to legislation not seriously reexamined for two decades. The Authorization for Use of Military Force adopted days after the 9/11 attacks needs to be updated. Similarly, the War Powers Resolution, which is a notification process and passed in 1973, is insufficient. This fact amounts to political malfeasance. Washington’s governing failure in matters of war and peace is a top reason why I recently announced in this newspaper my decision to seek the Democratic nomination in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.
If vigilance were ever required from each of us, it is now. Throughout our campaign in 2020, I promise to seek accountability through tough and informed questioning of U.S. foreign policy. My expertise on such matters did not come easily or quickly. It took year-after-year serving in distant and dangerous places.
Since 9/11, I have lived firsthand the consequences of conflict — not only for our military but also civilians caught in the middle in war-torn areas throughout western Iraq and eastern and southern Afghanistan. I intend to use this wisdom about complex national security challenges to help make the world a safer place for us and our families and for others who live outside our borders.
After learning about Soleimani’s death, I heard from Iraqi friends, including a Fallujahn now living in Baghdad and who is supportive of U.S. interests. Regarding the escalating situation, my friend Ahmed wrote:
For iraqi goverment ... Yes they will ask the US troops to leave ... Because iran is stronger on the iraqi earth ... They have two hands to make it strong ...
... Now US is very weak in iraq ... Just sitting in their bases waiting to be hitted by iran hands which is made by iraqi and american money ... What irony...
Finally. After killing sulaimany ... I see so many people were calling for liberty and freedom ... They shiffted back … It is like cutting the snake head ... But ... I am afraid ... About revenging by iran for sulaimany killing.
These words of warning should make us all think hard about the importance of who we send to our nation’s capital to govern on our behalf.
None of us should want any more Utahns, like my veteran friends Kim Adamson, who did three combat tours as the leader of a Marine Mortuary Affairs team, soldier Baylen Orr, or former Marine riflemen John Angell, Jr., and Tai Chrysostom (a key member of our growing campaign team), to be ordered to another warfront that would lead to tens of thousands of deaths, including civilians, and probably many more.
We need representatives whose knowledge and experience can help us avoid unnecessary wars – the ultimate costs of which are always colored red.