90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science

A Veteran’s View Of The Crisis In Iraq

Seth Moulton served four tours of duty in Iraq over five years. (sethmoulton.com)

Seth Moulton served four tours of duty in Iraq over five years. (sethmoulton.com)

Sunni militants today have captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria. The town of Tal Afar, with a population of some 200,000 people, was taken just before dawn, the town’s mayor told the Associated Press.

This comes weeks after militants claimed a vast swath of territory in the country’s north.

Here & Now’s Robin Young sits down with Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, to discuss his thoughts on the events in the country.

Moulton served four tours in Iraq as a Marine infantry officer, first as a platoon commander and later as a special assistant to General Petraeus.

He’s also trying to enter politics. Moulton is challenging Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney in the state’s Democratic primary.

Interview Highlights: Seth Moulton

On his thoughts as Iraqi towns fall and militants are outside Baghdad

“It’s tough. You know, I think the war was a mistake but at the same time, it’s very hard to see it all fall apart when so many of my friends and colleagues gave so much to let Iraq succeed. … I saw an awful lot of sacrifice on behalf of my fellow troops and I spent about three years of my life there myself because my country asked me to go. And I was proud to go. But at the same time, you want to see your work succeed, and obviously that’s not the case now.”

On how you convince Iraqis to keep their uniforms on and fight

“Well you don’t do it by sending more American ground troops in. … At this point this is really a political problem and it’s Prime Minister Maliki’s failures as a politician that have led us to this point.”

“I think one of the lessons we learned from Iraq is we just have to be very, very careful about putting any troops on the ground. And the president has also talked about airstrikes but I caution seriously about that as well because you can’t really have accurate airstrikes unless you have troops on the ground to direct the pilots, and since we’re not going to put troops on the ground, then I’m not sure airstrikes make sense at this point either.”

On the worry that Iraq will fall

“I think all of us are struggling with that, think about this and what to do. And many veterans are looking for ways to give back. I have other friends who are helping get their former translators out of the country — young men and women in Iraq who put their lives on the line for their country and also for America and for our troops. And they legally have a right to come to America, but many of them are running into huge bureaucratic hurdles. So we’re trying to help with that too. I have one of my translators who hasn’t come over yet — I was helping this weekend… and to make sure that people who were our allies are not killed. So I can’t speak for my fellow veterans, but I know that many of us are looking for ways to continue serving and to try to be a part of making sure America learns from these lessons, doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, but also finds a path forward that can be good and prosperous for the Middle East.

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

So how is this latest news from Iraq being viewed by U.S. veterans who serve there? We have one view today from Seth Moulton, who served four tours as a Marine infantry officer, first as a platoon commander, later as a special assistant to General David Petraeus. He's since entered politics - a Democrat he is challenging Massachusetts sitting congressmen, John Tierney. But today we want to talk to Seth as a vet. We've spoken to him on and off for the past decade, during and after the war. And he joins us in the studio again today with this latest spasm. Seth, welcome back.

SETH MOULTON: Thank you for having me, Robin.

YOUNG: And what are your thoughts as you watched towns fall and militants outside Baghdad?

MOULTON: It’s tough. You know, I think the war was a mistake but at the same time, it’s very hard to see it all fall apart when so many of my friends and colleagues gave so much to try to let Iraq succeed.

YOUNG: Yeah, do you know people who died in Iraq?

MOULTON: Of course. I was in the infantry and I saw an awful lot of sacrifice on behalf of my fellow troops and I spent about three years of my life there, myself, because my country asked me to go. And I was proud to go. But at the same time, you want to see your work succeed, and obviously that’s not the case now.

YOUNG: Well, especially in your case, you saw very up close some of this work that was done to bring the Sunnis, in particular, into the counterinsurgency so that the Sunnis themselves would rise up and fight militants themselves - take it into their own hands. This is a large part of the work of General Petraeus. And we're hearing that it'ssome of these same Sunnis who arefeeling shut out of the Shia led government in Iraq, who are behind both the insurgency and who arerunning away from the military.

MOULTON: Well, that'sright, they have been shut out by the government. And yet we showed that they can get on the right side of history and fight for peace and stability. And I think one of the many things that we would hope would happen is that perhaps under a different Iraqi government that doesn't persecute them, the government can bring them back in - in the same way we were able to do when we were on the ground.

YOUNG: Yeah, but right in this moment what happens?

MOULTON: Right in this moment, it's tough.

YOUNG: I mean, how do you as a veteran, who worked alongside Iraqi's, how doyou convince them to keep their uniforms on and fight?

MOULTON: Well you don’t do it by sending more American ground troops in. And I don't think...

YOUNG: I was going to ask you that. Do you think there should be boots on the ground? The president is saying, President Obama is saying he's not considering that. But, some are asking him to.

MOULTON: No, I agree with him because at this point, this is really a political problem. And it'sPrime Minister Maliki's failure as a politician that have led us to this point.

YOUNG: Yeah, but again, we're in this moment with militants right outside Baghdad. Some are suggesting, all right, not full troops, but what about Special Forces who can be dropped in with groups that might be able to fight militants if they had some help - the Kurds for instance.

MOULTON: Well, I think one of the lessons we learned from Iraq is that we just have to be very, very careful about putting any troops on the ground. And the president has also talked about airstrikes, but I caution seriously about that as well because you can’t really have accurate airstrikes unless you have troops on the ground to direct the pilots, and since we’re not going to put troops on the ground, then I’m not sure airstrikes make sense at this point either.

YOUNG: Well, that is another criticism - that the Obama administration doesn't have information about what's going on on the ground because of the troop withdraw. Do you think the troop withdrawal was a mistake?

MOULTON: I think that we needed to withdraw our troops eventually, but it should have happened in concert with increased diplomatic support. And it was clear that that was part of the president's policy at the time, but I don't think it really happened.

YOUNG: When you were in Iraq, mostly in the south, you co-hosted an Iraqi television show with an Iraqi named Mohammed. We spoke you on this program. The show was "Moulton And Mohammed." And here's some sound from an episode. You're both talking about a school that the U.S. was paying to improve. This is in 2007.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOULTON AND MOHAMMED")

MOULTON: Mohammed, I think you have an interesting story of what people up in Baghdad are saying.

MOHAMMED: It is true that the United States of America gave money to fix this school. But we can also feel that Iraqis did their best to create wonderful Iraqi touch.

YOUNG: You know, that's so poignant on so many levels. He's saying that the Iraqis participated - they were participating in their own rebuilding. But also this became a friend of yours. We spoke to you both on the program. Have you been in touch with him?

MOULTON: Absolutely, because I'm very concerned about his family and of course he is too. So they're OK for now. But everybody is very concerned. His brother is a young Shiite man who has been called to arms. And his brother is not a militant but he's really struggling because he feels he could be in a fight for his life.

YOUNG: So again, as a veteran and also as a friend of the Iraqis, your thoughts on Iraq might fall. We could be looking at Syria.

MOULTON: You know, I think all of us are struggling with how to think about this and what to do. And many veterans are looking for ways to give back. I have other friends who are helping get their former translators out of the country - young men and women in Iraq who put their lives on the line for their country and also for America and for our troops.

And they legally have a right to come to America, but many of them are running into huge bureaucratic hurdles. So we’re trying to help with that too. I have one of my translators who hasn’t come over yet -I was helping this weekend…

YOUNG: To get people out.

MOULTON: Right, and to make sure that people who were our allies are not killed. So all of the - I can’t speak for my fellow veterans, but I know that many of us are looking for ways to continue serving and to try to be a part of making sure America learns from these lessons, doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, but also finds a path forward that can be good and prosperous for the Middle East.

YOUNG: Seth Moulton, again you served four tours in Iraq. Were they a complete waste?

MOULTON: You have to answer that question on two different levels. There is a national question about whether we should have gone there in the first place. And I think it's hard to sit here today and say that that was a good idea.

But on a personal level I wanted to serve my country. I signed up for the war and I was proud to serve so that no one had to go in my place. So on a personal level, yes, it was worth it for me. But certainly as a nation, we have to ask that question and be very careful about getting involved in conflicts like this again.

YOUNG: Seth Moulton, again he's made a pivot from the military into politics. He's now challenging Democratic representative John Tierney here in Massachusetts for congressional seat. Seth, thanks for speaking with us, though, about your Iraq service today.

MOULTON: Thank you, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Rick

    Meanwhile, our Commander-In-Chief spent the weekend on an extended vacation and went golfing.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      Did you even read or listen to the interview? ““Well you don’t do it by sending more American ground troops in. … At this point this is really a political problem and it’s Prime Minister Maliki’s failures as a politician that have led us to this point.” What exactly is the President supposed to do? Besides, the President is never truly on vacation. When he travels, his whole staff travels with him and he gets regular briefings. Either way, as long as Obama vacations less than Bush – who spent most of his time as President on vacation – all criticism is hypocritical.

    • j o n a t h a n p u l l i a m

      This was a Bush/neocon war, Rick. It operated wholly at cross-purposes with stated American ideals, economic interests, and common sense. It revealed an appalling lack of accountability too, for neither Bush nor Cheney is currently incarcerated for war crimes.

      • Rick

        Blame Bush for everything. Never gets old, does it?

        • j o n a t h a n p u l l i a m

          Low hanging fruit is still fruit, fruitcake.

          • Rick

            Please read the Community Rules and refrain from name calling.

  • d_arcy_2

    * Obama’s plan: Speak loudly and do nothing. (ref: the “line in the sand” in Syria.)

    * How hard is it to target a tank for bmbing? Our pilots can’t do that without forward spotters with laser pointers?

    * The word that applies is “murder”, not “execute”.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      Targeting ONE tank for bombing is not going to do anything…

  • Joe

    Robin, so what exactly were you trying to get Seth to say? It sounds like you have a bit of an ax to grind.

  • Skip Conrad

    “I have other friends who are helping get their former translators out of the country — young men and women in Iraq who put their lives on the line for their country and also for America and for our troops. And they legally have a right to come to America,”

    “they legally have a right to come to America,”

    Is that the same legal right as anyone else on the planet? Or were visitation rights extended to these Iraqi translators, as an element in their compensation packages?

    • Pleiades

      Skip, I have heard more than one officer state this information. Who is to say that the translators have not been radicalized since our departure? Should ICE just be spotting anyone a visa without a serious vetting? If a potential visa was part of their compensation, who approved that being part of the compensation package?

      if these translatros are really concerned about the well being of their nation, they will stay and attempt to bring a solution to the crisis(es) their nation faces instead of attmepting to obtain citizenship here in the US.

      • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

        Yes, it make a lot of sense that a jihadist would be working for and helping the USA with translations. Are you serious, or do you just dislike any Muslim/Arab? These people who risked their lives to help our soldiers are just as heroic as our soldiers.

        • Pleiades

          Do you not remember how the Afghani mujahadeen including Osama bin Laden became incensed at the Americans after the conflict with Russia? They felt abandoned by the USA after the conflict, and their thinking about the USA turned into making the USA the problem with the world instead of the resolver of world problems.

          Have you never been away from someone for three years or more and found they are of a diffferent thinking since you last spent time with them? I am asking for a serious vetting before providing any visa, because that is the safest process to ensure our safety right here in your state, my state and all the states that comprise the USA.

          • j o n a t h a n p u l l i a m

            Your post is revisionist history. Never happened. Bin Laden objected to infidel troops in Saudi Arabia, deleterious effects of embargoes on Palestinian children, etc during Gulf War I, not a long-held grudge based on 1980′s Afghan-Soviet misadventure. US spent 4 trillion of borrowed money and achieved nothing.

          • Pleiades

            I hate diappoint you, JP, but it began with the fact that we (the US) deserted the Afghani mujahadeen after the Russians left Afghanistan. There was a foundation established there that cannot be denied with Bin Laden about the US continued desertion of responsibility to “nation build”.

            Would 9/11 happened if we had provided Afghanistan the support to stabilze their nation after the Russian departure? What happened after the Russians departed, JP?

  • putorium

    Note this is not the military who made these final decisions these were made by politicians on both sides our side and Iraqs. We were told we were no longer needed there and we left and took along most of our soldiers? WHY? Why did we go and fight for a decade have many of our soldiers die there, one I cannot forget a young Army man from Ala. Stephen gone per an IED there and then let these people tell us we were no longer really needed? The man we let take over election or not has been wrong person? Why when we spend trillions of our own money do we just sit back and say oh okay do whatever? Maliki has not been inclusive to try to being other religious groups into this new democratic government? This is what we supposedly fought for more choices for all in this country, The Kurds, the Sunnis and others but why not? What have we done since we left to try to make sure he did change this? Even our media has not been there or been asking what is going on? Now these poor families in this country who thought they had some kind of freedom possibly and now total chaos, WHY ? Now what will our present do nothing Congress decide to do and what about our President who was not for these wars int he first place how far is he willing to go and yet we see Putin advancing his own empire and we just sit and say we will smack his hands per money ? This now is a World situation and time for the ret of the world to step up what is being said by England, France, Germany and others to stop this? Time to come together now and stop this bickering in our Congress show the World we can work together and stop the blame game? STOP!

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 16 7 Comments

Kathy Gunst Explores Community Supported Agriculture

Kathy Gunst joins Cook's Illustrated executive food editor Keith Dresser at his CSA pickup and offers recipes for the seasonal CSA fare.

September 16 11 Comments

Remembering Jesse Winchester

Jimmy Buffett remembers his friend the late songwriter Jesse Winchester, whose posthumous album is being released today.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.