The Best Defense

3rd Fallujah? I got nothing on that for you. But we happily kicked butt at 2nd Fallujah.

By "Seth M."
Best Defense guest memoirist

Former 3/1 Marine and veteran of Fallujah II here. I'll admit that the recent events in Anbar have been disheartening, to say the least. As you're aware, the news of Fallujah, Karmah, parts of Ramadi, etc. falling into ISIS/AQI hands has been accompanied by a narrative that these events have somehow made the Iraq War not worth fighting, on balance, Paul Szoldra's "Tell Me Again, Why Did My Friends Die in Iraq?" being the most prominent example.

I posted a comment to Facebook the other day, to the effect that it could be worse -- imagine being a Vietnam veteran and seeing the fall of Saigon in 1975. Most of the comments from my 3/1 friends were of slight anger, to the cynical resignation of "I'm surprised it took this long." Then a hard-charging machine gunner from our company posted:

"You know what I hate worse? Being portrayed as some unfortunate creature because of this, the vast majority of us were overjoyed for the opportunity to get in a real fight. Stop treating us like weak little pussies in the media; we're men, fighting men."

Going back to November 2004 this is true. Having sat in Karmah since June, taking mortar, rocket, and IED attacks on a near-daily basis, I Co. 3/1 knew that a sizable share of our enemy and his weaponry were coming from the city not 10 kilometers to the due southwest. Almost to the man, we were looking forward to seizing Fallujah (one guy from K Co. tried to shoot himself in the foot but only hit the webbing between his toes, an exception). As we got along in the seven-month tour, the biggest concern became that the battle would be postponed for this reason or that until January, after 3/1 rotated out of theater and we would miss it. 

The battle for Fallujah might have been about the future of Iraq at the political/strategic level, or about stabilization at the operational level. But at the personal level it was never much more than a punitive mission, and one that we were eager to fight at that. We accepted this mission with a happy heart despite its costs. Current events haven't changed that.

"Seth M." served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005 and deployed in support of OIF I and OIF II. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works as an analyst for the federal government. He harbors ambivalent feelings about the Iraq War.


The Best Defense

The more I listen to American intelligence officials, the more I edge toward Snowden

I've been really ambivalent about Edward Snowden, especially since he landed in Russia. At the outset I thought he clearly was wrong, akin to British defectors Kim Philby or Guy Burgess. Yet I have been struck that everyone under the age of 30 I've asked thinks he's a hero. That has made me think some more.

I am not yet on his side, but I think I am becoming more sympathetic to him. I thought a lot about this over the Christmas break. I see four questions here:

  • Did he do the right thing?
  • Did he at the same time commit a crime?
  • Are the activities of the U.S. intelligence community that he exposed legal?
  • If so, are they wise?

It is possible that Snowden did the right thing but in the wrong way. Indeed, he may have helped the United States but committed a crime in doing so.

Yet that begs the question: What would have been the right way? Especially given the reckless disregard for the law shown by American national security officials over the last decade, he was right to be wary of going the civil disobedience route. We've seen the killing of American citizens held to be "enemy combatants," and intelligence officials certainly talk about Snowden as an enemy who has inflicted severe damage on their operations. Add two and two and you get a secret execution warrant for one Edward Snowden. Is that speculative? Absolutely. Ridiculous? Not if you have been paying attention to the erosion of boundaries (between civilian and military, war and peace, public and private, and most especially the militarization of intelligence operations).

I also think that the U.S. intelligence community, by simply insisting that it is doing the right thing and that Snowden is a contemptible traitor, end of discussion, is going to wind up the loser in this conversation. One well-informed person I know comments that this failure to engage seriously now presents "an existential threat to the entire USIC's ability to operate with the support of the American people, Congress and the media." (He says the solution is to strengthen the director of national intelligence and give that office the powers actually envisioned by the 9/11 Commission, such as budget authority and direct regulatory oversight over all member agencies. That is, of course, another issue, but an important one.)

I especially am becoming more sympathetic to Snowden the more current and former American intelligence officials talk about killing Snowden and holding forth in other ways. Bart Gellman, one of the reporters who has broken a lot of Snowden's news, wrote of a confrontation with a self-righteous general last summer, who angrily said to him, "We didn't have another 9/11 [because intelligence enabled warfighters to find the enemy first]. Until you've got to pull the trigger, until you've had to bury your people, you don't have a clue."

First, we have buried our people.

Second, until there is more accountability for the crimes committed by U.S. intelligence officials over the last 10 years, I am not inclined to let secret policemen and spies be the moral arbiters of our society or the interpreters of our constitutional rights -- in fact, I think the burden is on them, not on me. I was not the one who tortured people, kidnapped others, delivered captives into the hands of governments we knew would torture them, and also wormholed some of our constitutional rights. And I didn't allow 9/11 to happen in the first place, and then get all panicky after that. If we are to ask if Snowden damaged U.S. intelligence operations, we also need to ask how much U.S. intelligence operations damaged the United States over the last 10 years. They will tell you that there is secret evidence of all the attacks they stopped. I will tell you that there is secret evidence of all the laws they broke -- or at least, there was such evidence, until the tapes were destroyed. There are a lot of people calling for accountability for Snowden who seem blind to the much larger crimes committed by U.S. intelligence officials.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images