In the past two weeks, President Donald Trump has escalated the threat of a war with Iran by killing Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani with an unmanned drone in Baghdad, deploying 3,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq and imposing new harsher sanctions against Iran.
In response to President Trump’s assassination of General Suleimani, the Iraqi Parliament voted to demand that all U.S. troops leave their country. President Trump then threatened severe sanctions against Iraq if the government expelled American troops.
For some insight into how U.S. veterans view this latest escalation, Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Garett Reppenhagen, executive director of Veterans for Peace. Reppenhagen is a U.S. Army war veteran, having served in Iraq as an Army scout and sniper in the 1st Infantry Division from 2004 to 2005, arguably the most violent period of the U.S. war in that country. Before taking his current position, he served as the chairman of the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War and worked for other veterans’ organizations. Here, he explains why these latest developments clearly puts the lie to the reasons U.S. military recruits were told they were fighting in the Middle East.
GARETT REPPENHAGEN: Yeah, it’s amazing. I know it’s a non-binding vote, but I was told a lot while I was serving in the Middle East that I was helping to bring about democracy in that country, and it seems that just when they’ve established a democracy, the U.S. goes and ignores the vote and the decision by that governing body. It almost feels like the last false reason I went to Iraq in the first place was just suddenly dissolved. There are a lot of servicemembers wondering why we’re still in Afghanistan, why we’re still in Iraq, why we’re in these multiple countries, and if it’s necessary to escalate conflict with Iran.
It’s a difficult situation for our U.S. military – and it’s a worse situation for the people of Iraq and Iran. That’s the one thing that isn’t in the conversation often when Americans are talking is the massive damage and destruction and death that’s going to be part of these communities – communities that don’t necessarily support their government and are looking for peaceful ways outside of conflicts. They’re the ones that are always going to be brutalized in indiscriminate and immoral war. They should be the ones, I think, to a large extent that we should be listening to because they don’t want these conflicts, they don’t want these sanctions and all the things that have been imposed on them. So it’s a very scary time to live in the Middle East.
MELINDA TUHUS: I’m just wondering how these never-ending wars have impacted the number of U.S. Americans enlisting, since we still don’t have a draft.
GARETT REPPENHAGEN: There are reports coming out now about recruitment. In fact, last year’s numbers, they were so far behind their recruitment goals they were offering up to $40,000 enlistment bonus for infantry soldiers. So, some of the most dangerous jobs are obviously the least wanted. And now most of the people getting recruited now come from military communities if not from the most vulnerable parts of our society – you know, the poorest, people of color and people with bad economic situations are involved in economic draft. So, where you see a large peer support for the military, people who are familiar with military service, and are surrounded by the glorification of the U.S. military and war – you see people like that joining the military and people who absolutely are the most needy, who need opportunities to join as well. But the recruitment numbers are still very down from what they have been in previous years.
MELINDA TUHUS: I know after 9/11, at least based on the photos of the dead that were published in newspapers, the people signing up were majority white. Are you saying that’s changed?
GARETT REPPENHAGEN: A larger percentage than it used to be. You’re still going to see a reflection of our society as a whole going into the military, but there are higher numbers of people of color than there were in the past.
MELINDA TUHUS: And a question for you, Garett Reppenhagen. You obviously were surrounded by military people in your family, but why did you enlist?
GARETT REPPENHAGEN: (laughs). It’s certainly economic. I was a high school drop-out. My father passed away from Agent Orange-related cancer when I was in high school, and it led me to eventually dropping out of high school myself and just having a very difficult time being poor In America, working three, sometimes four jobs and living in my car. I needed a way to get into college and feel like I’d earned my seat at the table, basically. Yeah, I decided to join one month before September 11.
MELINDA TUHUS: What is the position of Veterans for Peace on this latest escalation?
GARETT REPPENHAGEN: It’s obvious that this administration is pushing us further and further to the edge of war – very conventional war. We’ve been at war with many countries through drone operations, through special forces operations and other military activity, but drawing us closer to this conventional war is extremely scary and it’s pointless. It’s something that’s not inevitable, that is avoidable. Withdrawing from the nuclear deal, making these strikes that defy another country’s sovereignty. All the talking points of really violent rhetoric from our national leader really is frightening, and jeopardizes the lives of our troops and it jeopardizes the lives and wellbeing of many people throughout the world. We reject it. We oppose it. We see that the recent reveal of the Afghanistan Papers of the mismanagement of the Afghanistan conflict shows that we are not capable of managing these conflicts very well and it’s a waste of resources, it’s a waste of taxpayer money, and it’s a waste of life, and, yeah, we reject it as Veterans for Peace.
For more information, visit Veterans For Peace at veteransforpeace.org.