tv Book Discussion on The Mirror Test CSPAN June 26, 2016 2:30pm-3:31pm EDT
by joanne bamberger is a collection of essays by women that looks at how clinton is equally lauded and disliked. edward kline, former editor of "the new york times" magazine, argues against a clinton presidency in "unlikable." media matters finder david brock who also runs a super pac supporting her presidential campaign says that there's a right-wing plot to derail hillary clinton in his book, " killing the messenger." and coming out in july, author and filmmaker california flesh d'souza asserts another clinton presidency will fundamentally change the country for the worse in "hillary's america." several of these books have been discussed on booktv, and you can find them on our web site, booktv.org. >> we're very pleased to have with us this evening kael weston. kael was a diplomat who joined the state department shortly
after the september 11th attacks, and initially he was involved with u.s. efforts at the u.n. security council to freeze and block assets linked to al-qaeda. but after the invasion of ric in 2003 -- of iraq in 2003, he ended up in baghdad among the first american diplomats sent to the iraqi capital. and then he went on to spend seven years in either iraq or afghanistan advising u.s. forces and working with local authorities and others. kael's service, for which he received the secretary of state's medal for heroism, was uncommon not only for the amount of time he was posted in iraq or afghanistan, but also for the range of his contacts and the depth of his involvement with american troops and local civilians.
his new book, "the mirror test," recounts his personal journey, and it also provides a close-up, gritty, emotional portrait of the, of the wars that america has been engaged in now for well over a decade. kael's very critical of america's failures in both conflicts and makes a point of highlighting the tremendous human costs of the conflicts, the dead and wounded troops and many civilian with casualtieses. he's haunted in particular by one u.s. military mission over the anbar desert in iraq in early 2005 that ended in a helicopter crash killing 30 marines and one navy corpsman. it remains the single largest casualty incident in either the iraq or afghanistan war and one for which he feels personally responsible.
kael reminds us from the title of the book through to the last pages how important it is for all of us as citizens to reflect on what being involved in these extended wars has meant. his work serves as its own kind of mirror test for americans, compelling us to look and to come to terms much as a wounded soldier with a disfigured face views the damage after returning from war. so, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming kael weston. [applause] >> thank you, politics & prose, and for all of you who came out on a tuesday evening. it's been a while since i've been in washington, and i think you've put me to the humidity test, but the focus tonight is on a more serious subject which was just outlined.
the test that we talk about in the book is a medical term, and i sometimes am trying to read part of my book that goes into more detail about what a marine named aaron menkin came to terms with after he was badly wounded by an ied in iraq. but rather than read his words, i would just urge you in the preface to spend a minute if you, i hope, have bought the book. because he's as eloquent as anyone, i think, on what it means to look at how war has changed you personally and, of course, the point of the book is maybe to expand it a bit to our nation and to many nations for that matter that have been affected by decisions here in washington. i want to thank the veterans, recognize many faces here. you more than anyone have lived these wars, i think in a more visceral way than i have, and i include veterans from other wars as well; my dad and uncles,
cousin, probably were all veterans. my service came in the form of the state department. i'd like to the thank all of you readers. i think this book is a citizenship-type test as well. it's not an easy book, it's not a quick book, it's a thick book, and as many people tell me, it's a very heavy book. and i don't want think war -- i don't think war books should be anything other than all those adjectives. my goal tonight is not to do a monologue, so i'm going to open by telling you a little bit more about myself. the bio was appreciated. the real story is my first job was at dairy queen. i worked also cleaning toilets at one point, so i tell any of you if you want to join the state department, you too can be a dairy queen guy and still represent the united states of america. probably some of the best jobs i had, actually, were before working for our government. the book itself i'll go into in terms of a brief overview, the structure, how a book actually gets sold.
i can talk to some of you after. but now is the time, i think, for people to continue to write about these wars. i don't think war fatigue is a notion that anyone other than iraqis and afghans and our veterans probably fully appreciate. so for all the naysayers out in literary world about there's enough war books, i still think that the best war books have yet to be written. so to the c-span audience, if you're a veteran live anything iowa, ohio, utah, colorado, keep on writing because i tell my editor and my publisher that there's a lot more good writing out there, and i think they're prepared to make sure that we all read it. so what is the mirror test? the mirror test is a medical term we heard, i think, a good overview. i won't repeat that. but it's a national mirror test, i think, that cover to cover i'm presenting to the reader. and some chapters maybe are easier to read than others, but the whole journey through both
wars, i think, raises questions that our veterans and especially the iraqi and the afghan people, i think, deserve us to think hard about. we're not just any country, we're still a super power. we're an overstretched super power, but what we do has affected millions and millions of lives. it's not an anti-war book. i'm not anti-war, but i'm anti-wrong war. i try not to preach along the way. i try to be an honest guide through the pages. whether i succeed or fail, i'll leave up to you. the curtains that i pull back, some will get me in trouble, probably, especially in a capital like ours. but i believed it was an honest obligation for me to do. i was in meetings and in rooms that a lot of our veterans were not in. , and again, i tried to be fair. i tried not to do a drive-by book. i tried not to do any cheap shots. took a lot of editing to get some of those things out, but i
think by the end of it we did. finally on one point before i kind of get into the structure of the book as an overview, while you, i hope, read my book, i need to tip my hat to veterans and other writers who have produced a lot of good literature already, and one is in the room, carter. there's veterans like phil, matt gallagher, lee carpenter, elliot ackerman. my book is just one part of a pile of books, and there will be more that follow. someone who normally doesn't get shouted out is katie schultz. she did a fiction book called "flashes of waxer" and i've spent -- of war, and i've spent a lot of time with iraqis and afghans, and i think she does a very good job for someone who hasn't actually been to war writing about war. with all that said, let me get into the structure of the book. it's 608 pages. my contract was for 900,000
words -- 100,000 words, and to the credit of my publish, they let me go long. the first section is "the wrong war," iraq. the second section is the right war, afghanistan, and the third section is home. but probably my favorite section as the author is the the additional part which is after war. and i was interviewed this week on radio and fresh air, and terry gross -- who's an incredible interviewer -- asked me with why i ended the book with not my words, basically. the walt whitman quote, the real war will never get in the books. and i'll come back to that at the end of the 20 minutes or so that i've got. and i think the last 30 or 40 minutes i would rather have a q&a, and i'm going to ask some veterans to come up and share their satisfactories with me.
quick -- their stories with me. quick question though. when i say united states of america today, what words do you associate with our nation? my mother was a fifth grade schoolteacher. she taught me the value of a pop quiz, so i'm giving you a pop quiz. don't have to write it down, but i hope you'll think about some words that come to mind. nouns, adjectives. we're not supposed to use adverbs, but whatever. any word that comes to mind. and then i would ask a second part of that question which is what words do you think iraqis, afghans or non-americans associate with us today? have those words changed? are they the same? no right or wrong answer, but i'll probably ask some of you to help there at the end and tell me what words do you associate with us and what words do you think they might. and then i would be negligent if i didn't ask the third question given that we're a day out from memorial day. what does memorial day mean to you.
and, again, l come back to this -- i'll come back to this in about 10 or 15 minutes. the themes of the book are somewhat complicated. the weave of the book is hike a tapestry. my editor and my publisher were very good at, i think, presenting that image. and for anyone who's been in afghanistan, you know that the tapestry looks a certain way from far distance, but as you get closer, you get to pick up on how those weavers weave the threads. and i think over three years or four years of writing this book and a year of thinking about how to write the book, the weave is complex but hopefully readable. it's been 15 years about since 9/11. i think it's time for our literature and for our nation more importantly to think about how these wars got started, how they were fought, the fact that they're still ongoing and what issues we have succeeded at. this is not a book that's just an indictment on the wars.
i actually write about some things, particularly in afghanistan, that we can feel good about. but it's also a very frank look into the mirror and where the mirror is cracked, i try and show that we need to recognize that. u.s. power is not the same thing as u.s. influence. i think the state department, if anything, taught me that you can be powerful but not influential, and that's another question i think that for our veterans, alex and baylin and dave probably in uniform saw as well, that just because you carry a rifle does not mean you can always get your way. a big theme of my book is accountability. i think that these wars have not led to enough personal or, more importantly, national accountability. i'll leave that up to you about your politics or who you choose to vote for. but at a time of ongoing warfare, i would put that out there as the role of all of us as citizens to think about are
we doing our job holding people accountable for the decisions that we empower them to make. it's about reflection and reckoning, personal as well. you know, of course, my story, my journey, but a lot of other stories in there. and then the big e for education. i think sometimes the value of nonfiction is that you let other voices speak, and you do your best to sort of step to the side. so if i'm fortunate enough to have you read the book, by the end of it i hope it's not just a good journey, but that you've actually learned something. and a big part of the audience that i wrote for was for students. not because i think my book automatically should be assigned to every student across america, but i really did as the son of a fifth grade schoolteacher try and write a book for the student who on 9/11 buzz a teenager or -- was a teenagerrer or younger or who had a cousin who was in the military or the state department, for that matter. because that's probably all
they've known, is that in the background there's iraq and afghanistan and another explosion in baghdad even becoming more red. final thing i'll point out among all the others is that this is not an us versus them book. i think our inherent instinct is to tell our stories as americans, and there have been some very good books that have predominantly focused on the american story of war. my book is trying to widen the lens. so you will meet iraqis, you will meet afghans, and you will meet marines and soldiers. and together i think that's the most accurate mirror that we're going to have on these wars. it's also not an us versus them week in term -- book in terms of the political side of the issue and the military side of the issue. the fact that i've got some military friends here, i think, hopefully attests to the fact that, you know, we did our best in placed like fallujah and helmand, and i think the tribal warfare that sometimes goes on
in washington in conference rooms really undercut us over there on the ground. and some of those stories probably highlight that. and it definitely was not an us versus them frame with regard to the iraqi and the afghan people. these are the people whose home front continued to be our war front. and i think as we read books and engage in discussions about these wars, we should keep that in mind. and i want to switch to the photos in the book. it's not a picture book, but the pictures are, i think, a very important part of the reading experience. and why do i say that? my editor, tim to connell and andrew -- [inaudible] and the great team up in new york who helped me go through about 500 of my photos, and we boiled that down to 95. 90 of mine got in, and we used about three or four department of defense photos. so those photos were
specifically picked to be previews for the stories. and because like all of you i always look at the photos first -- and, hopefully, some of those photos will stay with you. a few. there's a photo of fallujah, and today fallujah's being cleared, as you probably have heard, again. this time by the iraqi government with our air power. if you look at the photos of fallujah, they're pretty devastating as far as destruction and a city that we didn't level all of it, but i think during the battle we probably leveled about half of it. and, dave, you may want to speak to that as a marine. there's a photo of iraqis name walid, sheikh kamar, again, these are people with real stories and real pain that has gone on since 2003. terry gross, to her credit, asked me some very hard
questions about what went on at potato factory. let's just say that's kind of the hardest part of what are which is what happens when you have a humanitarian situation and a health situation all at once with bodies on the street, and how do our marine corps and we deal with that. the photos of the department of defense, i wanted to put a face to the issue of whether you call it enhanced interrogation or torture. the fact that's probably one photo that motivated the whole five-year project. i think that we get lost in the paper shuffle about what does enhanced interrogation mean. he was tortured to death before abu ghraib. lots of marine photos. you know, i'm biased. my dad and uncles were all in the army, but the tribe that i spent most of my time with was the united states marine corps, so you'll get to know, i think, the marine stories. there's a lot of photos of the afghan people because, again, i think at a time when the longest war in american history is going on and on and on, we lose sight,
i think, that, you know, these were people that we had partnered with and that we're still partnering with. the last photos i'll quickly mention before wrapping up and having a q&a is i went to the george w. bush presidential museum and library. i did not know what i would see there, and i, again -- hopefully as an honest, trustworthy guy -- just walk you through how a president memorializes or remembers his own role as commander in chief. topaz, the japanese-american internment camp as a photo. i went there after i left fallujah. why? i needed a big, long road trip. but i also think, unfortunately, the subject of how fear in a time of war sometimes brings out the worst aspect of the american character, and i think today that's particularly relevant. and then finally, ground zero in new york city. i once with lived in new york city for four years, and as a former new yorker, i felt like i owned a little bit of that
story. and i always believed this book needed to end in new york. start in america, end in america, and the wars in between. so jason bressler is a great marine and fireman who was a great friend in the wars, and he and i are looking for closure we'll never get, but we went to the 9/11 memorial together. and if there's one part of my book that allowed me to put this in perspective, i think it's that part. so i've opted not to read part of my book as you did a great job talking about the mirror test and, besides, there's 22 hours of unabridged me. if you want more of me, the team in l.a. were incredible working me through the audio. i was in very good hands. but i'll finally end with those questions i had. what words do you associate with the united states? if you can just raise your hand, i'll repeat maybe what those
words are, just a few. and then we'll go to the second one. yeah. >> [inaudible] >> well meaning. that's a good contracted word -- >> freedom. >> freedom. that's a good one. i heard that in the wars. yes. >> powerful. >> powerful. any other words you associate with united states? >> naive. >> naive. >> guilty. i was naive for sure. >> self-serving. yep. >> unsuccessful. >> unsuccessful. these are all good words. now i'm going to shift quickly to what words do you think the iraqi and the afghan people associate or with us? or, for that matter, the japanese people, the danes, you know, the brazilians? >> [inaudible] >> okay, dangerous. ma'am? >> crusader. >> ah, crusader. that's a loaded word, but i'm glad you said it.
anyone else want to offer some words that non-americans you think associate with us? >> [inaudible] >> air gant. >> arrogant. and it's a good friend who grew up in norway. good word. anyone else? >> [inaudible] >> disappointing and -- >> [inaudible] >> sorry? >> leader. >> leader. >> wrong. >> wrong. [laughter] >> tim in new york has been a really good back and forth. no right or wrong answer, but i'll tell you that i heard great words to describe us in wars, and i heard not so great words. i heard a lot about drones, i heard a lot about freedom. i heard election, i heard abu ghraib. so the book talks about what that balance was in both wars in terms of how we view ourselves in that mirror. i like to avoid mirrors because i'm getting older and all that, but when it comes to war, you know, we shouldn't. and so i think if the book succeeds, you'll see that i try and do a pretty good balance
between, yes, what failed, but also some of the things that worked. and i would say that iraq, obviously, i lived the worst battle of the war, so my lens is very red. but in afghanistan there are still some stories and some experiences and some money that resulted in some positive things. so the indictment book, i think, would have been an easier book to write. i tried, again, to be pretty balanced on that. memorial day, and then i'm going to open it up to q&a, as i think we've got about 35, 40 minutes. what does memorial day mean to you? >> i was impressed with the -- [inaudible] underneath it all. that it somehow doesn't seem right, what we do on memorial day. we're not fair with the people who are over there. >> okay. this gentleman to my right talked about the cynicism of memorial day, that we're not fair to the veterans, to the people who are in the wars. yep.
>> millions of people who served over hundreds of years. >> good. millions of people who served over hundreds of years, right? it's not just these wars, it's wars all the way back to the first club. good. what else? >> my father was in the battle of the bulge, he was in combat as a private. >> so for you, it's a very personal family member. my great uncle i wrote about the other day was also in the battle of the bulge. survived that battle but did not survive the after war. anyone else want to take a shot at what memorial day means? >> the cemetery -- [inaudible] >> very good. i'm glad use you raised that. the cemetery in normandy. i've got a chapter in the book that i end by just signaling there are very few nations in the world who still bury your military overseas. and normandy is probably one of the most moving examples of
that. and that also gets to the power influence equation. you know, we still have a lot of influence, we're still powerful, but our story speaks to our strengths as well. and i talk about that, that, you know, the kid in afghanistan who e-mailed me when neil armstrong passed away. i'm still moved by that. why? because i didn't hear about neil armstrong's death from any american, and i've got a lot of great friends, a lot of great family. but my dad was in vietnam when neil armstrong, you know, put his first step on the moon. now they look up and sees drones or hears drones and sees the moon, and we just need to think about what story are we telling to the world? what does memorial day mean to me, and then i'll end here and ask three people to come up and help me, maybe four. it means accountability, it means responsibility. it means fundamentally, i think, who is our commander in chief. not just our military's commander in chief.
but our commander in chief. and i don't say that just because we're six months out from a presidential election. but when you go to a cemetery and you, you're visiting kia, killed in action from iraq or afghanistan, i encourage people out in colorado and utah where i was on the tour before now to just wander around a bit. and it's amazing the number of other kia or other veterans you'll see from korea, from world war ii, from world war i, even from the civil war which is another war that we don't have a memorial for, actually, on the mall. you know the only other one we don't? world war i. we have a local memorial, but there is no national memorial for world war i. there's also not one for the civil war on the national mall. so i have a chapter where i walk you through the national mall. but i think, again, this is just me, jake kael weston talking
about memorial day. it's not just about the death in past wars and remembering the sacrifice today, it's about how many more tombstones are going to be there. because those decisions, who becomes our commander in chief, will affect, i think, whether those tombstones are more for the right wars or more maybe for the wrong wars. so when i walk through the graveyards -- and i've been to more than be i ever wanted to -- but in wyoming and utah and california most recently, i think, okay, here's the sacrifice so far. and there will inevitably be future sacrifice. is the policy and are the policymakers going to be deserving of that future sacrifice? so i will leave it at that, and then i will ask dave, please, come up briefly, baylin who is
actually, was kind enough to let me use part of his journal in the book. it's one of, i think, the most important parts of the book. [inaudible] is also here who wrote a great book, and then, alex, if you would come up as well. i would like to open it up to the veterans as well that are here because i found in colorado especially that people enjoyed not just hearing the former state department perspective, they also enjoyed hearing from the veterans. why? because the people who truly are in the hardest parts of war were not me and my colleagues, it was the veterans. so if you'll come up and kind of -- i'm kind of ordering you. [laughter] alex, if you'll come up. and then i'll hand it off to the whole panel. baylin was a soldier in the army. he's also a native westerner like me, so we're pretty blunt. i think he'll be pretty blunt. dave is a southerner. i'll let them tell their own stories. alex is also a southerner, but i
try not to hold that against him. so if you have questions for two marines and a soldier, please direct it toward them. if you have a question toward me. carter probably won't come up, but he's a civilian. carter, come up. >> i'm going to yield my time so that you will tell us a story from the book. [laughter] my preferred story is the story of hamza. but if you prefer something else, i think that's fine. >> okay. i will follow carter's story. i will tell one story from the book, and then i think we've got 30 minutes or so to have a good back and forth. it's a hard story, so i know, carter, why you picked it. the last grand must have the city of fallujah, the story in the book is about how our collaboration -- it's the chapter of the book called "collaboration." it's not called partnership, it's not called teamwork, it's called collaboration for a reason. and i'm a student of history. and what i try and do in that chapter, show the brave iraqis
but also as was the case where carter was in afghanistan, the people who stood with us. the people who for whatever reason decided that when the americans showed up, they were going to collaborate with us and what the costs of collaboration are as well as what some of the successes were of collaboration. he opted to not only collaborate with us, but to take a very tough decision or many tough decisions at a time when zarqawi was directly intimidating him. and just picture that. here you've got john kael weston, an underage, underdressed state department guy meeting with you saying, please, help you, and then you've got zarqawi and his henchmen trying to strangle you, basically, behind closed doors and intimidate you. and that was his world. untouchable for a while. but, unfortunately, not untouchable forever. and the reasons, i think, that
his story are especially tragic is that what we did -- and i include myself in that category, but also a delta force team, all of our special operations forces have a narrow, important mission, but sometimes they screw up too, and my book gets into that i hope in a very fair and honest way. but what the cumulative effect was that we made life a heck of a lot more dangerous to the grand must'vety of fallujah to the point when the ambassador asked me who killed the sheikh, i said, we did. so that's the sheikh hamza story. there are faces and stories that motivated the whole book, and i have to say while i love our military and i love general nicholson who's an incredible marine leader, he's a partner with me through many of the pages, the stories that really demanded, i think, a 608-page book from an incredible publisher named k november is the iraqi and afghan stories.
so thank you, carter, for giving me five more minutes on that. i'll now open up to all of us and any question, if you'll come up to the microphone, i know that helps with the recording. and if you would rather yell at me, i'll repeat it in the microphone. ma'am? >> so my question is actually for you. i'm old enough to be your mother. my war was vietnam. i was married to an anti-war activist, and i ultimately became a physician at bethesda naval hospital. i retired only recently, so i've met lots of marines coming from the war zone. my question is it appeared as soon as we got into iraq that no one in the government had any idea what was in iraq or who was in iraq or what their history was. similarly with afghanistan. now, you were in the state department. your whole function is
supposed -- there are people who know what's going on, and the lesson from vietnam is it's not a good idea to support an unpopular government. what did you her and did they really -- did they just know want they were doing but not communicate it to the people who made the decisions? >> read my next book. i'm going tackle this. tell you, my dad and uncles were in vietnam. i had an uncle almost died in vietnam. my dad was there when neil armstrong landed on the moon, some i make connections between my back and vietnam. tommy coal's story, you don't
here the ebb. when richard hole brook was criticized for bringing up his vietnam experience in this debate that was unfortunate and unfair. to your question what we didn't know. we didn't know a lot. and i didn't know a lot. so i'm not here to just point fingers at my government that i work for and that supported in the my role and could have fired me for legitimate reasons. i think we were naive and i have to back took 9/11. we were a fearful nation. and when you're afraid, watch out. and my fear is, my real fear, is that continue to be a fearful nation. what was it that fdr said? the most beautiful way of talking about fear. instead i think fear can become at that time virus that make us doing somethings we wouldn't do. so i go back to what happened on 9/11. we were he tight of our power, economically no such thing as an overstretched military empire, and our government, with
american buy-in -- i love richard hole brook but he was on the iraq band wagon ask so was the media. were we shouldn't shop or thinking about what going to war means? when it comes to accountability, i include myself in the naive question. and then what followed. once we're on the ground, i think we all learn pretty quickly, and maybe some of the marines and soldiers can tell you their story but i know them well enough, they were being shot at. the problem is, if you're deployed in conference rooms your learning curve is not very quick. so, we didn't, i think, communicate well internally and the hand some good books written good at sort of pulling that big curtain back and showing what while our war cabinets were making decisions of tens of thousands of troop surges, that
maybe we also, like you say-didn't understand the government we were supporting was the bigger problem, and that the infighting in the government was a big problem. i'll end with this. the chapter that probably was the hardest for me to do is when the senators and generals talk, and it gets to your question about, i think, the political and the military together. also felt for our veterans and their families. they're owed an insight into who when members of the congress particularly come to the war zone, some of whom voted for the war, few against, but they actually do what they actually say. i have to be honest. they at least showed up because a lot of their colleagues didn't show up. so, that part of the book required multiple, multiple edits because i didn't want it to be what i usually could have written, the most ridiculous things we heard in those conference rooms. but i focus on a congressman
reading dental readiness and i name him, indiana congressman, and then i go to john warner, who led -- helped led the iraq war authorization, the aumf, and show whether you're republican or democrat, outfielder, young, veteran or not, these wars sunk in and john warner comes across as really -- there's a saying, when the eagles are silent the parrots begin to jabber. we heard too many parrots but there war a few eagles and that included john warner so in that chapter i point out we try to show that disconnect. but also a learning curve because i think john warner represented in my mind someone who understand when the iraq war wasn't going well he didn't shut his mouse and the white house was worried when he said, time-out here. so i point you to that chapter. afterward i hope we have time because you asked some fundamentally important
questions. did we learn anything from vietnam? in vietnam we had the draft. we never had the draft for these wars and that makes war easier and easier to continue from the politicians. thank you. other questions? >> tell us about yourself and your experiences. how didout get into this? >> the question is -- well, i want to make sure that people can hear it on tv. she asked for an introduction for our veterans so come up. >> this is exactly how he operates. kael will ambush you, drag you along, you're in the back, about to ask your question and then he says, come on up. number of you want to hear from us. >> yeah, we do. >> i was -- sorry.
we're doing this solely out of affection for this man. i served with him as a marine. i was with another marine in the back. you see -- >> todd, come up here. >> and -- you can stay there we served together and there was this unusual fellow that i saw on the military base. he kept getting excludessed from the chow hall because they thought he was a contractor. the contractors eat elsewhere. occasionally he would remind people that the state department was a lead agency and he would smile. he wasn't fit to eat in the chow halls but kael was always trying to include the perspectives from the lowest levels, exactly as he is doing now. and i later worked with him in afghanistan as well. >> you are a marine? >> yes. >> i'll second that. it's a good thing for kael i
have no problem speaking in front of people impromptu. wasn't supposed to be doing this. i'm going to school at utah state, one of his former associates, my professor, came out to speak, and he was talking about the shenanigans in the middle east, for lack of a better term. made connections with that. he knew some people i know or has some experiences i had and he was asking for some things and just happened to have kept a journal when i was in iraq, and i don't know why to this day but it kept it, almost daily, obviously days, depthing on the mission, i wouldn't keep it for various reasons, but i was involved in a mission that he was writing about that took place in sadr city. said, here's some journal paris, take it.
had no idea at the time it would be in a book. so flip to the end of the book. it's a soldier's journal. so that's an e-mail basically i sent to him a couple years ago at this point, and i'm honored it's in there, and -- >> tell about the journal. what you were writing about. >> oh, i mean, literally -- i just wrote about whatever was happening. there's no -- when i wrote it wasn't for a plan. it was just, i was young, 18 when i enlisted, got out when i was 22 and never been to war before, so i thought, okay, whatever i'll write about it. i've never gone through and re-read it. it's sit only my computer. on the hard drive and on my google drive. the only part i have ever revisit is when i was picking out pieces to send to him, and when i read through it again
after he sent me a copy of the book just a few weeks ago. so there was in plan. just -- you can see that if you go through and you read it, there's no attempt to keep the grammar clean, keep the language clean, to -- or anything like that. it's rough to read. you have to read through it's couple times. >> what's what makes so it good. i think -- i'll save you a little bit here. the writing is what i consider to be pure writing. i'm looking back on the wars and kind of filtering, wanting to make it word perfect and all that crap when we write but what his journal highlights and what terry gross zeroed in on it, when walt whitman says the real war will never get in the books. his journal is the real war. and what i cans is powerful this grammar and the spell'ing and me editors in new yorking are
saying, are you sure you decent want to correct it? i'm like no, this guy is explain what daily life is like. what makes the book powerful precedes the family and friends comments about the 31 -- my reckoning that will last for as long as i live about the decision i would take back if i could. in an instant. i can't. but family and friends getting online and humanizing the troops and their friends and sons and brothers killed in a helicopter crash, and him looking back on what was going on at the time. so there's a reflection going on. it is like a -- he was kind enough to let me use it and hopefully if we sale few books you'll get your -- dave, come up and introduce yourself as well. >> how much more time? i'm dave.
i've known kael since december of 2004 help opportunity -- he doesn't remember our forward meeting. we met in fallujah with the first informal city council meeting. so we tried to bring back together the tribal leaders, city officials that wanted to come back to the city after be -- we finished, rebuilding and bringing everybody back into the city. >> tell us more about you. foreign arabic speakers back to the question -- >> well, even though you speak the hawk doesn't mean you know night about the place. no heart much you today or think you understand it, i think kael said in 2006, you don't know fallujah unless you have -- i think f-doctor favor year you're in fallujah you know one percent of what is going on and that was pret where damn accurate. can i say that on c-span? we're good.
i'm still active adulty so i get away with that. but it's entirely accurate. didn't matter how cool you were on the language, how many books you have read. you understood the history of iraq, going back to the 1920s and even before that, before the partition, or the british mandate, rather, post world war i, it didn't matter. to help how understand what woes on at the time and understand it today but at the same time we're americans, they're iraqis, they know it much better than we. do they know what is going on in the back alleys and the meetings that occurred with the individuals there that were collaborators. thank you. >> i'll add a bit more about his bio. there were one marine or even american who the fallujahans came to love moe is dave meadows and shows you the value of an american who is wearing a uniform and a trained killer but in an environment where the people knew him as the american who spoke their language.
didn't. my first impression was not very good. i've made up for it in other way buzz my first impression is what a state department guy should do dave working with colonels and generals was able to make the city safer for all. i tell people in another story. there was a captain in eastern afghanistan, captain barr, and when i got there, the afghans in one of our most difficult districts -- i write about this -- kept on basically saying barr, barr, and i finally said, who is this barr guy? hurting my ego. there was a reason why. this captain, this marine captain was legendary in eastern afghanistan and what the afghan said is, bring him back. bring marines back like him. and at that point general dunford -- i said, wherever he is promote him and bring him back. had seen how one american could have such a positive effect in a
place where osama bin laden had spent time. alex did some things in fallujah shot he won't talk about because he is half humble. there was -- before the potato factory, alex was a civil affairs team, had to deal with the bodies round one, and that was even more difficult than what happened later. so, he is fairly humble. mostly humble. but he would never tell you the role he had was extremely critical at that time, and i would add on the civil affairs side, most marines are perceived as being trigger pullers, and there are a lot of great marines who are trigger pullers and also marines who are trigger pullers, and also civil affairs officer or civil affairs nco, and a lot of my work involved both sides. the trigger pullers, the company commanders, infantry company communicatedders and civil affairs officers.
and then please read his journal. think it's the cleanest accounting of war i have come across, and he is definitely too humble to give himself credit, but i think as the writing progresses in these wars, again, for all the people watching, if you're a veteran living in iowa or illinois and you're not close to the publishing world, pull out your journal, pull out your original diaries because i think all of our wars have translated into tremendously powerful stories that come out over time, and i think the american readership is still willing to hear your stories. other questions? todd, you should come up here -- no? okay. >> i have a question for you. >> of course. >> i'm -- i've spoken too much. kael is not what people expect of a state department political adviser.
and not now, and not then. he was a peculiar political animal who, by his open admission, was deposit by this tribe, the marine corps and he is unashamed of that. but, but he was never -- i never thought he was co-opted. never thought he wanted to be a marine or in the military. he was very proudly a diplomat. so my question to you, hough did you do this? his this is not a how-to book but someone who went into the room -- not an arabist. he would walk into a room and three star generals would ask him what to do. would listen to his counsel. very rare. so give us some pointers and insight into that, please. >> um, well, you stick around the wars along enough, you sort of get to know your neighborhood. think the value of spending as much time as much -- i'm not the only william who did this.
a lot of people in the state department, foreign service, usaid trade who have done incredible work. war is too important on the front end to play games, and i think that alex, you were there at one of the worst times in fallujah, and i know that marine corps is -- the quality of the generals and the generals were not behind closed doors plotting to tell everybody they had all the answers, and in a place like anbar, fallujah, helmund, we were all trying to reach the best implementation we could, and i won't name this general but i always remember all these generals and everyone is like very high right now, which is all good. i'm in the wilderness and the desert that's good, too, but this general said, we don't do this, do we? we just don't invade countries
because we can. that comment stayed with me because i felt part of the wars evolved into go win the war, fight the war, escalate the war, surge the war, and then come back and tell us how it's going. and so to your question about my role, i come from stock that is military, and i feel that policy should match the sacrifice, and i think the advantage of being on the ground is that you're all being shot at together, and where the marines go tend to be the most difficult areas. so whether you were a commanding general or a corporal, we all had the same objective, which is to try to make these wars less red, to less awful, to try to make these wars not as long as they've become. i think that people in washington had their own challenges and i shouldn't minimize that but i would rather
have been in the chow hall occasionally being kicked out because the marines didn't know what the state department was. there will a lot of team members who fought these wars far, far away. >> one other question. the lesson of iraq and afghanistan that should be applied to the conflict now against the islamic state. >> the question is what lessons can we apply to the current challenge with the islamic state. that is a topic for another book but bit a good question. the lessons were hard won. the cost in lives and limbs for the iraqi and afghan people goes on still, and we opened the paper and hear on the news that the car bombs have not ended and i think someone mentioned we're on round whatever it is in fallujah. i think that the biggest lessons are how we as a government operate. think the tribalism in washington undercut is for a
long time. people did not play well together in our catchol and there have been other books that have explode those themes. from my perspective, in places like post-helmund and anbar, i would go back to what carter did really well in his book, which is who are the people on the ground that were partnering with? i think that the arrogance and the naivete of the american way of doing business are there's no challenge too great for us, right? or used to not be. the biggest lesson is we need to invest in those relationships. we need to show them that the american power is not this. let's surge up and then drop down quickly, but it's more of an enduring rule, an enduring partnership and enduring presence, and we have reached that point in afghanistan, and i think to president obama's credit, he has basically acknowledging that he is not going to end the longest war in american history in his second term, and i think that is a very
important lesson because i think instinct in washington is to say, the war is kind of over when they're really not. i also think that it goes to what dave represented in fallujah. if you listen with your ears and speak half as often, your iraqi and afghan partners will tell you what you need to know and carter more than anyone demonstrated that in helmund but we were there for a very long time and i was bad because i couldn't speak their language, so i was always being filtered. and that came at a price, too. then i think maybe the final point i would say with the islamic state is that the sunnis -- i'll narrow it down to a part of the map -- i believed were willing to partner with the terrorists if they felt they had no future in their country. that said, the iraqi government
hat some legitimate concerns about the sunni population. so my argument to ambassador ford and ambassador negroponte, we need anchors in the region just as we have anchors around the world and i think we maybe are starting to put anchors more deeply into the wars that we have not inned and that are not over. >> -- military family back to my grandfather and the spanish american bar and i'll skip the rest. a lot of them. one thing i've remarked upon over a long life is the enable -- inability to notice what happened the past when we start into vietnam, korea, you name it, and here we are today. it seems to be -- it's not a question of people not being smart enough.
some of these were -- they don't know that something went on before, and is there any way in which you could, from your experience, suggest that we kind of look over our shoulders at some point? >> the question is, the long -- coming from a military background you mentioned, why have we forgotten so much. why is the amnesia automatic. majored in history. one of my double majors. so i'm a big believer in reading the raw material and reading the stories that don't need to be sort of made current. i'll give you my sense of that. i'll go back to what happened on 9/11. i think that what happened on 9/11 enabled quick decisions and quick thinking to happen at a time when our checks and balances were out of whack.
i know you were formerly in the media with the "washington post," and whatever the major media papers were. so i think that when we were struck, certain agendas had an ability to get traction more quickly than they would. vietnam, my dad's war, my uncle's war, had huge lessons, the draft, toppling governments, trying to work if local forces. my uncle was doing what our special forces are doing now, which imimbedding in pretty remote places. so that learning curve is still there but took a long time to get there. think that washington is always a short-term place. the cycle of elections, money, don't want to shift this conversation but wars are a long-term endeavor and are a long-term challenge, building partnerships, like carter did, take time. he spent would years in a little district that was very hot, very
violent. we were never, i think, prepared to think long term because the incentives were short term, and i think the incentives in war are surge, spend a ton of money, say we're getting out, and handing off. the short hand is clear, hold, build. and the last part is clear, hold, build, transplantation fer, and we were focused on, here, it's yours, without remembering we are the ones in the case of iraq, individualsed not because we were canada to invade but we did. the american instinct is to use our twitch muscles and not a marathon and not to use our marathon muscles which are a lot different than marine twitch muscles. other questions? >> i don't know if you can speak to this but having represented the state department, i'm curious -- part of the intervention was military but there's also the development
and -- you hear some good things about that and hear about tremendous waste in terms of the money that was put towards that. i wonder if that's something you can speak to, the benefit or -- >> good question. the question is on, we had a political diplomatic resources and tools, we had military, which these gentlemen represent, and then what about development in usaid and geotype work. the most popular tool we have in our cliche toolbox is what? state assistant think it's usmc? anyone like am army soldier? no. it's what the iraqi and the afghanistan people told me always, we want to see the development arm. we want to see the projects that usaid and that your money is particularly well suited for. the problem was that it was an environments after that were still active combat zones.
a lot -- i think we were always hoping that it did not require infantry battalions and divisions. people forget we had a division headquarters and a mess headquarters, marine expects editioner in headquarters in an par. two-star generals and three-star commanding generals because the force level was so high in western iraq. how many usaid reps did we have there? one, maybe one and a half, and to alex, you question, whether they were effective or not -- when ambassador negroponte sent me off he said two things, kael, remember, when you meet the generals, tell them you work for me. and i now know why he said that because i love our generals but generals are used to saying, -- if you're a neocon and they wanted to sort of direct me in places that ambassador
negroponte was saying your line is through robert ford, the political council, and the other thing he said is be careful because in vietnam, just like when holebrook was there, they were able to get out and about contrary to what was going on in western iraq. so to final point the wars were getting wars over time. generally speaking, not getting better, and for usaid and the development arm who don't want to be bear-hugging dave or our military, that was always going to undercut us. one final thing. in host province we spent $53 million, give or take. commander dave adams and the pr team there did an incredible job prioritizing u.s. money. $53 million in host went quite far. of all the school wes built i want to estimate -- getting those from afghans and put it in at the book -- half probably are still functioning, which is not