The Middle East
Congressman Moulton's Strategic Vision
- ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is a national security threat to the United States and we must have a serious, comprehensive, long-term strategy to defeat ISIS.
- Underlying this strategy must be a political and diplomatic plan to ensure the peace, so that we don't find ourselves sending troops back to the Middle East yet again after we defeat ISIS militarily; we defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq militarily in 2009, but failed to ensure the success of Iraqi politics, which created a political vacuum ISIS has now filled.
- A serious political plan means well-defined political goals in both Iraq and Syria and a diplomatic plan to ensure their success both in concert with military action and following on from it.
- Although we can have legitimate debate about what these political goals should be, the best options we have available today are as follows:
- In Iraq: Strengthening Iraq's central, multi-ethnic government including giving Sunnis a legitimate stake--as opposed to dividing up the country, which may only exacerbate tensions: better to have politicians debating the division of revenues in Baghdad than tribes fighting over unclear borders in the desert.
- In Syria: Organizing and forcing a political transition from Assad — as opposed to overthrowing him militarily, which has not worked to date despite military assistance to his opposition, or keeping Assad in power, which only fuels ISIS recruiting.
- A comprehensive strategy must also include defeating ISIS on social media, a fight we should be winning easily, and stopping their international recruiting efforts, which are only aided by anti-Muslim or anti-refugee policies here at home.
- Battles like this cannot be won from the air alone, but we can only ensure a lasting victory with local and regional forces to win and hold the ground. Any US troops that play a role in training or partnering with these forces must be given a clear mission, to include a clear political end state, and the resources and commitment to win.
Congressman Moulton on ISIS
The Washington Post (6/23/16) - Congressman Moulton's Washington Post Op-Ed: "Get Ready For Another Iraq War"
Following a visit to Iraq and other countries in the Middle East, Seth penned an op-ed for the Washington Post stating that "We have a military plan to defeat the Islamic State — and, as initial gains in Fallujah demonstrate, it’s going well in many respects — but we have yet to articulate a political plan to ensure Iraq’s long-term stability.
Without a long-term political strategy, we can expect to send young Americans back to Iraq every time Iraqi politics fall apart, a new terrorist group sweeps in and we find ourselves required to clean up the mess."
CNN (5/12/16) - Congressman Moulton Talks U.S.-Iraq Policy with Jake Tapper
New York Times (4/29/16) - New York Times Editorial Board Endorses Moulton Amendment
In an April 29 editorial, the New York Times published an editorial endorsing Congressman Moulton's amendment to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that was later passed with bipartisan support. The Times encouraged "lawmakers increase the visa numbers to clear the backlog of pending cases. They should not change the eligibility standard and they should require the State Department to establish a reasonable appeals process for applicants who have been rejected without a clear explanation."
“These are people who have put their lives on the line not just for their country, but for ours,” Representative Seth Moulton, a former Marine Corps officer, said Wednesday as he introduced an amendment to create additional visas. “The very least we can offer them is a chance to stay alive.” Mr. Moulton and other lawmakers who have served in the military intend to propose sensible changes as the bill moves forward. Their colleagues should listen to them.
WGBH (4/22/16) - Congressman Seth Moulton: 200 More American Troops In Iraq "Not What We Need To Ensure Success"
The problem is not that we don’t have a military plan to defeat ISIS. We have a good plan, we’ve had one for a while. It’s going pretty well. I went out and saw some of the troops fighting this fight on the front lines . Of course, any general would like to have more troops, but what they really need is a long-term plan to ensure the peace so that after they’re done fighting ISIS, after they’ve defeated ISIS the same way we defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq seven or eight years ago, we actually have a plan so we can hold the peace and we don’t have to send the troops back yet again.
House Armed Services Committee (12/1/15) - Congressman Moulton Questions Secretary Carter and General Dunford
"Can you speak a bit to that coordination, that planning, and your confidence that General McFarland and others on the ground can see a political end state that will stick and make all their military efforts worthwhile?"
MSNBC (12/2/15) - Rep. Moulton on ISIS strategy: "This is a combat mission"
“There’s no question this is a combat mission… and I’m concerned that we don’t seem to have a political endgame in Iraq or Syria.”
CBS Boston (11/16/15) - Democratic Congressman Questions President Obama's ISIS Strategy
BOSTON (CBS) — A Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, who served in the Marines during the Iraq War, is among those questioning the president’s strategy concerning ISIS.Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, said he believes the Obama administration underestimated ISIS, and says the U.S. should be doing more to battle the terror group. “Certainly calling them a JV team is an underestimation,” Moulton said. “But the point is, going forward, we need a much more comprehensive strategy.” Moulton said the fight against ISIS cannot be waged only through military action. “We have to defeat ISIS on social media where they are recruiting people, even fellow Americans,” he said. The representative says ISIS is a national security threat, and calls for a serious diplomatic strategy. “We need to have a plan to ensure political stability in places like Iraq, where ISIS was able to grow because of the political vacuum we left in the wake of our departure,” he said.
C-SPAN (11/4/15) - Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) on U.S. Strategy to Defeat ISIS
"I'm very concerned with the President's plan," said Rep. Moulton. "The fact that we're sending in 50 Special Forces troops on the ground into Syria without a clear political plan is of grave concern."
TIME Magazine (4/7/15) - ISIS Defeat Must Be Political - Written with Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK)
In Congress today, debating how wide or narrow the president’s new Authorization for Use of Military Force should be misses the point. It is clear that we can achieve military success against ISIS — we already are, just as we had great military success during the surge. What we need is a political strategy to ensure the peace, so that we will not repeat the diplomatic failures of the post-surge years that have drawn us back into Iraq just four years after we left. Fundamentally, the problem in Iraq today is not a military failure but a political one. The Iraqi Army did not collapse in the face of ISIS because they were poorly trained; they put down their weapons and went home because they had lost faith in their increasingly sectarian government. If Iraq cannot build a government its people can trust, then it will never have an army that can defend its own borders and protect its own people. Yet rather than address this political issue with exactly the kind of mentorship and influence that Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus called for at the end of the surge, we are focused on sending more military trainers to Baghdad. Let us be clear: ISIS is a serious national security threat. It has brutally killed Americans abroad, and made clear its intention to kill Americans here at home. We must find a strategy to deal with it and other terrorist groups — but it has to be a long-term, sustainable strategy, built not just on isolated military victories but on long-term political unity against this generational threat to the world community.
MSNBC (12/1/15) - US mission creep worry in fight against ISIS
“We also have to make sure [our troops] are setup for success and they have a strategic goal that is achievable."
CNN (11/23/15) - The Situation Room
"Well, I think this is an example of where it's very hard to have a specific military strategy without a broader political strategy, without a plan for what's going to take the place of ISIS after we defeat them militarily, because it's the political vacuum that's existed in Syria with the civil war and has existed in Iraq and allowed ISIS to sweep into Iraq that's the fundamental problem. We can defeat ISIS militarily, but unless we have a political plan for the aftermath, we are going to find ourselves back in Iraq again five years after today's action, just like we're coming back now, five years after President Obama pulled the last troops out.”
Congressman Moulton on Refugees
The House of Representatives (6/20/16) - Seth Moulton Calls on Secretary Kerry to Meet US Commitment to Syrian Refugees
“We need to do more to fulfill our commitment to Syrian refugees,” said Moulton. “These are the people that ISIS is persecuting. There’s nobody who knows the terror of ISIS better than these refugees. When we refuse to help the enemies of ISIS, we empower ISIS and aid their recruitment.”
ABC News (1/12/16) - The Remarkable Story Behind the 9-Year Old Syrian Refugee Attending the State of the Union
Ahmad Alkhalaf has an infectious smile that lights up the room. All eyes were on the Syrian boy as he walked into Rep. Seth Moulton’s office.
It’s a special day for the nine-year old.
Ahmad was invited by the Massachusetts's congressman to be his guest at President Obama’s last State of the Union held tonight at the U.S. Capitol.
WBUR’s All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins spoke with Moulton and Ahmad, with Alawa as the interpreter, when they visited a studio on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
CNN International (11/23/15) - Congressman angry over refugee ban talk
“I don’t think this legislation will do anything to actually improve our national security. Even worse, it betrays our American values.”
The Boston Globe (11/23/15) - Syrian refugees are not the problem in ISIS fight
ISIS wants to murder more Americans, and it hopes to attack us here at home. Its threats in the aftermath of the Paris carnage made that clear. The question now is how we protect ourselves and, ultimately, defeat this brutal and sophisticated terrorist organization.
Our refugee policy has important implications for our strategy. The congressional furor over accepting Syrian refugees is handing ISIS a propaganda victory while distracting attention from their most likely avenue of attack.
I voted against the Republican bill to pause the lawful immigration of Syrian refugees for two reasons. First, it did nothing substantive to improve the screening process. Even the director of the FBI opposed it. Second, the legislation completely ignores the greatest threat ISIS poses to America: recruiting terrorists from right under our noses.
Singling out Muslims or Syrians — the very victims of ISIS’s reign of terror — or suggesting that American values apply to them only with caveats, gives ISIS a propaganda tool it can use to recruit more foot soldiers.
The Boston Globe (11/19/15) - Seth Moulton opened his home, heart to a refugee
“When we change our values, ISIS wins,” Moulton said. Closing the door to Syrian refugees in the wake of last week’s attacks in Paris betrays those values, he said. Flinching now, he suggests, shows a lack of something Moulton plainly has — courage.
“In the midst of war, it’s easy to protect innocent civilians when no one is shooting at you,” the congressman said. “When people are shooting at you from a school or a mosque, it’s much harder. It is easy to stand for freedom and justice in the midst of peace. It’s harder when people are trying to kill you.”
His translator in Iraq was devoted to those values, Moulton said. “He exemplifies the American dream more than just about anybody I know.” He risked his life, and his family’s, to defend it. When civil war descended on his country, and insurgents targeted his family, it became impossible for the translator — here on a Fulbright scholarship — to return home, so he applied for asylum. For a while, he lived with the Moulton family in Marblehead. Moulton says he is like a brother.
Even with a decorated Marine captain supporting his application, it took 16 months to complete the security checks and grant the translator asylum. “And he already had a record of service, of literally putting his life on the line for our country in combat,” Moulton said.
Refugees submit to more screening than any other category of traveler coming to the United States, Moulton said, and the State Department and the White House back him up. And it’s not like they’re piling onto boats and streaming over the borders en masse, as they have been in Europe. They don’t set foot in this country until they go through a vetting that takes 18 to 24 months.