SALEM, Mass. — Seth Moulton was one of the first Marines to enter Baghdad when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. He returned three more times, ultimately serving as a special assistant to Gen. David Petraeus.
Now, like other veterans of the Iraq war, Moulton is watching in dismay as Sunni insurgents overrun parts of the country and threaten to undo whatever gains were made.
“It’s hard for all the veterans of the war to see the country descend into chaos after we worked so hard and sacrificed so much to help the Iraqis succeed,” he said. “A lot of people are asking me, ‘Was it worth it?’”
Moulton, a Salem resident who grew up in Marblehead and is challenging incumbent John Tierney for Congress, said that question needs to be answered on two levels.
“From a national perspective, it probably wasn’t worth it,” said Moulton, a Democrat who will face Tierney in the September primary. “It’s hard to defend going into Iraq when you see what’s happening there today.
“But on a personal level,;” he added, “I signed up before the war; and when my country asked me to go, I was proud to go. I was proud to serve so that no one had to go in my place, and I still feel proud that nobody had to go in my place, so it was worth it for me personally.”
Moulton said he does not second-guess President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2011.
“This is really a political problem more than a military problem,” he said. “Many of the Iraqi forces are not well-trained, that’s true, but more than that, they clearly don’t have faith in their political leadership. The Maliki government has lost all credibility.
“When Gen. Petraeus reported to Congress on the surge, he said that militarily, it had exceeded expectations, but politically, there was a lot of progress still to make. This is exactly what we’re seeing now — that politically, the Maliki government was not ready to lead Iraq in a united way.”
Moulton said the United States should “absolutely not” send in ground troops again. He is also opposed to air strikes, which he said would kill lots of innocent people.
“It’s very hard to control air strikes against insurgents without anybody on the ground, and we shouldn’t put anybody on the ground,” he said.
One of Moulton’s tasks in Iraq was to work with the country’s military and political leaders on ways to rebuild the country. He said his efforts were focused on the local and regional level, while the downfall has occurred at the national level.
“Many of the regional governments have actually been doing OK,” he said. “It’s the national leadership that’s failed to unify the country.”
Moulton said the United States should have remained more “diplomatically engaged” with the Iraqi government after withdrawing its military forces.
“The president talked about a diplomatic surge to make sure we could nurture the fledgling Iraqi government along,” he said. “I don’t know whether we did enough on that count.”
Moulton supports having “conversations” with Iran about whether that country can use its influence to help resolve the crisis in Iraq. But in the complicated and interconnected Middle East, it’s going to take a “regional diplomatic effort.”
“This is the danger of going to war,” he said. “This is, frankly, why the Iraq war was a bad idea.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.