Security through understanding is what all Green Berets are taught, and what America needs today. A “Fortress America” approach — based on physical and psychological barriers such as walls, immigration bans and Islamophobia — will fail.
Like many new American veterans, I owe my life to Muslims — the Iraqi and Afghan comrades who fought alongside me during my multiple combat tours as a Green Beret.
I join fellow veterans in Seattle and nationwide in denouncing President Trump’s decision to temporarily ban people from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. Trump’s executive order is un-American, dishonorable and severely harmful to U.S. national security.
This sweeping and ill-conceived order will further damage U.S. credibility in the Muslim world, and will fuel recruiting by insurgent and terrorist groups claiming that America is at war with Islam.
Moreover, this shortsighted move will backfire by curbing the immigration of people from the Middle East and Africa whose language skills and cultural knowledge are in short supply in the United States. From a national-security perspective, turning our backs on them undermines our long-term interests.
This indiscriminate ban threatens to make it harder to recruit native-born translators to support operations in Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Yemen, as well as in future conflicts, jeopardizing the lives of U.S. troops.
Throughout my military career, loyal Iraqis and Afghans displayed incredible bravery under fire to protect me and my men. These linguists have proved their trustworthiness on the field of battle and undergone extreme vetting. Our nation pledged to resettle in America interpreters who put themselves and their families at risk by working for the U.S. government.
But Trump’s ban even temporarily blocked Iraqi interpreters and their families from the United States — exposing them to unnecessary danger. It took an outcry from veterans and concern inside the Pentagon to push the Trump administration to amend the ban on Thursday and allow these heroes to immigrate as promised.
The damage caused by a stroke of Trump’s pen is already being felt, disrupting thousands of lives — from the most vulnerable refugees to talented immigrant employees of major U.S. companies. Fear is spreading.
Last week, I spoke with one of my Afghan interpreters, Ismail “Ish” Khan, a devout Muslim, father of three, and hardworking Seattle resident who arrived in 2014 on a special visa reserved for U.S. military translators. In January, his wife and children traveled to Afghanistan to visit her ailing father. But Ish is now rushing his family back to Seattle, worried Trump will extend the ban to Afghanistan.
The concern in Ish’s voice was painful to hear — it reminded me of our tense moments in combat, fighting Taliban attacks in the mountains of Afghanistan’s Konar province from 2010 to 2012. We were advancing a tribal engagement strategy I authored called, One Tribe at a Time. My small teams of U.S. soldiers were living in Afghan villages, protected by Pashtun tribes. Our lives were in the hands of the Afghans.
What I discovered living with the tribes was counterintuitive: security for my team did not depend on armor, barricades, or firepower. On the contrary, our safety was determined by how closely we bonded with the Afghans. The better we understood them, the deeper our relationships, the stronger our trust — the safer we were. It worked. I never lost a man.
That same principle — security through understanding — is what all Green Berets are taught, and what America needs today. A “Fortress America” approach — based on physical and psychological barriers such as walls, immigration bans, and Islamophobia — will fail.
To make America safe, and great, Trump needs to make a 180-degree turn and become a champion of Muslims, Syrian refugees, and every other diverse religious and ethnic group that we have the privilege of welcoming upon our shores.
History is full of examples of the power of such behavior — including cases where Muslim leaders have defended Christians. For instance, in 1860 in Damascus, the revered Muslim warrior-scholar Emir Abd el-Kader saved the lives of thousands of Christians, as recounted in the excellent book “Commander of the Faithful.” For this, El-Kader won the gratitude of President Abraham Lincoln.
Trump needs to learn a lesson from Lincoln and el-Kader, take the moral high ground, and protect our Muslim allies.