Last Updated: December 25th, 2018

The New York Times is calling the present plans of withdrawal of troops from Syria a ‘Strategy of Retreat’ in today’s paper. Sadly, the use of retreat cannot be seen as a possible blessing by the media. Retreat Hell! This can be a great holiday gift for many this time of year. And let us consider other blessings in the Middle East not known by many in our presently Yuletide-obsessed society.

The language of retreat

‘Withdrawing from Syria’ has been buzzing in the media these last few days. Instead of focusing on the actual possibility of withdrawal, the media (the Left and the Right), ironically, has suddenly focused on the secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense, General James Mattis.

Many can learn from Mattis’ request to resign, but this piece is not meant to engage his resignation. Instead of focusing on his dignity and waiting to see how the resignation will unfold, many political and media voices are making less-than-critical assumptions about the new plan for troops in Syria!

A resignation from a great man does not automatically legitimize keeping a military force in Syria. And the drama of a resignation seems to be more important than the lives of troops and a nation (Syria) trying to claim its sovereignty in the middle of fighting off ISIS.

Critical reporting and analysis need to be pursued at this time. Troops should not be used as pawns for the media and the experts. It is a confusing time!     

The language of retreat used in the news shows a passion for occupation instead of looking at future possibilities for Iraq. The media seems to use the word ‘retreat’ so freely. Those using the word ‘retreat’ to describe the new plan are providing meanings loaded with assumptions about another unclear warfront involving American lives.

The gospel of retreat


Who is creating this language of retreat? Are troops and veterans voicing the word ‘retreat’ to describe Syria? Those using the word ‘retreat’: Did they ever serve in a complex war before? Do they have children or other loved ones deployed in Syria?

Those using the word ‘retreat’: Did they ever serve in a complex war before? Do they have children or other loved ones deployed in Syria?

It amazes me when I hear certain people in the media and public figures use the words “retreat from…” or “occupy blah, blah area” and other words easily thrown to describe truly complicated situations involving human life.

Earlier this year, a Middle East expert, Thomas Friedman, used ‘split’ to describe his plan for Syria. Do these experts have skin in the game? In this game? What personal investments have been made in the words being used by the anointed ones?

Are citizens supposed to worship the press and the experts on scripted pseudo-intellectual television shows? Is the Gospel of retreat, occupy, advise and split the new geopolitical televangelism circulating among the masses?

The Gospel is influencing me to visit Barnes and Noble and buy the latest books by ‘the experts’ about Syria. Hmm! This would disrupt my Amazon marathon ordering of toys for my son. My target is the Star Wars X-Wing Fighter model kit.

It is Christmas and listening to the news has me ‘split’ between pursuing books about a confusing new war in the Middle East (like my war in Iraq) and focusing on a priority: my son.

The war in Syria and my war in Iraq

How about what is happening in Iraq? We do not hear much about Iraq these days in the news. Presently, why aren’t many stories about Iraq being covered by mass culture media?

This time, last year, there was little news about Christmas being celebrated again in the Nineveh Plains area of Iraq, by the ancient Chaldean Catholic Church. For several years, Christmas had disappeared in public, due to the ISIS threat and occupation.

In 2016, there was little news about Christians and Muslims recognizing the presence of Christmas in Baghdad and transcending the myth of mass civil war during the period of reduced America occupation in Iraq.

I wonder if the present blessings in Iraq can be seen by the U.S. as a guide to future successful decision-making for that nation. And why isn’t the media covering the diverse issues in Iraq since OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom)? Not much is being said since the invasion of Iraq.

I hope that the little girl from Jabella, Rawan, is safe. I was attached to her family and wonder if I made a difference in Rawan’s life. News about Rawan would be a true gift during this time of year.

There are veterans like me who might wonder about the situation in Iraq since our departure. A friend of mine, Janelle Gilbert from Norwich University, a special place with a long tradition of teaching civic responsibility and service, visited Iraq this year. This letter she wrote might be a gift for some who served in Iraq and now wonder about a confusing war that’s hard to process at this time of the year.

Janelle’s letter   

Dear Warriors,

I visited Iraq in April 2015, working with an Iraqi-American friend to bring world journalists to Iraq. The journalists embedded themselves with Muslim and Christian Iraqi militias to report on the Iraqi resistance to the Jihadist terrorist organization, D’aesh. My second visit was in March 2018, to interview Iraqi ‘homegrown’ NGOs doing expansive community development.

On this Christmas, I write to let you know what your sacrifices in Iraq have brought.

Hala Amir and Hamdi Abbas

Iraqi Youth Builders: When I was there in April 2018, these young volunteers were on house number 86, in the slums of Baghdad, performing Iraqi versions of Extreme Makeover for widows with children and families with war-disabled veterans.

When they are not tearing things apart, repiping, painting, connecting homes to electrical grids or completing the final step of resetting the entry gate, these young volunteers visit businesses, churches and mosques to raise money, a dinar at a time.

For example, Hala Amir and Hamdi Abbas are two of the co-ordinators. The volunteers work in teams of 10 and hire retired professional plumbers, electricians and cement workers to guide the work.

Imprint of Hope: This organization for youth and human development was founded by Ali Abd-Alrahman in 2016, to educate Iraqi children with disabilities.

To be visible in their efforts, Imprint of Hope volunteers also repaint schools and are changing the face of Baghdad by making murals out of blast barriers. These murals were in six areas that I witnessed when there, with more projects planned.

Ehab as Santa

Deam Team: I’m not sure if this was a mistranslation or an actual transliteration from the business card I was given by Ehab Aliorani. He is a force of nature who challenges fellow Iraqis to do something, anything, to help their society.

Deam Team started by clearing rubble with donated time from construction workers, and has evolved into a dozen small community projects such as bringing school supplies to schools, repairing public parks and soccer fields and playing Santa for community children by bringing donated toys and treats to impoverished areas.

These are just a few of the small non-government organizations that all your efforts cleared the way to happen. So ‘Merry Christmas’ from those who appreciate you. This fellow citizen and the future of Iraq thanks you.

Janelle Gilbert, December 2018

I write this piece and offer Janelle’s letter to you because there are alternative ways to communalize the wars happening now, during this time of confusion and mystery, in the Middle East.

My writing and Janelle’s letter are not meant to excuse the invasion of Iraq. Also, I want to understand the withdrawal situation in Syria before I automatically view Syria as a RETREAT!

My anxiety is glued to the media and experts, who are providing assumptions and drama without close examination of the unfolding situation in the Middle East!

This Christmas, as others since Iraq, I spend time alone like many other veterans. I pride myself on being Scrooge. I invite the ghosts of Christmas to visit me. It is an open invitation. They would be better company than my intrusive thoughts about Babylon. I know that there are others who are not part of Hallmark holiday card themes because other themes tied them down in the Fertile Crescent, not the North Pole. I simply share this awkward holiday message.

Knowing about today’s Iraq and Syria does not erase the past, but it might open a door to imagination that is beyond the invasion. And this might help resolve the past.

Lastly, I do not retreat from saying that this is also a time of giving. 

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit ‘TIS THE SEASON: Civilian warriors who give by fighting at home for Veterans»

Image 1 Pixabay 2 Brazilian Televangelist by Nate Cull via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) 3 Christmas Eve Candlelight Services by The U.S. Army via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 4 All other images courtesy of Janelle Gilbert