Letters to Trump, from a War Veteran: Part 4

Why empowering Muslims, rather than marginalizing them, is good Counter-Extremism

***The following series of Letters to Trump articles are the basis for a short book, as well as a position paper. They are intended to help stir and galvanize discussion among the veterans community, security experts, Muslims, and the wider public.***


I want to give you the perspective of a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as of the US Military’s Special Operations community. I served out of Fort Bragg for a number of years and have had the privilege of some of the best training and mentorship the Army has to officer, across a very interesting variety of skillsets.

I want to introduce something I refer to as the Non-Lethal Weapon: how working with the ‘human terrain’ — with people and with the wider population — can be an effective weapon against extremism, without even firing a shot. How it can even at times be a multiplier for our efforts against terror and extremism. On the battlefield, we refer to these as ‘effects multipliers’ or enablers- chiefly, because they increase the overall combat power of a campaign against an enemy, a narrative, or an idea. They enable us to accomplish our objectives, by shaping things for the better.

In this context, it is how we define ‘enemy’, and how we look at ‘combat power’, that greatly differs from the conventional definition of many politicians, commentators and voters. I am referring specifically to nonlethal combat power — that is, how we engage the human populations, leverage cooperation on the ground, and wage the war of ideas, in order to fight, win, and to increase our effectiveness across the ‘battlespace’.

Veterans can help build this bridge, and enrich the discussion

I think there can be immense value in bringing in America’s veterans into this conversation. Our veterans can, and should, be encouraged into dialogue with the skeptic and science communities, from local communities to high-level leadership. I count myself in the crowd of war fighters who felt that coming home was a war unto itself, who felt the indescribable hurt and letdown of seeing just how broken our country has become, economically, ideologically and politically. However, no group I know of is more prone to ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’ than our veterans. They can be a huge asset to the cause of reason amidst politically tribal chaos. Ask any Green Beret, Civil Affairs, or Infantry soldier who has sat drinking chai with Afghan warlords during a mountainside meeting with elders.

Believe it or not, you and I were recently in the same room, but it was rather large room. It was actually the inside of a decommissioned warship. I was at the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier on September 7th, at you and Hillary’s Commander In Chief Forum — this is my enjoying the company of fellow veterans, many of whom were far more worthy to be guests there than I was. Some had been seriously wounded — physically and psychologically — yet were continuing to want to serve. To contribute to our society — and the world — in meaningful ways.

In spite of the platform we were offered (and for which I am greatly appreciative to all the veteran leadership and media production that set this rare event in motion), and the good opportunity that veteran advocates were given during the Racheal Maddow segment afterword, there is much to be done.

I still think that our expertise is massively under-represented in how our nation responds to our social and economic challenges. We are perhaps one of the biggest reservoirs of human capital — in our motivation, passions, experience, skills and knowledge — not being tapped into. We have a lot to bring to the table, but our input and ideas seem to be rarely be heard over the loud voices of ideology and partisan shouting. Imagine what it would do for our society — and many of our local security issues — if we empowered these voices, by giving them more of a platform to speak.

Examples of Effectively Working with Local Populations

I know you talk a lot about negotiating. I have a story I think you’ll like. In one of the most dynamic parts of Afghanistan in 2011–12, I worked with a Human Terrain Team, embedded with the US Military in Afghanistan. We helped apply human behavioral understanding to the battlefield, to assist both the Coalition Forces (especially the soldiers out on patrol, risking themselves working in an often confounding and complex, confusing cultural environment) as well as the local population. Essentially, our job was to be a ‘marriage counselor’ between the Brigade Combat Teams and the Afghan population. Very often, we worked within the context of the Pashtunwali tribal system, in which an understanding of respect, reciprocity and human behavior meant the difference between the success or failure of a mission.

I remember a time when we had problem with locals in the village were throwing rocks and instigating the soldiers passing through. We had a meeting with the local Afghans about this issue. My Team Leader and I were wearing local Pashtun attire and sitting down over chai with the Afghans of the village, alongside soldiers and some of the elders and local political leaders. We were seeking to understand a problem — and how to arrive at a ‘win-win’ of mutual respect and safety for all parties involved.

This required respect. It required rapport. It required outside the box thinking. We needed to uncover the inner layers of the situation — what was going on beneath the surface. The aim was to be able to work with the locals and address the problem, in a way that respected their culture and sense of respect and dignity. Failure to do so could cost lives on both sides. On the other hand, successfully uncovering the deeper issue, and building a relationship through culturally attuned conversation, could prevent unnecessary hostilities. Our team, the soldiers and the Afghans worked well in resolving this, and it was best for everyone.


Trump, I don’t know if you secretly understand this or are genuinely unaware of it. If in fact you have been exposed to these arguments from those with the expertise and experience to speak to the matter — which I suspect you have — I don’t know if you would ever be willing to change your mind or adjust your views. Surrounded as you are by advisers and expertise at your disposal, I suspect you understand it at least in part, but millions of people within your voting base, and countless others across America, fundamentally do not. This is something we must change. I as a veteran with a strong passion for counter-extremism — and a memorable and long history of working with Muslims who helped restore my faith in humanity in and out of warzones — am going to remain in this fight long after this election. It is never too late to support the better ideas to keep us more secure in the long run.


John A Kirbow

Founder, Reason Revival

Project Founder and Director: Project Fort Defiance for Veterans

“Per Aspera, Ad Astra”,

“Through hardship, to the Stars!”

“!من خلال المصاعب إلي النجوم”

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