Toxic President: The Withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria

A Candid Conversation with Richard Ojeda

12 mins read
"Kurdish & American Peshmerga," Kurdishstruggle [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Based on an interview with Richard conducted on October 12, 2019.

Video posted by Richard Ojeda on October 16, 2019

If you haven’t met Richard Ojeda, you probably already know his name. No? Well, please allow me to introduce you to a man who has not kept his array of passionate feelings a secret, whether they involve politics, the military, or pretty much anything else.

He is a retired Army Major who served in the West Virginia State Senate from 2017-2019.  He was an operations officer in the 82nd Airborne during 2010’s relief efforts in Haiti. He participated in three deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom, two of which were direct combat (2004-2005, 2007-2008). He also served one direct combat deployment in Afghanistan.   

I turned to Ojeda when I realized that I needed a combat experienced military professional to explain how they would be impacted if their service had been disrupted by an impromptu decision of President Trump to withdrawal troops from Syria in a Tweet, thus, breaking the chain of command in the military and making security more unstable nationally and abroad. This fellow West Virginian was glad to assist me via telephone on a sunny Saturday afternoon for us, yet a very dark day for our Syrian allies, The Kurds. 

I began by asking Mr. Ojeda how he felt about the hasty decision made by Trump to withdraw from Syria against the advice of the Pentagon.

Ojeda immediately began explaining this quagmire to me: “Trump has done the opposite of what anyone has ever done as a President. He is consistently refusing to listen to his generals who know their field well. He has had geniuses in their field, such as General Mattis, who he has run away and doesn’t even realize what he has lost. This is a slap in the face to the military. You have a right to refuse a direct order if it is immoral or illegal. But active duty military members will fear doing anything against the Commander in Chief. The problem is that he doesn’t know how much danger he’s putting them in, and rather than listen to Generals, he’s just saying, ‘I’ll wing it’. Military acting on the fly is just horrible.”  

Yeah, it is, and it doesn’t soothe the mind to think of it, either. 

South of Baghdad, a suicide bomber had just killed himself trying to take out a bridge.  Photo courtesy of Ojeda.

How did it become such a whirlwind of chaos? Recently, it seemed that we had won the war on ISIS. In 2014, The United States deployed military troops to Syria. There was no clear cut design to how we would guide our troops in a blind battle against a hidden enemy. So they began networking with their safest option – the People’s Protection Units, a Kurdish militia and primary aspect of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), because they had proven to be able to consistently take on extremists. For the next 5 years, American troops would fight beside them and succeed in establishing military bases to fight and ultimately overcome ISIS. Without the Kurds, of whom we lost nearly 10,000 in the battles that ensued, we would not have achieved any of this.  

It overwhelmed me to imagine how, after fighting side by side for nearly half a decade, an active combat member of the military would feel after learning they had been ordered to betray their closest friends and allies.

Ojeda further explained the micro level interactions that occur between soldiers in combat and how this builds a tight bond: “They stood by me in combat – now, we have the Kurds who are being bombed and the US troops are being forced to hear them die but can’t respond because Trump said ‘Let it happen.’ Recently, a Special Forces soldier said that this is the first time I’m ashamed of my country. Right now, people who fought by your side are your brothers. I can relate because it hurt me to know I had to leave my interpreters. It hurt me so much that I have helped 5 of them immigrate here.”

Richard Ojeda in Afghanistan with his interpreter, Ali Resa. Ojeda assisted Resa with immigrating to the United States. Resa now resides in Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ojeda.

Ojeda told me about the stratification model of the military: “We fight for Democracy, but you do not practice it in the military. You depend upon higher ups to make the right decisions. Right now, soldiers are watching this happen because officers have to protect their careers and Trump will not listen to reason.”

He continued: “I’m ashamed! Don’t tell me we’re the greatest country on earth! We WERE & we were also the most respected one, but right now the reputation of my grandfather is being washed away. As long as he’s in control, no one will support the US because they know that Trump may pull out the US troops. Make no mistake about it, if I were President, I would need to rely on my General Officers because they have mastered their levels of command.”

Ojeda elaborated on the work he had done in Afghanistan with General David Petraeus: “This man has a photographic memory. THAT’S the type of people who make it to General level. Trump is a mental midget and a crime syndicate who surrounds himself with and looks out for criminals.” 

Again, Ojeda had not said anything to soothe the discomfort I was feeling.

When I asked him about how this maneuver would impact the morale of combat soldiers he assured me: “Soldiers will do what they are told whether a civilian thinks it sounds right or not. Soldiers do not buck, they can’t. You’ll lose your career. It stinks to think about that but that’s how it has to be. They could lose their retirement if they say screw this bullshit, I’m going to do what’s right.  Sadly, this is why a lot of them are continuing to stay silent when in reality they should be ripping him an ass. This is a horrible time to be a General in the US Army because they have to fear that he’s going to send them more orders that are going to make them say, ‘Oh my God’ when they see them. If a General refuses orders, he knows he’ll be removed from his position. We have a toxic President. Trump surrounds himself with the lowest of the low. Republicans care more about staying in power than they do about our country. I would be scared to send my children into the military with this man as Commander in Chief.” 

Finally, I prepared myself for another huge dose of the difficult truth and asked Ojeda how he thought this could possibly assist with the resurgence of ISIS.

Ojeda answered: “You’re releasing 10,000 rebel ISIS fighters. Make no mistake about it, we need to end these forever wars. But, unfortunately, this will likely increase ISIS’s influence because our military won’t be there. There are dirty players involved. In Afghanistan we would capture people and hand them over to the police or army and 3 months later capture them again and immediately led out the back door because certain people are dirty.”  

They most definitely are, and right now I feel like the United States is the dirtiest hustler of them all. I had gotten what I wanted from Ojeda – nothing but the real, sometimes harsh, and ugly truth. He sounded as though our conversation had not had an impact upon him. If it had, he wouldn’t have allowed me to know because that would not have been helpful. He has spent most of his life helping people.

Although Ojeda did not defeat Republican opponent in 2018, he made more of an impact during his first year in the State Senate than many do throughout their term. Ojeda is responsible for the formation of the now infamous #55United WV Teacher’s Strike. The medical marijuana bill he co-sponsored passed, giving many West Virginian’s hope for an alternative to pain management other than the traditional medication regimen. The country also took notice of how much he has devoted himself to helping people.

Richard Ojeda speaking at the WV state Senate. Photo courtesy of Ojeda.

As for Ojeda’s political career, that seems to either be on hold or not disclosed at this moment. But after having given so much, who could blame him if he wanted to take a moment to simply let time stand still.

Further Reading:

“Timeline: The Rise, Spread, and Fall of the Islamic State,” Wilson Center, April 30, 2019.

“Who Are the Kurds, and Why is Turkey Attacking Them in Syria,” New York Times, Patrick Kingsley. October 19, 2019. 

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