Fallujah Taught Me: Rebuilding Starts With Listening

8 mins read

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Former Secretary of State and Marine veteran George Shultz likened diplomacy to gardening. I have always liked that imagery and metaphor. Politicking across Utah’s vast 2nd Congressional district is gardening too. When done well, it requires repeat visits—not a drive-by, or election year-only, approach to constituent outreach.

That is why I am back on the road this week. More miles. More vistas. More voices.

Since announcing my run last December, I have been reminded that in order to build relations across a district that includes 14 counties, I listen a lot. Not that much different from the skills I honed in two warzones, particularly in Fallujah during and after the biggest battle of the Iraq War.

In Iraq’s dangerous “city of mosques,” I was charged with establishing local governance in a violent place that was half-leveled by Marine firepower in late 2004 in an attempt to rid the city of terrorists. Tragically, civilians were caught in the cross-fire, too. Both Marine and Iraqi friends of mine, dozens, were killed and wounded in those red years.

Fallujah Help Center

Fallujah proved to be a multi-layered challenge that taught me a lot about the importance of building relationships by listening first, and persistently, particularly with those who might disagree and come from very different backgrounds.

My State Department job was to be a literal human bridge between U.S. Marines and Iraqis. So much so that Fallujans once told my boss, the ambassador, that I was known in the city as “Kael al-Falluji.”

Fallujah PF Dropoff

By my third year in the city, Fallujah’s leaders said that I could only leave “after Fallujah is happy again.”

I had a hard time imagining when that would ever happen, but I stayed.

Donald Rumsfeld in Fallujah
Fallujah eye scans

Today, COVID has killed over 175,000 Americans. As our nation’s political dysfunction worsens and red-blue divisions only seem to be getting deeper, I often think back to my time in the wars. Those days were hard, but these days hit home—because it is our own country that I am trying to help repair, not one half-way around the world in a war that I opposed.

I am ready to represent Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in Washington because of my seven years of experience in two war zones. Despite all the challenges, we were able to find solutions and work toward common ground—ground that had too much American, Iraqi, and Afghan blood on it. Today’s challenges at home are not more challenging than those the U.S. military and I faced in distant lands, scattered with bombs. But the stakes are similarly high.

If you are interested in hearing NPR interviews with me at the time, some are included here. The first covers part of my time in Fallujah. The second involves a tragic case of civilian casualties in eastern Afghanistan.

This particular candidate (aka “Kael al-Falluji”) has been tested before in a big way. I remain committed to bringing Utahns and Americans together because that is what I know how to do. What I learned how to do in the most extreme circumstances. 

After November 3 and well into the new year, it is going to take all of us:

To repair …

To rebuild …

To cooperate …

To encourage and to help find those better angels in ourselves as well as in our neighbors.

Thank you for your support, which makes this campaign possible.

Kael Weston

This campaign is only possible through donations. Thank you for your support.

Support Our Campaign

Of possible further interest

Book review by NPR’s Tom Bowman of Robert Gates’ book, Exercise of Power, in which the former Defense Secretary says presidents often rely too much on the military

Tom Bowman, “In ‘Exercise Of Power’ Robert Gates Says Presidents Too Often Rely On The Military,” NPR, June 15, 2020. 

More articles I wrote for the Daily Beast regarding my work in Iraq and Afghanistan can be found here:


New Date: Thursday, September 3rd

Policy Lunch with Kael Weston

Kael invites you to participate in a series of weekly lunchtime conversations with him about urgent policy issues that require serious leadership and personally impact the people who live and work in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

When you RSVP, you will receive login information and a method for submitting your questions prior to these virtual events.

Policy Lunch with Kael Weston: Public Lands
Thursday, September 3, 12:30 pm

Utah’s majestic geography includes public lands that must be preserved, lands owned by all Americans, but rural communities raise legitimate points about the balance between land protection, tourism, and local economics. Kael believes that finding the right mix of conservation, preservation, access, and use is best accomplished by including all voices and viewpoints, one of his central goals in running to represent Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.

Join Kael for the third in the series of Policy Lunches, focusing this time on Public Lands and Environment, Thursday, September 3rd, at 12:30 pm, for a lively, one-hour discussion of the issues, Kael will be calling in from Escalante in southern Utah.

Please note that this is a change of date and day of the week in order to accommodate Kael’s travel schedule. 


Wednesday, August 12 – Healthcare/COVID – Video available
Wednesday, August 19 – Education 
Thursday, September 3 – Public Lands – NEXT EVENT
Wednesday, September 9 – Foreign Affairs 
Wednesday, September 16 – Civil Rights 
Wednesday, September 23 – Jobs & the Economy
Wednesday, October 7 – Accountability & Ethics in Government

This campaign is only possible through donations. Thank you for your support.

Support Our Campaign

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A native Utahn, Kael Weston served for over a decade in the U.S. State Department, including seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his government career, specific assignments included: U.S. representative on the UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda/Taliban Sanctions Committee in New York; Iraq team, Political Section, U.S. Mission to the United Nations; State Department Political Adviser to a dozen Marine commanding generals, including during and after the biggest battle of the Iraq War (Fallujah, 2004-2007). In this role, he and Marine leaders were responsible for rebuilding the city’s infrastructure, facilitating the return of hundreds of thousands of Fallujans back into the city, establishing a new city council despite numerous assassinations of local politicians, and working closely with Iraqi governors in Ramadi and central Iraqi government representatives in Baghdad. Several nation-wide elections and a constitutional referendum were held across Iraq during this time.

In eastern Afghanistan’s Khost Province, Kael helped prioritize over $50 million dollars in U.S. reconstruction funds and worked to reintegrate former Taliban fighters in coordination with U.S. military leaders and Khost’s Afghan governor. He also met with a group of former Guantanamo Prison detainees and helped lead U.S. government political engagement with Afghan tribal and religious leaders. In Helmand Province, he worked directly with a Marine commanding general during the 2008-2009 U.S. troop surge that doubled Marine forces in the area from just under 11,000 to almost 20,000.

Kael is the author of the book, The Mirror Test (Knopf, 2016) a New York Times Editors’ Choice (NYT Book Review) and Military Times’ Best Book of the Year. He has taught at the college level in Utah and in Quantico, Virginia, at Marine Corps University, as well as leading seminars at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Kael writes monthly for the Salt Lake Tribune and has contributed to NPR, New York Times, Washington Post, The Hill, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Daily Beast, and other publications.

For Kael Weston’s multi-year service in Fallujah, Iraq, the State Department awarded him the Secretary of State’s Medal for Heroism.

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