All Commentary
Sunday, July 16, 2017

US Conflicts Don’t Stay Abroad

They hit close to home.

One morning last November while I was in homeroom, there was an announcement over the intercom unlike any I had ever heard before – one of my high school’s graduates had just been killed in Jordan. His name: Staff Sergeant James Moriarty, Army Green Beret and 2007 graduate of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory.

When I heard the news of Sergeant Moriarty’s death, I was numb. It was not the first time I had heard about American soldiers dying in the Middle East; thousands of Americans have died there in the past 16 years. But even though I had never met or heard of him before, just a few years ago he had studied in the same classrooms, walked in the same hallways, perhaps had some of the same teachers.

Sergeant Moriarty’s death piqued my interest, so I did some research about the circumstances of his death. I was surprised at what I found, but I was also moved to reflect more deeply on what his death – and the deaths of so many other American soldiers – means to us back here at home.

Death of a Peer

Apparently, Sergeant Moriarty and his team, stationed in Jordan, were on their way back from training a group of Syrian rebels when they were stopped in front of their base by a Jordanian soldier, 1st Sergeant Marik al-Tuwayha.

Tragically, as news reports have confirmed, al-Tuwayha did not follow proper rules of engagement and opened fire on the American soldiers. Two died quickly, while Sergeant Moriarty returned fire before being gunned down as well. Al-Tuwayha was eventually shot by the fourth American soldier but survived.

The complex entanglement of alliances and factions makes it too easy for unfortunate incidents to occur.

Early reports of the incident suggested that it was an accident. The Jordanian government initially described it as a “tragic misunderstanding.” Then it was considered a potential act of terrorism. But an investigation of al-Tuwayha found no links to terrorism. In an abrupt change to the months of defending their soldier, Jordanian officials in April announced al-Tuwayha would be tried in a military court.

Hearings on murder charges took place last week, according to a Washington Post report, and are set to continue this week. Al-Tuwayha has pleaded not guilty. We may never know with certainty just what precipitated the incident that took the lives of Sergeant Moriarty and his fellow soldiers but a bigger question looms for us all: Why were they there in the first place?

According to news reports, they were part of a CIA program training Syrian rebels to fight against both the Syrian government and terrorist groups. After several years of training rebels to fight in a conflict that does not affect us, we are still involved there – apparently with no end in sight.

People, Not Tools of a Political Agenda

Our involvement in the Syrian civil war is puzzling. We have poured billions of dollars into funding rebel groups, but some of these rebels have aligned themselves with terror groups that the US is trying to defeat. At the same time, the Russians, aligned with the Syrian government, are reportedly attacking the US-backed rebel groups.

The complex entanglement of alliances and factions involved in Syria, and the Middle East in general, makes it too easy for unfortunate incidents to occur, such as the one that took Sergeant Moriarty’s life.

We need to ask some serious questions about US foreign policy, which has created more instability and less safety in the world.

And so I ask: Do those who call for continued US military action in the Middle East fully understand the quagmire into which we are sinking deeper? They should see our troops as people, not tools to advance a political agenda. Every American soldier who dies in the Middle East is one more son, daughter, parent, or sibling who doesn’t return home; one more family with one less person to share memories and spend holidays with; one more headstone standing prematurely in a graveyard amongst thousands for the same tragic reason.

I believe we need to ask some serious questions about US foreign policy, which has created more instability and less safety in the world:

Why is it that we Americans must spend our blood and our money policing the world?

Why doesn’t our government place more emphasis on diplomacy first?

Why do we spend more than a quarter of the federal budget on war?

Why do we have to sacrifice our civil liberties for a foreign policy that does not make us any safer?

The tragic death of my fellow alumnus, Sergeant James Moriarty, is one more example of the growing human cost of the questionable wars we fight. Isn’t it time that we start debating why our government continues to involve us in endless war?

  • Zachary Neeley is a 2017 graduate of Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston, Texas, and will be attending Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas in the fall. He is a member of the Foreign Policy Alliance, a new multi-partisan coalition formed to educate and advocate for a more effective and less costly United States foreign policy.