Calling the war in Afghanistan a "slow but steady train wreck," a
Wilmington College alumnus and Iraq war veteran spoke at the college
on Thursday night about the role of the United States in that conflict.
Matt Southworth, a foreign policy assistant at the Friends Committee
on National Legislation in Washington, D.C., addressed a crowd of 40
peace activists during a discussion about policy updates on Capitol
Hill, about local anti-war efforts and about the future of Afghanistan.
"We're very proud to have Matt, a Wilmington College grad, in D.C.
doing what he's doing, and doing it well," said Ruth Dobyns, director
of the Quaker Heritage Center at WC.
Southworth said it was during his time in Iraq, where he was
stationed as an intelligence analyst in 2004, when he realized he was
against the American occupation there.
"My experiences in Mosul, doing things I didn't expect to do, things
which I considered to be un-American, turned me against the war," he said.
He spoke briefly about his difficulty transitioning back into "normal
life" and about struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After
graduating from WC in 2009, Southworth moved to D.C. to work for
FCNL, a Quaker, anti-war lobbying organization.
He updated the crowd on a recent bill in the U.S. Senate, HR 4899,
which was initially intended to provide supplemental funding for
"summer jobs and disaster relief for Haiti," he said.
"But, as you know, the Senate is kind of backed up and they don't
really do much, so they sat on it," he said. "When they came back,
they said 'Hey, we can take out the summer jobs portion of the bill,
and add-in extra war spending, and jam it through. Done.'"
The bill, passed in March, provides an additional $34.7 billion
toward the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Southworth then spoke about two "significant accomplishments:" a
recent vote in the U.S. House of Representatives which garnered more
votes than ever for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a recent surge
in support for an Afghanistan study group which would advise
President Obama about war strategies there.
"These are significant improvements. There are positive things
happening," he said. "It's all about providing Obama with policy
recommendations and a security review. What that means is it will
create political space for him to withdraw from Afghanistan."
"To give you an example of failed strategy in Afghanistan," he
continued, "right now General [David] Petraeus has begun organizing
training for afghan militias to defend their villages from the
Taliban. But when you arm people, after time they eventually will say
'your objectives are not my objectives,' and they will fight against you."
Southworth called such a strategy a "slow, but steady train wreck.
And this method will accelerate the train."
When a woman asked if he thought the situation would ever improve in
the war-torn region, Southworth responded: "No, I don't. I think
we're going to be in the region for a long time, 30 or 40 years. I
don't think we should leave the Afghans entirely. We need to be a
support role, not a military role. Give them resources, education,
schools, funding, and then get the hell out of the way."
Southworth shifted the discussion to the local level when he spoke
about U.S. Rep. Mike Turner's reported plans to earmark federal
funding for unmanned drone testing at the Wilmington Air Park. Turner
"has the power to slip that in," he said.
"From what I've heard [Wright Patterson Air Force Base] would send
employees here to carry out the research, so few jobs would even be
created," he said.
Asked how he would tell a community reeling from massive job loss to
not support any potential jobs at the airpark, he answered: "I know.
It's a tough sell. Most people think 'Hey, it's better than nothing.'
But, the big deal is drones are unreliable. They cause more
collateral damage than anything else. Troops are regularly put into
risky situations having to retrieve drones that have crashed."
Southworth fielded questions from the audience, which was mostly
made-up of graying peace activists who were on campus for the
week-long National Peace Academy. The audience asked about the size
of FCNL about 25 people, he said about recommendations for
organizing locally and about his thoughts on the firing of General
Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"One of the conduits of change is to organize locally, to organize
within your community," he said. "We're not being loud enough right
now. We need to be louder."