As the smoke cleared on the decisive battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans stood on the rubble and were met by Iraqi and Afghan men and women who were asked not to see us as conquerors but as agents of peace.
Some came forward early and paid a steep price from organizations waging irregular wars against what they now saw as occupation forces. Many after this quickly realized that the risks were too great.
The toll this would take on American and coalition forces in the years to come as we worked to regain this trust is immeasurable.
With the stroke of President Donald Trump’s pen, the message of equality and goodwill evaporated. It doesn’t matter if the courts overrule the travel ban against seven Muslim countries, or if the administration changes course, or if every American abroad is able to reassure acquaintances that we don’t all agree.
It may not be an outright Muslim ban, but it sends the message to the very people we need to continue the fight on our side that we don’t see them any differently than our common enemy.
As an infantryman patrolling the streets of Baghdad, every day was a battle for hearts and minds. We had to persuade a populace that a western, well-fed, predominantly Christian military — who received more in care packages from home in a month than their own children may see in a lifetime — truly empathized with and shared their burdens.
We were emphatic this was not a war between religions as many feared. We had to scrape for every inch of trust and good will by doing the hard work of developing relationships, rebuilding clinics, and caring for the wounded that were not our own.
While every gain was measured in inches, every misstep had the potential to be unrecoverable. If we lost our informants, interpreters, supporters and Iraqi Security Forces then we no longer had the heads up about the ambush we were about to walk into.
We would find the roadside bombs after they detonated rather than before. Many more of us would have come home maimed or in coffins than by our own two feet. These men and women who proved to be some of the bravest, most selfless people this planet has, not only gave us a chance at success, they fought on our side and paid a high price for it.
They did this, knowing the consequences, because they believed the word of an American soldier had value.
One harrowing memory involves an interpreter who called himself Lumberjack. My first mission with him ended as two of our men lay bleeding out next to several Iraqi soldiers in the same predicament in the moments following an IED blast.
Tears streamed down the face of this hulk of a man as I showed him how to provide first aid to the Iraqi whose intestines were exposed. Yet, he showed up for another mission days later because he said he wouldn’t let fear decide the future of his country.
The process for allowing these supporters to come to the U.S. has not been overwhelmingly successful, but it still moved. It was a half-filled promise our nation tried to keep in order to keep Americans safe in combat zones.
Many informants, interpreters, contractors, soldiers and believers in American promises waited for our better angels to overwhelm our irrational fears and follow through on the programs designed to get them out of harm’s way.
Our current and future conflicts demand that the compact between the deployed and the foreign populace remains intact. Signaling to the Muslim world that we will discriminate based on religion and ethnicity shatters that agreement. It says we will treat them by the sins of their birth and not by their actions; that their lives are merely tools to be used and abandoned when no longer needed.
This order merely brings false hope and, while we insulate ourselves within our borders, we’ve galvanized a hostile movement around the world that finally has the missing component it’s needed to convince many reluctant Muslims that the America they have been told welcomes the good people of this Earth and stands up for them no longer means it.
Supporting your troops and this executive order are in direct contradiction of each other.
Reach Tyler Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.