What does the title of your book even mean, how can an army officer be the “Father of Money”?
In March 2004, I was appointed the governance officer for Al Dora, one of Baghdad’s most violent districts. My job was to establish and oversee a council structure for Iraqis that would allow them to begin governing themselves. The nature of persuading Iraqis to support the coalition quickly progressed from simply granting them privileges to a more complex system of bribing them to display some semblance of loyalty to various American initiatives. Those Iraqis who worked successfully with the Army in this system made quite a bit of money from me, hence the nickname Father of Money.
So, you sat down and wrote a memoir. Thousands of soldiers have also gone to Iraq, some multiple times. Do you think your experience was somehow remarkable?
I admit, a memoir sounds presumptuous – at any age. In my case, the narrative is less about me, as a person, and more about the circumstances in Iraq, as they existed when I was there. I actually do think my experience was quite typical, which is what makes the conclusions so jarring. In fact, if anything at all was remarkable, it was that I seemed to be one of the few people in my unit who acknowledged how disconnected our mission was from the political reality in the United States, yet it should have been obvious to everyone.
Do you consider yourself some type of hero or what?
I don’t even know what that word means anymore, hero. Look, society, at least American society, is saturated with labels. For example, you asked me about heroes. Well, there are CNN heroes, there are people who think all soldiers are heroes, likewise with people who give to charity, fight cancer, single-moms, working dads, etc. All of them are called heroes and I just don’t think that is true. I admire those people, and they make me proud to be a human, but hero is a little much. We often overstate our own importance so frequently and view the world so starkly that it makes us susceptible to being led into situation like Iraq and makes it almost impossible to get out. I am just a guy who wanted to describe what it was like to try and make peace in a world where there are literally no labels. Everything is some murky degree of right and wrong.
Did you have an adjustment period when you came back? What were some of your first impressions upon returning to the United States?
It seemed lonely. My first few weeks were a blur, but I remember being startled by the volume of cars on the road with one passenger, the number of single people walking around shopping malls and the general lack of meaningful interaction that Americans seemed to have with one and another. The Iraqi lifestyle, filled with communal meals and families huddled together seemed more coherent to me, despite the lack of security. I walked around annoyed every time someone drove by with a yellow-ribbon or congratulated me for my service. It was obvious that this would be a war that the public could easily forget about and I was not in the mood to indulge people’s sense of self-satisfaction by accepting their platitudes. I guess you could say I had an adjustment period.
Okay, fast forward. You are a lawyer now, living in London. Iraq is barely in the news these days. There is an increased emphasis on Afghanistan. Why is your story even relevant any more. Isn’t Iraq over?
Yeah, I heard, Mission Accomplished. Listen, Iraq has been ‘over’ at least a dozen times. ‘Iraq’ will never be over, because it represents more than a conflict or geography. ‘Iraq’ is the latest homage to the idea that a superior military force can remake a foreign population according to some drawing on a whiteboard. Iraq is an American institution that will continue to exist as long as we continue to fight wars that do not demand our total commitment. Just look at the news and you can see several new ‘Iraqs’ on the way in Korea, Iran, and Somalia.
If you could say one thing to people about your time in Iraq, what would it be?
I would encourage them to learn as much as they can about these types of conflicts. It is a special type of hell for everyone, on all sides. Yes, soldiers sometimes kill the wrong people, and yes sometimes young people who could have done so much more are the victims of what seems like tragic fortune. But, this is the indiscriminate nature of war. To make judgments about it, or to presume that it can somehow be done better, neater, or more cleanly, is both insulting and demoralizing. After all, if you can comfortably critique the methods of war from a sofa thousands of miles away, then maybe it is a war that your Army should not be fighting in the first place.