A Marine who fought in Iraq reflects on the country's challenges today

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: What's happening in Iraq made us wonder what veterans of that war are thinking. After all, these people were on the ground, battling it out day in, day out. So we reached out to one of them. Tim McLaughlin was in the Marines from 2000 to 2006. He was in the first wave of US forces that went into Iraq in 2003. He's since moved on to other things - earned a law degree and now works as a lawyer here in Boston. Tim stopped by our studios today and I asked him what goes through his mind when he sees that Iraq appears to be spiringly out of control.

Tim McLaughlin: I think when I was asked the question earlier this morning, three things came to mind. The first is indifference. I don't mean that in a bad way but life goes on. I have a young child on the way, obligations to attend to here in Boston and Iraq is a different world from here in the United States. The next emotion is sadness. I have a lot of friends who didn't come home from Iraq. I have a lot of friends who did come home and aren't the same. And then the people who live in Iraq, I emailed a friend yesterday and heard back from him and I really couldn't think of any words to say other than Mofak(?), I hope you and your family and your country are well. And then the last emotion is just the aggression of a young 25-year-old who was in the Marine Corps in 2003 and those memories of the aggressive professionalism that the Marine Corps carries through as a promise to our country. So all that gets mixed together. And that's it.

Werman: Interestingly, before we started recording you were telling me that you had actually tried composing two other emails and deleted the text. I'm just wondering why was it hard coming up with the right words?

McLaughlin: The right words are hard because I'm an American, he's an Iraqi and our worlds are very different. They're similar in the sense that I want only the best for my child and he wants only the best for his children and country. I wrote some emails and I deleted them because it just didn't make sense for me to try to understand his and his country's pain, other than just at a very human level of "I wish things could be better in the complexity of the world that frequently makes them not."

Werman: Your experience too was colored by the fact that you were among the first to roll into Baghdad. There was a sense of liberation. It was pretty joyous and heady.

McLaughlin: When I think about my experience in Iraq and then subsequent service member's experiences, mine was very early on, the first three months, and we were greeted, at least I was greeted, with a sense of happiness and euphoria and joy and I think that that quickly transitioned to other experiences that were more prolonged and that would be better recounted by service members who were in Iraq in the following years. But it was good while I was there for a short period of time. Of course by "good," I mean a lot of death and destruction but that is what the Marine Corps does.

Werman: Is it hard for you to reconcile what you saw going into Baghdad and what you're hearing about right now in Baghdad and around the whole country?

McLaughlin: No, it's not hard for me to reconcile. I think it's part of the human condition, human nature. These are complicated problems, so it's not hard for me to understand that complicated problems have bag consequences, good consequences, all sorts of unintended consequences.

Werman: What do you, Tim McLaughlin, think should happen in Iraq right now?

McLaughlin: I don't know.

Werman: You said earlier one of your reactions to the question "How do you feel about what's going on in the country?" is indifference. It's hard to maintain the line of indifference when there is this giant threat looming.

McLaughlin: There are multiple threats. One of them is the concept of terrorism and ISIS and Islamic extremists abroad and here. And then there's the question of what should be done for the Iraqi country itself. I think what I would do is ensure that US interests are protected and that is not always a popular thing when seen from the outside world's perspective. But our government's obligations is to protect its interests and its people. On a separate note, I wish there were some way for the Iraqi government to reconcile with all the multiple people who live in its country. I don't think that's been done effectively by them and for them yet. But it's really two separate questions. What would I do as an Iraqi? I'm not an Iraqi, I can't answer that. What would I do as an American? I would hope the US government would do what's in the national interest. In a globalized world, that frequently involves other country's interests and then you get into the unintended consequences of making decisions for other people.

Werman: That was Iraq war veteran Tim McLaughlin.