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Dear Mr. President: Hold Your Ground

Dear Mr. President,

I am a U.S. military spouse, and I am begging you to hold your ground regarding Rafah and demand an end to Israel’s current offensive there.

On March 10th, you referred to an invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza as “a red line.” When I heard you say that, I (and other military families I know) breathed a little easier. Humanitarian organizations have been warning for months that an assault on Rafah would cause unspeakable civilian catastrophe, and so we appreciated clarity from you (and repeatedly since then) that such a military misstep would not be supported by the United States.

Unfortunately, the moment has come to stand firm in your convictions. Yesterday, several outlets reported that Israeli forces have begun conducting strikes against Rafah. I shudder when I think about what is about to unfold.

After the horrific and deadly attack against Israel on October 7th, our organization joined with the international community in condemning Hamas’s brutality, and in supporting Israel’s objectives to free the hostages and defend itself within the rule of law. Over the subsequent weeks and months, we grew appalled by the nature of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military response, which has resulted in the deaths of over 35,000 Palestinians, and a spiral of retaliatory violence across the region. 

There must be meaningful consequences for our ally as they progress further across this red line. You cannot waver on your commitment.

U.S. military troops may not have boots on the ground within Gaza, but our service members’ safety and wellbeing are still directly impacted by what is happening there. Many of us have loved ones deployed to the region, either for regional security purposes or to construct the aid-delivering pier you championed during your State of the Union address. Israeli attacks on Rafah will almost certainly antagonize adversaries in the region, which senselessly increases risk to U.S. service members nearby.

None of us in the military community is immune from the risk of moral injury, no matter how far we are from any line of fire. This conflict has forced many of us into an unresolvable dilemma. How can we feel proud of our service commitments to defend allies, ensure regional stability, and prevent terrorism – while at the same time, the allied troops you are asking U.S. service members to support include military units that have been credibly accused of human rights abuses by international humanitarian organizations

Those hidden costs of war are permanent, and their impacts trickle down from the service member to their entire families. Not to mention, the military’s future as a flourishing all-volunteer institution at a time when retention and recruitment are at all-time lows.

As I close, I will commend how you’ve tried repeatedly to counsel our close ally by invoking the memory of 9/11, and the mistakes U.S. foreign policymakers made in response that led our country into an endless, unwinnable war. Those comparisons feel poignant this week in particular, as 21 years ago Americans were told by their President that the invasion into Iraq was done and settled, a declaration we later learned was far from true.

History threatens to repeat itself now, as Prime Minister Netanyahu embarks on his own ill-conceived invasion. And I fear whether it will sweep U.S. military families along with it. 

You said it before, Mr President: “There’s nothing…low risk or low cost about any war.” I urge you, as one of the many military families who will live with the consequences of the decisions you make today, and as a voice representing many who are unable or afraid to speak up: remain steadfast in your condemnation of a Rafah invasion. And continue, with urgency, all efforts toward a sustainable ceasefire.

Sarah Streyder
Executive Director, Secure Families Initiative

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