Well, this article may not tell the whole story of what's going in the heart of Foster Friess, but I was just really struck by his honesty, his courage, and compassion for the Kurds in this FoxNews interview. Please check it out and read the article too:
by: Tim Mak
Republican megadonor Foster Friess is shifting his sights from political campaigns to a military campaign: to fight ISIS and save Kurdish lives.
Behind the scenes, the conservative Christian has been traveling to the Middle East to support the vulnerable Kurdish minority in Iraq, and then coming back to the U.S. to lobby for arming and training their militias, known as the Peshmerga. These forces are on the front lines of the war with ISIS.
“They are fighting our fight and we have treated them disgracefully in terms of the armaments we have provided. Not only am I embarrassed to be an American, I’m actually ashamed,” Friess told The Daily Beast. Arming the Kurds, he added, would help “defeat a ghastly evil that is running amok.”
Some pro-Kurdish advocates have interpreted Friess’s interest to mean that he wants to raise a volunteer military force to aid the Kurds, or arm them through private funds. But Friess told The Daily Beast that is not on the table, at least not for now.
One of his informal advisers, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Ernie Audino, seem to be singing from a slightly different hymnal.
“There is no reason why this monopoly [for equipping] should be owned by the U.S. government. I think there’s a role for private organizations to generate private support to help the Kurds,” said Audino, who as a soldier was stationed in Kurdistan for a year. “Foster and I are certainly talking about it, in concept… No one’s pulled the trigger on it.”
Last November, Friess traveled to the front lines of the Kurdish battle with ISIS, visiting a Peshmerga military camp called “Black Tiger.”
“When I visited Camp Black Tiger I was amazed to see how many of the fighters had come out of retirement and were in their 40s and 50s,” Friess said. “I had tears in my eyes to see the Yazidis [an ethnic minority]... as I passed out 5,000 blankets to them which our family had purchased from Turkey. To think they had to leave their homes and everything they owned and only had the clothes on their backs was indeed sad.”
Friess is primarily known for funding socially conservative causes, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to former Sen. Rick Santorum’s last presidential run. He spent more than a million on Koch-related causes, and six figures to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign.
He backs all that with a net worth The Wall Street Journal has estimated at just north of half a billion dollars.
But Friess is no stranger to controversy, having stirred up outrage on the left during the 2012 presidential campaign when, as a prominent backer of Rick Santorum, the 74-year-old said that women in his day put aspirin “between their knees” as contraception.
“There is no reason why this monopoly [for equipping] should be owned by the U.S. government. I think there’s a role for private organizations to generate private support to help the Kurds.”
More disturbing, perhaps, is the fact that Friess’s website promotes books by well-known Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney and Robert Spencer, who helped inspire Norweigan mass murderer and terrorist Anders Breivik. (Although, it should be noted, the website also promotes moderate Islamic groups.)
In the Capitol, Friess has pressed lawmakers to expand airstrikes against ISIS, to help train and equip the Peshmerga, and expand humanitarian aid. He is also insistent on a rhetorical change: that politicians stop referring to the “war on terror.” Instead, he wants the world to take arms against the “global jihadist movement.”
The Kurdish military wish list is long, reflecting the nature of its grinding, daily fight with ISIS. They want counter-IED tools, anti-tank weapons, mine-resistant vehicles, and surveillance equipment.
“[Friess is] shooting for practical targets. What’s the most practical target right now? The easiest target right now is, let’s help the United States directly equip the Kurds,” said Brig. Gen. Audino, who serves as an informal adviser to Friess on Kurdish issues. “He has a genuinely good heart, and he wants to stay on the right side of history… He sees the awful slaughter of innocents in Iraq and Syria right now. He doesn’t see that ending at Iraqi and Syrian borders.”
ISIS could be pushed back, Friess said, if the United States would provide the Kurds with “Apache helicopters and tanks and anti-tank weapons,” as well as a more aggressive air campaign.
Some have interpreted the multimillionaire’s support for the Kurds as openness to privately funding their cause. Last month, an email from Friess to Sen. Rand Paul was leaked to the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker. In it, Friess urges Paul to support the Kurds. In particular, he asked the White House hopeful whether he’d support raising a force to aid their fight.
Audino, the retired general, said that while the businessman’s primary effort was to get the American government to directly arm the Kurds, they have talked about privately doing so as well, hypothetically.
Small wonder that rumors have been spreading among anti-ISIS Westerners that Friess could soon be bankrolling their efforts. Matthew VanDyke runs a security contracting firm called Sons of Liberty International in Iraq, which provides free military training to local Christians in Kurdish and Iraqi areas. He said he had heard that Friess “pledged to help fund the Peshmerga,” and had been looking to get in touch with him ever since.
But asked directly about it, Friess said he was not considering privately raising, training and equipping a militia to defend embattled Christians and Kurds in Iraq and Syria. He wouldn’t comment on the request that he received from the thousands of Christian men that he referenced in the email to Sen. Paul.
The scale of the problem, he said, makes a solution too large to privately finance.
“Do you realize the enormity of what it takes to defeat the enemy? I’m not in the business of financing private armies,” Friess told The Daily Beast.
Friess’s interest in the Kurds can at least in part be explained by his Christian faith, or as the businessman put it, when he “invited Jesus to become the Chairman of the Board of my life.”
American Christians have been generally supportive of the Kurds due to their role in protecting Christians in post-Saddam Iraq. Evangelical figures like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson have touted the secular Kurds for their protection of Middle Eastern Christian communities. Though there has historically been animus between Kurds and Christians in the region, there has been in contemporary times a confluence of interests.
“The Kurds have been seen as protectors of the Christians, especially since the fall of Saddam in 2003, when the Christians began to be pushed out of and even murdered in Arab Iraq. By contrast the Christians have been thriving in the Kurdish region of Iraq,” said Professor Michael Gunter, who has written 11 books on the Kurdish people.
Since the proclamation of a so-called Islamic State last year, outside players have jumped into the ISIS war. From Saudi to Iranian involvement, from American military veterans looking for freelance work to Western jihadists looking for a battle to join, outsiders have flooded into the region for one cause or another.
If a high-profile Christian American businessman were to privately fund weapons in the ISIS battlespace, it would be a problematic foray into an already-nasty sectarian situation. So far Friess has stayed away from that role. While the Kurds welcome any help they can get from Christian Americans, ISIS has framed its war as one of them versus the “crusaders.”
In January, for example, ISIS urged its followers in the West to “to target the crusaders in their own lands and wherever they are found.”
The money Friess has thus far spent on the Kurdish cause has been slight, as compared to his financial commitments to political candidates. He spent some $50,000 on blankets as humanitarian aid to the Yazidis, another minority group in Iraq.
Awat Mustafa, who works at a Kurdish humanitarian aid group called the Barzani Charity Foundation, met Friess during the National Prayer Breakfast this year. Friess invited Mustafa to his office, and they’ve been tossing ideas back and forth ever since. Mustafa said he submitted a funding proposal, for humanitarian assistance to the millions of refugees in Kurdish areas, and hopes to get funding in the realm of six figures or more.
“I'm sure he’s going to be one of our big donors, no doubt about it,” Mustafa said. “In the past he has already donated some money for refugees in the Kurdistan region.”
Perhaps Friess’s most impactful effort for the Kurds has been in using his weight to press Congress to help them. Foster has wielded his influence to lobby lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support Kurdish militias, including such figures as Democratic lawmakers Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
“Foster Friess agrees with me on this issue—in order for there to be military success on the ground and defeat ISIS, the U.S. must provide the heavy weapons and arms directly to trusted fighters, such as the Kurds,” Gabbard said.
On the Republican side, Friess’s role is praised.
“He’s a good friend of the Kurds, and he’s made a real difference. He’s provided his own money, among other things… and had an effect on opinion here [in the Senate]. He’s one of their strongest advocates,” Sen. John McCain told The Daily Beast.
Added Sen. Lindsey Graham: “He’s gotten to know the Kurds well. He’s very passionate.”
And there may be some coming legislative efforts: Sen. John Barrasso, Gabbard and others huddled with Friess in Graham’s conference room last month to work on a bill called the Kurdish Emergency Relief Act, the Washington Examinerreported, which would involve some $500 million in aid for the Kurdish people. The legislation has not yet been introduced.
In February, we had a visit from some world changers from FAI (Frontier Alliance International). They felt God's call to highlight the struggle that Kurds have experienced and share it in a documentary that they released just a couple of weeks ago entitled: Better Friends than Mountains.
Here's the trailer: https://vimeo.com/119615313
If it grabs your heart, then you've just got to see the whole thing: https://vimeo.com/120108506
In February, my alma mater, Baylor University asked me to come and speak at their Chapel services that nearly 4,000 students attend twice a week. So, I got on a plane and hopped on over...
It was a great opportunity for me to share more of our vision to reach the widows, orphans, and refugees washing up on the "shores" of Iraqi-Kurdistan -- the only safe haven in Iraq these days.
Here's the presentation I gave to the Baylor students: my part begins at the 15 minute mark -
Just a few days before Christmas the Mayor of Soran called me and asked me if we could help with the growing number of 'war widows' in the region. The count at that time was 52, but because of Baghdad's strangle hold on the Kurdistan Region's financial resources, including the denial of their allotted 17% of the federal budget, funds to help the families of those who had died serving their country in the defense of ISIS were slim.
Winter had set in and snow had covered the nearby hills and mountains. What these widows needed the most was kerosene to heat their homes.
So, we added it up and decided to jump right in. I mean what sacrifice is too great to serve the needs of the families of fallen soldiers defending your right to live in peace?
A couple days later we met with the mayor and a small entourage and personally visited about 15 of these families on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day delivering a barrel of kerosene to each family.
The most heart breaking of all the stories was a woman who had lost 3 of her sons in one battle. Each of them were married leaving behind 6 orphaned children.
Together with the Mayor then we were able to give not just kerosene but food packages from the Red Cross and sleeping mattresses/doshaks to each family.
Coming from a military family myself I felt the significance of our acts of love and care... In giving to the families of these fallen Peshmerga soldiers I suppose I felt I've never been a part of something more important than this.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
Well, today we got the go ahead from the Mayor of Rwanduz to begin building our second refugee camp on this property:
It's 2.5 spacious acres of some of the most naturally flat land in the whole area which means a good break on our budget preparing it.
It will house 16 Yazidi families that fled ISIS last August from Shingal (Sinjar) Mountain with the possibility of expansion to 60 total families.
The Mayor of Soran has already donated 18 tents from UNHCR, and so our plans can begin as soon as we're ready. I think we're ready now. Let's do this!
For the past few months our hearts have been drawn to the plight of Yazidis that have recently populated our valley town.
A group of 16 families in particular have settled on a farm in a small valley just on the outskirts of our area, and it's to them that we've begun to reach out to care for their needs.
First we brought in kerosene to help them heat their 'homes' (unfinished buildings) during the winter months, then we brought winter coats and jackets, food, and other essentials. Basically, as soon as we would empty our hands in gifts to them, God would load us up again and again and again.
Then, one day they told us that the owner of the unfinished buildings wanted to actually finish them, so that meant they had to move out.
Since that day we've been on the search for a new place for them to stay.
Here's the place we found for them:
Then, we went to the local mayor of that region and asked if he had any suggestions. He said he did, but we should know that he couldn't offer us 20 cents to help the refugees (the Kurdish Regional Government is simply cash strapped during this crisis with Baghdad and ISIS at their throats).
He showed us some land currently used as a sheep pen:
... and some land on the side of a hill:
When we called the Yazidi families to see if they liked either the sheep pen land or the land on the hill, they found them completely inhospitable and unsuitable. But beggars can't be choosers, so we brokered a meeting with the Yazidis and the mayor tomorrow to see about where they'll be able to lay their heads.
Pray for God's will in this situation. It's in His hands.
Well, the day finally arrived where we would put the children's designs into 'real' and 'permanent' art emblazing the Refuge Community Center walls, turning once greyness into cheery happiness and color.
This was how the wall looked before we got started.
So, we started with a base coat of light blue with some of the kids helping us out.
There we go, starting to look better.
Then, the RISE Foundation folks showed up to integrate the kids into a full scale mural painting of the walls. Oh, boy, what have we gotten ourselves into???
But, they had a plan:
First we chalked the general designs across the entire length of the wall.
Then, we had a little demonstration of how to paint 'inside' the lines. Yes, please.
And, finally after mixing the paint time it was time to let the kids at it. Fortunately, it was perhaps one of the mildest December days we've had with a full, bright sun cheering us on. What a blast we had!!! What do you think?
Well, when the RISE Foundation approached me with the idea of putting paint cans into the hands of 30 small children at the Refuge, you could say a little bit of anxiety erupted. But, that's exactly what we ended up doing with some incredible results, lending color and the kids' special designs to our community center project.
The first day, we gathered all the kids into the hall of the Refuge and gave the kids large sheets of paper to draw whatever they liked. We hoped this might be an opportunity for them to perhaps share with colors what they might not be able to share verbally.
The RISE Foundation has seen this technique effective in drawing out children who have been traumatized by the recent conflicts gripping the country, with some depicting very graphic images of how they saw the mass murderers of ISIS.
Our group of refugees or IDPs were fortunate to not have glimpsed the horror that is ISIS. They were informed from a sympathetic party in a nearby village that ISIS was coming that day, and thus, managed to escape but only just.
In looking at the children's artwork it seemed apparent that they have fond memories already of our community center and now refugee camp project by drawing the building with happy colors of the rainbow.
We managed to set up a camera in the ceiling to record this awesome time-lapse video of the event.
After all the kids drew their pictures we gathered downstairs in the carpeted conference room where we discussed the 'stories behind the pictures'. I think it went really well, and now we've got to see if we can't get each of these kids a paint can without freaking out.