AWOL: Ten Years After Operation Iraqi Freedom

Ten years ago, in 2003, I was the Commander of the 2d Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment (MLRS) in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood Texas. In the early months of 2003 we received deployment orders for Iraq and by late January we had loaded up the Battalion’s equipment and shipped it off for Operation Iraqi Freedom. In these past ten years I have been a high school teacher, civilian-military advisor to the Afghanistan National Army, and a US Congressman.

The purpose of this piece is not to re-debate the decisions to enter Iraq but rather to take a reflective look at where we are in Middle East foreign policy.

I recall sitting with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in his cabinet room, in August 2011, and his imploring our congressional delegation of one thing. His admonition was to not “zero” out our troop presence in Iraq for it would leave a strategic vacuum.

Of course, President Barack Obama did exactly what Prime Minister Netanyahu had warned against. You see, for Obama, keeping a base-driven campaign promise was more important than having a strategic vision for our national defense. To use Obama’s own words, “I was elected to end wars”. Well Mr. President, you are elected to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to promote policies for its security, as well as that of our allies.

So in ten years, the blood and sacrifice of many of my brave warrior Brothers and Sisters have been wasted. America is no longer seen as having influence in Middle East foreign policy. As a matter of fact, it was President Obama who clearly stated, “We will pivot away from the Middle East and focus on the Pacific”. We have certainly pivoted away but have seen an expansive China, belligerent North Korea, and concerned allies in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.

The vacuum that Netanyahu addressed has been filled by Vladimir Putin and the Ayatollahs of Iran. There can be no doubt that Iran has extended its regional hegemony into Iraq and it extends wholeheartedly into Syria and Lebanon, by way of its proxy terrorist group Hezbollah. Russia has become the diplomatic broker as we witnessed in Syria, a key warm water port. Russian President Putin has also been invited to Iran by its new President Rouhani, a man who is truly, as Netanyahu acclaimed, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Obama reaches out to Iran but it is not in a position of having a moral high ground. Iran is still the number one state sponsor of Islamic terrorism and its tentacles are spread globally, to include here in our own hemisphere. Iran is calling shots in Iraq and since we are not seen as engaged, Iraq is now just a satellite. Unfortunately, Iranian dissidents in Iraq are being hunted down and killed, while the US said they would protect them. Our credibility is waning, if not lost.

Consider that after Operation Iraqi Freedom, Libyan leader Qaddafi came clean on his WMD program. Now, thanks to the Obama administration’s decision, Qaddafi is dead and Libya is a lawless country and a hotbed for radical Islamists affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Egypt, the Obama decision to support the deposing of Hosni Mubarak and the rise of Mohammed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, has thrown that once trusted American ally into a bloody civil war. Many warned of supporting Morsi, to include the Egyptians, but to no avail the Obama White House pushed ahead full steam.

Our best ally in the Middle East, Israel, now finds itself completely surrounded in a threatening neighborhood of despots, dictators, autocrats, and theocrats manifested in Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and their granddad, the Muslim Brotherhood. There are those such as the Coptic Christians, Kurds, and Assyrians who feel the noose tightening about their necks as far as their survival.

Generals on the ground in Iraq recommended maintaining a residual force which could have posted out on the Iraq-Syria and Iraq-Iran border, as well as support the Kurds against rising Turkish Islamism under PM Erdogan. No, none of this was more strategically important than pleasing his base.

The Obama administration is AWOL in the Middle East and for those men and women, such as myself who first fought in Operation Desert Shield/Storm, it is appalling that our service and sacrifice to promote American strength and commitment has been discarded. Ten years after Operation Iraqi Freedom and thanks to President Obama, America lacks a strategic foreign policy and is becoming irrelevant in the Middle East.