The first time I was deployed to Iraq was in 2004, when we were still a peace-time Army trying to find our way through the fog of asymmetric warfare. We made a lot of mistakes and faced many challenges. But since then we have evolved into a much more effective fighting force.
Not a day goes by without a news report praising the military's latest tactical or technological advancement. Since 2004 we re-learned that the best defense is a good offense. We got off of our enclosed bases and out of our stifling armored vehicles. We engaged the populace and coordinated all of our efforts — tactical and strategic — so that the results were greater than the sum of their parts. We have learned how to learn and how to become better. As a fighting force, we are better today than we were yesterday and tomorrow, we'll be even better.
Unfortunately, for those of us who are in Iraq today, it is as if those seven years never happened. We are currently operating from the 2004 playbook. Not because we want to but because we are required to.
Now I'm no diplomat, but from my foxhole it appears that the U.S. is negotiating with the government of Iraq from a position of weakness. We are deferring to every Iraqi government whim at the expense of our own safety. We literally are permitted only to sit on our enclosed bases and hope that the IRAMs — improvised rocket-assisted mortars — don't hit their mark. In other words, we are sitting ducks.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of service-members here who cannot do their job because the Iraqi government has restricted them to their bases. Many have been here for nearly a year, but they can't go home because any day the Iraqi government may change its mind about whether we go or stay. So they sit and wait.
We know that serving means hardship and sometimes ending up as a pawn in the larger game of international affairs. But we also know that being a leader means taking care of your people within the constraints of accomplishing the mission, which in this case means do your best not to get killed while the U.S and Iraqi governments try to come to some sort of agreement.
I urge President Obama to take charge of this upside-down situation. He should simply tell the Iraqi government that we are going to operate the way we know how and that they are welcome to participate, or that we are leaving tomorrow. Continuing to serve up Americans as targets while the Iraqis play favorites between us and Iran is not an acceptable course of action.
Matt L. Miller
The writer, a resident of Columbia, is currently serving with the U.S. military in Iraq.