Second, after ending true combat operations in 2010, our military assumed the more limited role of advising, training and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in preparation for the transition related to that deadline. As a Veteran of Operation New Dawn who returned just weeks ago, I can attest that the troops continue to work tirelessly toward that end. They have accomplished all that could be expected of them in light of conditions on the ground. Romney’s statement that the transition is an “astonishing failure” is thus puzzling. Why would someone running for Commander in Chief signal to the troops that they have utterly failed to accomplish their current mission? Furthermore, exactly what else would Romney have our troops do before we can declare mission accomplished in Iraq and go home?
This also begs the next question - why do some candidates appear to value troop presence more than troop protection? Iraq’s parliament has refused to extend legal immunity to U.S. troops past the withdrawal deadline. This leaves our service members vulnerable to prosecution in Iraqi courts for post-2011 acts committed in theater. While serving in Iraq, I worked in those courts prosecuting terrorist defendants who attacked U.S. Forces. I observed first-hand an Iraqi judiciary afflicted by corruption, intimidation and, at best, apathy toward the fate of our brave men and women. Nonetheless, the current rhetoric from the 2012 candidates either ignores the immunity issue or faults the Obama administration for not bullying Iraq’s democratically elected parliament into submission. This latter approach is as arrogant as it is unrealistic; as Prime Minister al-Maliki indicated, Iraq’s political landscape made it “impossible” for the Iraqi parliament to support an extension of immunity.
Finally, Romney’s analysis of the upcoming transition overlooks the fact that thousands of other Americans will remain in Iraq focused on ensuring that country’s stability. Our Embassy in Baghdad is the biggest in the world. It houses thousands of dedicated State Department workers and there are thousands more such workers and military contractors all over Iraq. Romney also fails to take notice of our large troop presence in neighboring Kuwait.
In a field where so few candidates or their children have served in the military, the apparent lack of command of these intricate issues is frustrating, yet unsurprising. However, to win the national security conversation against a Commander in Chief who can count the deaths of al-Awlaki, bin Laden and Gaddafi amongst his war-time successes, they will have to do better than throwing red meat to their base in the form of oversimplified, nonsensical sound bites.
Jeff Lieser is a Florida lawyer and a Judge Advocate who returned recently from deployment to Iraq."
The views expressed are those of Jeff Lieser alone and not those of the Department of Defense.