- - Monday, January 20, 2014

In the fall of 2008, while then-Sen. Barack Obama was wrapping up his extraordinarily popular presidential campaign that hinged in no small part on ending American military action in the Middle East, I was one of the many watching and listening from Iraq. I was a chaplain at Balad Air Force Base, about 70 miles from where the fiercest fighting of the long war had taken place, Fallujah.

For most Americans, the word “Fallujah” registers as a dot on a map occasionally shown on cable news, but we have to remember why it was in the news in the first place. In 2004, the men and women of our military saw their exemplary training tested in street-to-street combat in the city of Fallujah. They met with resistance not from Iraqi civilians, but from a devastating terrorist presence in the city. At the time, Al Qaeda controlled at least half the mosques in Fallujah and proved that no human toll was too high to exert its force on the people of Iraq and the Americans seeking to partner with them.

More than 100 Americans died in Fallujah, along with hundreds of Iraqis, but life, not death, was supposed to be the legacy we left there. Schools, clinics, police stations, civic buildings and mosques dedicated to worship, not violence, emerged where only the darkness of a constant terrorist threat and the fiercest fighting of the war had dominated the neighborhoods before.

The years of relative peace and progress in the city of Fallujah since the fighting there ended are not an anomaly. They are an indicator of the willingness and capacity of the people of Fallujah to maintain a free community. Unfortunately, the presence today of the black flag of Al Qaeda over the city of Fallujah is an indicator of President Obama’s willingness and capacity to turn a blind eye to the national interests of the United States and the interests of all free people.

Mr. Obama seems to appreciate nuance. He should understand that foreign policy is not a question of war or peace, but of partnership and potential. Mr. Obama should have noted while he was campaigning on the policy of withdrawal that a Status of Forces Agreement would provide both America and Iraq with options for securing the future. His unwillingness to obtain such an agreement, as has long been the policy of the United States, has left the story of American sacrifice in Fallujah to be amended by the terrorist forces at work there now.

No one wants to put our men and women back in harm’s way. Congress can partner with Mr. Obama now to ensure that counterterrorism tools are made available to the Iraqis as soon as possible. The president must stop peddling his failing health care website and reclaim his very real duty to be our spokesman to the world. He must be our advocate, not our apologist. He must decide to live in a world not dominated by political adversaries of his own making, but face the reality of the presence and movement of America’s enemies. Mr. Obama must re-engage on Iraq, and he must seek resolution to the situation in Fallujah. This is his responsibility to our security, to our future, and to every brave American who looked terrorism in the eyes during those dark days in 2004 and defeated it, trusting that their sacrifice would not be in vain.

Rep. Doug Collins is a freshman Republican from Georgia. He is vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, and is a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.