Obama: Commander-in-Retreat

Maybe Obama is really French.
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You can’t fault President Obama for inconsistency. After winning election in 2008, he reduced the U.S. military presence in Iraq to zero. After helping to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, he made sure no U.S. forces would remain. He has steadfastly stayed aloof, except rhetorically, from the conflict in Syria. And on Tuesday he promised to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

The Afghan decision would be understandable had Mr. Obama’s previous choices proved out. But what’s remarkable is that the results also have been consistent — consistently bad. Iraq has slid into something close to civil war, with al-Qaeda retaking territory that U.S. Marines once died to liberate. In Syria, al-Qaeda has carved out safe zones that senior U.S. officials warn will be used as staging grounds for attacks against Europe and the United States. Libya is falling apart, with Islamists, secularists, military and other factions battling for control.

We hope Afghanistan can avoid that fate. But the last time the United States cut and ran from there, after the Soviet Union withdrew, the result was the Taliban takeover, al-Qaeda’s safe havens and, eventually, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, after which everyone said, well, we won’t make that mistake again.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that, assuming Afghanistan’s new president signs a basing agreement, the United States will keep 9,800 troops in the country next year for training and counterterrorism. This is fewer than ideal but better than the immediate “zero option” favored by some of his aides, and it will pave the way for allies to participate, too. But Mr. Obama also said the U.S. presence will shrink by half in 2015 and to zero by the time he leaves office.



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