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Obama’s Premature Pullout Slows Down

Leaving more troops in Afghanistan than anticipated.

In 2011, despite the advice of the commanders on the ground, Barack Obama pulled all American troops out of Iraq. As a result, the Islamic State moved in, seized large parts of the country, and the Iraqi government turned to the theocrats in Iran, seeing them as a more reliable ally than the United States. Keep that in mind.

Well, we can say that at least Obama learned from that timetable-based withdrawal. Somewhat. In Afghanistan, he’s still drawing down troops from an unstable situation that may have worsened since Obama took office — partially due to restrictive rules of engagement. But the other problem is that Obama drew down American troops not based on actual conditions, but on a timetable. The result? The Taliban made a comeback — prompting Obama to limit his draw-down. At the beginning of 2017, America will still have about 8,400 troops in the country where Osama bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, despite declaring that combat missions were over in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, some 38 Americans have been killed there since then.

Let’s contrast this to George W. Bush’s surge in Iraq. In 2007, Bush sent more troops. What he didn’t do was announce a timetable for their return. In other words, the implication was, “They’re coming home when we’ve won.” The result, when Bush left office, was a real chance for Iraq to stabilize. While some elements of al-Qaida were still around, the rag-tag terrorist group was clearly the loser, and the insurgents were all but wiped out. Obama inherited a situation that was easy to maintain.

As we all know, however, he threw away America’s sacrifice of blood and treasure, and we got the Islamic State. Obama ended up sending a few thousand troops back to Iraq, but he’s clearly running these wars on a political timetable. He hasn’t in any way ended them “responsibly” as he’d promised.

Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan had to be this way. After the Korean War, the U.S. left behind forces in South Korea. At first, it had been both the 2nd Infantry Division and 7th Infantry Division, but the 7th was drawn down in 1971. The 2nd Infantry Division has held the line ever since, keeping the North Koreans from invading again. With that security blanket, South Korea has become a regional power and an ally.

Driving out the rogue regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq was only the first task. The second was to ensure peaceful transitions. It took 18 years after the Korean War cease-fire to enable a withdrawal of half the residual force left behind. We still have a residual force in South Korea, but as the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010 shows, there are still threats.

All is not lost, however. We aren’t facing a situation where people desperately clung to the landing skids of helicopters to escape the fall of Saigon. Actually reversing the trend to regain what has been lost since January 2009, though, will require sustained combat operations against the Islamic State and the Taliban. No matter how one feels about the decision to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, the only responsible way to end wars is to win them.

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