Appreciate Obama’s caution

Philadelphia Inquirer: When recent headlines roared that Fallujah had fallen to al-Qaida, the American public became mildly interested, recalling U.S. troops’ 2004 fight for control of the city in Iraq’s Anbar province. But few Americans want to be reminded of those bad old days, and the country’s interest waned quickly. Once reassured by President Obama that the setback for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s forces would not lead to more U.S. troops being deployed to Iraq, most of the nation turned to other concerns, such as the icy weather being produced by something called a polar vortex.

One can’t call the United States isolationist when its troops are still in Afghanistan and it’s providing military and humanitarian aid across the globe. But the country does seem to be leaning toward isolation. That’s reflected in the president’s measured responses to events in Iraq, Syria, and other places where the aroma of a quagmire waiting to happen is pungent.

In the midst of this drift away from involvement in other nations’ business, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new memoir criticizes Obama as less than committed to the military effort in Afghanistan. “For him, it’s all about getting out,” Gates recalls thinking of Obama after a March 2011 meeting. Gates says that by then, Obama had lost faith in Gen. David Petraeus, didn’t trust Afghan President Hamid Karzai and didn’t believe in his own war strategy.

Three years later, those allegations sound less like an indictment of Obama than a reason to appreciate his caution. Despite his criticisms of Obama, Gates’ final assessment is that most of the president’s decisions were right. He calls Obama’s order to the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.”

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