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president Obama discusses his administration’s counterterrorism policy in might 2013. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Before he take it office in 2008, Barack Obama vowed to finish America’s grueling problems in Iraq and also Afghanistan. Throughout his second term, that pledged to take it the country off what he referred to as a long-term war footing.

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“Our systematic initiative to dismantle terrorist institutions must continue,” he stated in may 2013. “But this war, prefer all wars, have to end. That’s what background advises. It’s what our democracy demands.”


But Obama pipeline a very different legacy as he prepares to hand his commander-in-chief obligations to Donald Trump.

U.S. Military forces have gone to war for every eight years of Obama’s tenure, the an initial two-term president through that distinction. He introduced airstrikes or army raids in at the very least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and also Pakistan.

Yet the U.S. Faces much more threats in more places 보다 at any type of time due to the fact that the Cold War, according to U.S. Intelligence. For the an initial time in decades, over there is at least the potential that an armed clash with America’s largest adversaries, Russia and China.

Obama slashed the number of U.S. Troops in war zones indigenous 150,000 come 14,000, and also stopped the flow of American soldiers coming residence in human body bags. He additionally used diplomacy, no war, come defuse a tense nuclear standoff v Iran.

But he vastly increased the duty of elite commando units and the use of brand-new technology, including equipped drones and cyber weapons.

“The whole principle of battle has readjusted under Obama,” stated Jon Alterman, Middle eastern specialist in ~ the facility for Strategic and International Studies, a nonprofit think tank in Washington.

Obama “got the country out of ‘war,’ at the very least as we offered to check out it,” Alterman said. “We’re now wrapped increase in all these various conflicts, at a low level and also with no finish in sight.”

“ The whole ide of battle has adjusted under Obama. ” — Jon Alterman, Middle eastern specialist in ~ the facility for Strategic and also International researches re-superstructure this quote
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A reaper drone prepares because that a mission in Afghanistan. Obama increased the use of brand-new technology, including armed drones and also cyber weapons. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

The administration built mystery drone bases and also other facilities in Africa and the center East, and included troops and also warships in the western Pacific. It likewise moved troops and also equipment to eastern Europe to respond to a resurgent Russia.

Along the way, Obama occasionally quarreled v his top army advisors. After they left the Pentagon, Obama’s an initial three secretaries that Defense — Robert M. Gates, Leon E. Panetta and Chuck Hagel — accused the Obama White house of micromanaging the military.

Obama’s political climb famously started with a decided he provided in Chicago in October 2002, when he announced he to be “opposed come dumb wars,” introduce to the planned invasion of Iraq by the George W. Bush administration.


But as president, Obama discovered himself captured in the fierce cross currents the the so-called Arab feather uprisings the roiled lot of the center East and also North Africa in 2011, resulting in harsh crackdowns across the region. Just one country, Tunisia, at some point saw a shift to democracy.

He reluctantly authorized a NATO air campaign in Libya initially aimed at staying clear of massacres the civilians by strongman Moammar Kadafi.

Determined to prevent the sort of nation building that pulled the U.S. Right into Iraq’s civil war, he i was withdrawn after Kadafi was eliminated — just to view the oil-rich country collapse in conflict and also become a magnet for terrorist groups.

The risk was clear after members the the Islamic militant group Ansar al Sharia stormed a U.S. Diplomatic compound and nearby CIA basic in Benghazi, in east Libya, in September 2012, death U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The messy results in Libya do Obama realize the restrictions of armed forces power in achieving U.S. Goals, and that shame the rest of his presidency, said Benjamin Rhodes, his deputy national security advisor.

“We can ruin things,” Rhodes said. “He walk not believe we have the right to shape the trajectory of the interior politics of another country or the building of a brand-new society.”

Obama was guided by caution after the Libya suffer — with combined results.

He retained U.S. Ground forces out the Syria’s bloody polite war however could not avoid a conflict now in its 6th tragic year — and also saw America’s influence weaken as Russia and also Iran fill the gap.

In January 2014, Obama mocked the appearance of Islamic State in Syria together a minor threat compared with Al Qaeda. “If a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, the doesn’t do them Kobe Bryant,” the told the brand-new Yorker.

But that summer, through the black-garbed Sunni militants threatening Baghdad, Obama was required to rush U.S. Troops ago to Iraq and also order a flurry the airstrikes come block further developments by the group.

He leaves office through 5,262 U.S. Troops in Iraq and also 503 in Syria and also a non-saw air battle that has actually helped press the militants the end of key cities and towns, and crippled their ability to develop or offer oil.

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U.S. Soldiers save watch in the southern desert of Iraq before a September 2010 convoy drawdown. Obama leaves office through 5,262 armed forces personnel in the country. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Yet Islamic State quiet controls huge parts of both countries. It remains bigger and more powerful 보다 Al Qaeda ever was, luring one an estimated 35,000 foreign fighters and also followers to its self-declared caliphate and also sponsoring or motivating deadly attacks around the globe.

In a speech on Dec. 6 at MacDill Air pressure Base in Florida, Obama all however conceded the he to be unable to acquire America the end of the international wars, large and small, that flourished out the the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“We recognize that in some form this violent extremism will be through us for years come come,” Obama said. “In too countless parts that the world, especially in the middle East, there has actually been a breakdown of order that's been structure for decades, and also it’s unleashed forces that space going to take a generation come resolve.”

“ We understand that in some type this violent extremism will certainly be v us because that years to come. ” — president Barack Obama share this quote
Obama speak at MacDill Air pressure Base in Florida top top Dec. 6, 2016.

Obama considers his diplomatic success — particularly the nuclear address Iran, the Paris covenant to hit climate adjust and a repair of diplomatic relationships with Cuba — to it is in his primary foreign policy legacy.

Diplomacy has actually “helped keep us safe and also helped save our troops safe,” he said at MacDill.

Yet those achievements may no last. Trump has actually threatened to dismantle or renegotiate castle all.

Obama’s aides space frustrated the the chairman doesn’t acquire credit for keeping U.S. Troops the end of another significant ground war.

“It’s hard for civilization to remember, but when us came into office us were shedding 100 people a month, spending $10 exchange rate a month — an unsustainable allocation that resources and also an incredible burden on our military,” Rhodes said.

Spending and casualties both have actually fallen sharply. The Pentagon has spent a complete of $10 billion in the 30 months due to the fact that it visited war against Islamic State in mid-2014, and also the militants have killed only 5 American business members in Iraq and also Syria due to the fact that that time.


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Coalition forces assemble at the Qayyarah Airfield West in Iraq in November to retake Mosul from Islamic State. In ~ right, a soldier keeps watch over the airfield. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times) Coalition pressures assemble in ~ the Qayyarah Airfield West in Iraq in November to retake Mosul indigenous Islamic State. Below, a soldier keeps watch over the airfield.. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Rhodes argued that Obama also made key decisions that preserved the country from gift pulled right into other conflicts.

“There are any variety of decisions we might have made the would have led come war,” he said. “It’s tough for human being to sometimes visualize the counterfactual, but there are decisions the a president renders every week about whether come escalate.”

“It’s a an option not to escalate,” the added.

Obama’s tradition as a peacemaker seemed assured in his first year in office, as soon as he to be awarded the Nobel tranquility Prize, mostly for the assures he had made to alleviate the danger of atom war.

But the award come at one awkward time. Obama’s within circle knew he planned come send 30,000 much more U.S. Troops to Afghanistan to shot to stabilize the country before withdrawing U.S. Ground pressures altogether.

Obama’s acceptance speech in Oslo reflect his ambivalence around lauding the ideals of tranquility while sending out Americans to kill and also be eliminated in remote lands.

“Negotiations cannot to convince Al Qaeda’s leader to lay under their arms,” the said. “To speak that force may sometimes be essential is no a call to cynicism. The is a acknowledgment of history, the imperfections that man and also the borders of reason.”

Gates claimed Obama additionally was ambivalent about sending much more troops to Afghanistan in 2009. Obama was doubtful “if not outright persuaded it would certainly fail,” gates wrote in his 2014 book, “Duty: Memoirs that a Secretary at War.”

Obama had his own priority, gateways wrote. “For him, it’s all around getting out.”

He never ever quite succeeded. Obama pipeline office v 8,400 troops still in Afghanistan. Their mission is to support a weak central government the is still battling the Taliban — 15 year after a U.S. Invasion compelled the militants indigenous power.

“ to say that force may sometimes be essential is not a speak to to cynicism. It is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the borders of reason. ” — chairman Barack Obama in his Nobel acceptance speech share this quote

In his an initial term, the Obama team make the efforts to revolve attention far from the Middle eastern with a strategic pivot towards the Asia Pacific region, rich with cultivation economies and potential friends nervous about Chinese expansion.

“If we put all of our energy into the center East, or just right into reacting, us won't acquire things done,” stated Susan Rice, among Obama’s closest torture and, in his 2nd term, his nationwide security advisor.

But the emphasis on Asia faded as other threats emerged — including Al Shabaab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, Ansar al Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali, the Taliban in Pakistan and, ultimately, Islamic State approximately the world.

Obama sent Navy SEALs and Army Delta force commandos come raid militant hide-outs in Libya, Somalia and also elsewhere. That personally approved the CIA-led SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in might 2011.

But he largely relied on Predators and other increasingly sophisticated drone plane — first to command aerial surveillance and then come launch deadly Hellfire missiles.

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An unmanned U.S. Predator drone paris over Kandahar Airfield in southerly Afghanistan. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP)

Drones retained U.S. Soldiers the end of harm’s way and castle were, arguably, more humane than other weapons because they could assist find and kill particular individuals and limit civilian casualties.

At least in public, Obama wrestled v his growing reliance on drones and his use of them to bring out targeted killings.

He also ordered the killing of a U.S. Citizen — Anwar Awlaki, a charismatic cleric born in new Mexico who functioned for Al Qaeda in Yemen. Obama authorized the drone strike that targeted and killed him in September 2011.

U.S. Drones also killed at least six various other Americans in assaults aimed in ~ militants. That says the tools were not as precise, or the knowledge as reliable, as the administration has claimed.

In a speech at national Defense college in may 2013, Obama promised come provide more transparency about targeted killings.

It took three years, yet in July the White house said up to 164 civilians had been killed in 473 airstrikes throughout Obama’s tenure, and that most involved drones. The tally go not incorporate the wars in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.

Independent groups put the fatality toll much higher, saying numerous civilians to be killed exterior the battle zones, and many hundreds more in them.

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The battle in Syria showed the greatest an obstacle for Obama, and also much of his legacy may well rely on how history views his response.

In respectable 2012, Obama publicly warned that President Bashar Assad would cross a “red line” if his forces used chemistry weapons versus rebels seeking his ouster.

A year later, when poison gas assaults killed hundreds in rebel-held areas of Damascus, Obama confronted a decision: Make good on his implied threat and also launch cruise missiles and also bombers against Syria’s government and also military? Or earlier down to save America out of a civil war?

Obama initially showed up on the verge of bespeak a substantial attack. The Pentagon moved warships right into place, readied missiles and bombers, dusted turn off targeting plans and waited because that the go signal.

Then the hit the brakes.

On Aug. 30, Obama took a to walk on the southern Lawn the the White house with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough. Later they called senior aides together and Obama called them that wouldn’t bow to pressure from critics in Congress and also elsewhere to obtain America into an additional Mideast war.

“These guys, since of the national politics of the moment, are pushing me to take action that is going to have actually real results for Americans,’” Obama said, one senior staffer recalled. “He said, ‘I’m not going to execute that.’”

The news stunned the group. Secretary the State man F. Kerry had been so i was sure Obama was about to start the missiles that he’d given a speech that day at the State Department, implying an assault on Assad to be on the way.

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The following day, Obama appeared in the rose Garden to say he was ready to bespeak airstrikes yet the American people deserved a vote. That asked conference to happen a share resolution authorizing usage of force in Syria.