When Barack Obama pledged to leave Iraq during the 2008 campaign, he took care to address concerns that al Qaeda would set up shop there after the Americans left. For instance:
In order to end this war responsibly, I will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. We can responsibly remove 1 to 2 combat brigades each month. If we start with the number of brigades we have in Iraq today, we can remove all of them 16 months. After this redeployment, we will leave enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy. What I propose is not – and never has been – a precipitous drawdown. It is instead a detailed and prudent plan that will end a war nearly seven years after it started.
Emphasis mine. Obama advisors added that such a force wouldn't neccessarily be based in Iraq but perhaps "over the horizon" in a place like Kuwait. Is that really so different from the provocative argument George Will makes today?:
So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.
There are many reasons why Obama might be okay with a light counter-terror force for Iraq but not for Afghanistan: Obama believes that the U.S. occupation of Iraq inflicts severe damage upon America's image and security interests. The Iraqi security forces are far more advanced than their Afghan counterparts. And al Qaeda is far more welcome in the AfPak area than is Iraq.
Still, the fact is that Obama has shown a prior willingness to rely on a small strike force to keep al Qaeda out of a large Muslim country.