France is one of the largest countries in Europe, but its contribution to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan – the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – is relatively small: just 3,300 troops compared with the United States’ 90,000 soldiers, or Britain’s 9,500 soldiers. But there is a vast difference between the effect of an orderly withdrawal and a hasty one. An orderly withdrawal is one in which duties and responsibilities are handed off to either the host country or to another foreign peacekeeping force. A disorderly departure inspires panic, and images of helicopters on the roof of an embassy.
The very fact that France had troops in Afghanistan is due largely to the efforts of France’s departing President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the most America-friendly presidents since World War II. Mr. Sarkozy chose in 2009 to reintegrate French troops into NATO after a decades-long absence, and promptly urged their use both in Afghanistan and also during the NATO air campaign against Muammar Qaddafi’s forces in Libya last year.
Sarkozy also signaled a rupture with France’s past policy of interventionism among its former colonies in Africa, although that promise lasted about as long as a day-old croissant. French troops intervened in Ivory Coast in early 2011 to help capture incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to step down from power after losing the Nov. 2010 elections to Alessane Ouattara.