The office of the presidency, once assumed, transforms the outlook of its holder. If the first job of the executive is the protection of the nation’s security, the choices presented when the commander in chief must actually sit in the Oval Office and make a decision turn out to be few. The need to pick from among several unappealing ways to defend the nation is what separates presidents from pundits. I believe that much of the virulent hatred directed at President Obama’s predecessor, and at Obama himself, arises from a rejection of this proposition. To the hater, the world is simple, not complex. The answers are obvious. “If the president were only as clear-eyed and wise as I am,” the protester thinks, “he would see the world as it truly is, and make better decisions.” It turns out, however, that in time of war, very different presidents may see the world in roughly the same way.
President Obama, succeeding President George W. Bush, largely adopted Bush’s approach to Iraq; decided to use a version of that approach in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan; and widened the terror war beyond the targets pursued by the Bush administration. In the end, the administration even adopted parts of the Bush doctrine. True, Obama cast aside its more idealistic aspect: using American power to build democracy. On the other hand, President Obama has adopted wholeheartedly what we might call the Bush doctrine’s political science: the determination to fight our enemies overseas, eliminating them where possible, rather than wait to be attacked.