Barack Obama, warrior in chief

Mr. Obama decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden…

Mr. Obama’s readiness to use force — and his military record — have won him little support from the right. Despite countervailing evidence, most conservatives view the president as some kind of peacenik. From both the right and left, there has been a continuing, dramatic cognitive disconnect between Mr. Obama’s record and the public perception of his leadership: despite his demonstrated willingness to use force, neither side regards him as the warrior president he is…

None of this suggests that Mr. Obama is trigger-happy or that, when considering the use of force, he is more likely to trust his gut than counsel provided during structured, often lengthy, deliberations with his National Security Council and other advisers. In instances in which the risks seem too great (military action against Iran) or the payoff too murky (some form of military intervention in Syria), Mr. Obama has repeatedly held America’s fire.

This said, it is clear that he has completely shaken the “Vietnam syndrome” that provided a lens through which a generation of Democratic leaders viewed military action. Still, the American public and chattering classes continue to regard the president as a thinker, not an actor; a negotiator, not a fighter.