Then came an exchange that is seared into my memory. Biden said he was ready to move forward, but the military “should consider the president’s decision as an order.”

“I am giving an order,” Obama quickly said.

I was shocked. I had never heard a president explicitly frame a decision as a direct order. With the U.S. military, it is completely unnecessary. As secretary of defense, I had never issued an “order” to get something done; nor had I heard any commander do so. Obama’s “order,” at Biden’s urging, demonstrated the complete unfamiliarity of both men with the American military culture.

The president announced the troop surge at West Point on Dec. 1. In the end, this major national security debate had been driven more by the White House staff and domestic politics than any other in my entire experience. The president’s political operatives wanted to make sure that everyone knew the Pentagon wouldn’t get its way.