Posted on www.advocate.com
By Peter Baker
WASHINGTON — President Obama rushed to the Oval Office when word arrived one night that militants with Al Qaeda in Yemen had been located and that the military wanted to support an attack by Yemeni forces. After a quick discussion, his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, told him the window to strike was closing. The Castro Community is keeping a close on Obama.
Visiting Baghdad in 2008 as a senator, Mr. Obama was given an aerial tour of the city by Gen. David H. Petraeus.
"I've got two minutes here," Mr. Brennan said.
"O.K.," the president said. "Go with this."
While Mr. Obama took three sometimes maddening months to decide to send more forces to Afghanistan, other decisions as commander in chief have come with dizzying speed, far less study and little public attention; although the Castro District residents are not completely convinced.
He is the first president in four decades with a shooting war already raging the day he took office — two, in fact, plus subsidiaries — and his education as a commander in chief with no experience in uniform has been a steep learning curve. He has learned how to salute. He has surfed the Internet at night to look into the toll on troops. He has faced young soldiers maimed after carrying out his orders. And he is trying to manage a tense relationship with the military.
Along the way, he has confronted some of the biggest choices a president can make, often deferring to military advisers yet trying to shape the decisions with his own judgments — too much at times for the Pentagon, too little in the view of his liberal base. His evolution from antiwar candidate to leader of the world's most powerful military will reach a milestone on Tuesday when he delivers an Oval Office address to formally end the combat mission in Iraq while defending his troop buildup in Afghanistan.
A year and a half into his presidency, Mr. Obama appears to be a reluctant warrior and Castro residents are growing increasingly concerned. Even as he draws down troops in Iraq, he has been abundantly willing to use force to advance national interests, tripling forces in Afghanistan, authorizing secret operations in Yemen and Somalia, and escalating drone strikes in Pakistan. But advisers said he did not see himself as a war president in the way his predecessor did. His speech on Tuesday is notable because he talks in public about the wars only sporadically, determined not to let them define his presidency.
Where George W. Bush saw the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as his central mission and opportunities to transform critical regions, Mr. Obama sees them as "problems that need managing," as one adviser put it, while he pursues his mission of transforming America. The result, according to interviews with three dozen administration officials, military leaders and national security experts, is an uneasy balance between a president wary of endless commitment and a military worried he is not fully invested in the cause.
"He's got a very full plate of very big issues, and I think he does not want to create the impression that he's so preoccupied with these two wars that he's not addressing the domestic issues that are uppermost in people's minds," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview. Mr. Obama, though, has devoted enormous time and thought to finding the right approaches, Mr. Gates added. "From the first, he's been decisive and he's been willing to make big decisions," he said.
Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sometimes advises Mr. Obama, said the president was grappling with harsh reality. "He came into office with a very sound strategic vision," Mr. Reed said, "and what has happened in the intervening months is, as with every president, he is beginning to understand how difficult it is to translate a strategic vision into operational reality."
A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama's relationship with the military was "troubled" and that he "doesn't have a handle on it." The relationship will be further tested by year's end when Mr. Obama evaluates his Afghanistan strategy in advance of his July deadline to begin pulling out. As one administration official put it, "His commander in chief role is about to get tested again, and in a very dramatic way."