I remember the day President Obama let me down.
It was December 1, 2009, and as soon as the young president took the podium at West Point and—calm and cool as ever—announced a new troop surge in Afghanistan, I knew. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind. In that instant, George W. Bush’s wars had become Barack Obama’s.
But where Bush had seemed, however foolishly, to believe his own rhetoric about America’s glorious military mission in the world, you always sensed that Obama’s heart just wasn’t in it. He’d been steamrolled by ambitious generals who pioneered generational warfare and hawkish cabinet members like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Bush-holdover Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Then again, what choice did he have, given the way he’d run his presidential campaign on the idea that Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” and so the foil for Iraq, the “dumb war”? Now he was stuck with that landlocked, inhospitable little war, come what may. As we all know (and as I had little doubt then), it didn’t work out. Not at all.
Like many other idealistic Americans, I’d bet big on Obama. The madness and futility of my own 15 months in Iraq as a scout platoon leader—you know, one of those “warriors” you’re obligated to thank endlessly for his service—had forever soured me on nation-building crusades in faraway lands. And the young, inspiring senator from Illinois seemed to have some authentic anti-war chops. Unlike Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, he was untarnished by the October 2002 Iraq War resolution vote that gave the Bush administration the right to shock-and-awe the hell out of Saddam Hussein. Looking back, I suppose I should have known better. Obama had only been a state senator with an essentially nonexistent record on foreign policy when he first criticized Operation Iraqi Freedom. Still, after so many years of Bush’s messianic adventures, anyone seemed preferable.