Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

How 9/11 made Barack Obama a war president

Many expected Barack Obama to be an antiwar president. But he embraced his role as commander in chief of the world's most powerful military, escalating the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

(Page 2 of 2)

Terror threats remain, as this weekend’s heightened security in New York and Washington showed. But largely because of the administration’s use of armed drone aircraft and Special Forces units, Al Qaeda is "on a steady slide," White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan told the Associated Press recently.

Skip to next paragraph

"If they're worrying about their security … they're going to have less time to plot and plan," Brennan said. "They're going to be constantly looking over their shoulder or up in the air or wherever, and it really has disrupted their operational cadence and ability to carry out attacks."

Obama’s aggressiveness at war has been a surprise to many, especially to a liberal base that had heard him speak at antiwar rallies. Yet even then, he made it clear that he was not a pacifist.

“What I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he had said at one such rally in Chicago in 2002, referring to the Bush administration’s impending decision to invade Iraq. “What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by … weekend warriors in [the Bush] administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

But Obama also emphasized that he did not oppose all wars.

“After September 11th, after witnessing the carnage and destruction, the dust and the tears, I supported this administration’s pledge to hunt down and root out those who would slaughter innocents in the name of intolerance,” he said at the same rally, referring here to Afghanistan. “And I would willingly take up arms myself to prevent such tragedy from happening again.”

Years later, and after what critics say was the Bush administration’s failure to follow up on Afghanistan, Obama did take up arms in going after the Taliban and Al Qaeda– this time as commander in chief.

Looking back, writes Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius, “It’s an interesting anomaly of Barack Obama’s presidency that this liberal Democrat, known before the 2008 election for his antiwar views, has been so comfortable running America’s secret wars.”

Given his record as president, Obama – if he had served – likely would have been attracted to the intelligence services or special operations, according to this analysis.

“Intelligence is certainly an area where the president appears confident and bold…. This is a president, too, who prizes his authority to conduct covert action,” Ignatius writes. “He likes making decisions in private, where he has the undiluted authority of the commander in chief. He likes information, as raw and pertinent as possible, and he gets impatient listening to windy political debates. He likes action, especially when he doesn’t leave fingerprints.”

Even if he’s not re-elected, Obama’s fingerprints certainly will be on the history of how the United States conducted itself in the wars that continued ten years after 9/11.

RECOMMENDED: How 9/11 has shaped a generation of Americans


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story