Obama’s Wars: How The Commander in Chief Handled His First Term
7 months ago
As human cost of war becomes more evident, young veterans give commander-in-chief high marks for withdrawal
NEW YORK CITY -- Within days of President Barack Obama’s election to the nation’s highest office four years ago, then 23-year-old Deron Moore was leaving his post at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, to return to civilian life in Tampa, Fla., where he attended high school.
Moore, a native of the Bronx in New York City, and admittedly apolitical, went from employment at a Chuck E. Cheese in early 2005 to a job servicing engines on naval fleet ships as a member of the world’s greatest military power. But in 2008 he was back in Tampa slinging pepperoni pizzas for toddlers.
“I ain’t gonna front -- after I got out of the military, I’m working back at my old high school job at Chuck E. Cheese. I was embarrassed,” said Moore, now 27 and working at a retail establishment in the Bronx. “People were looking at me like, ‘You seriously served four years and you’re back here?’ ”
Despite finding aspects of the return to civilian life demoralizing, Moore and many of his comrades in arms don’t begrudge the nation’s first African American president credit for how his administration transformed the U.S. missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Having inherited the unprecedentedly lethal wars from predecessor George W. Bush in 2009, Obama shifted the military's focus from high-casualty ground missions against al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents to targeted drone strikes and security force training operations. He oversaw the 2011 capture and kill of Osama bin Laden, the man believed responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the nation. Significant expansion of veterans’ benefits and initiatives to get jobs for inactive troops -- highlighted in impressive public relations campaigns involving first lady Michelle Obama -- became the pathway for many civilians and businesses to support the on-going war effort during Obama's first term. And, as promised during his first campaign for election, the president withdrew all combat troops from Iraq in 2012, and is expected to do the same in Afghanistan by 2014 should he be reelected to the White House next week. But some observers have Obama going from being the poster child for anti-war Democrats as a U.S. senator – having voted against authorizing the Iraq War in 2002 -- to a centrist who compromised on principles at the foundation of his billing as the “change” president.
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Thus, the war in Afghanistan, which Obama did say during his first campaign that he would expand, is almost as unpopular with the American public as the Vietnam War was in the 1960s. Lack of cooperation by Congress has kept Obama from fulfilling a campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison, where al-Qaeda and Taliban war prisoners are held. And Obama’s accelerated use of drone strikes gets mixed reviews among service members and the public.
The use of drones has especially drawn backlash as questions have arisen over the authorization of strikes on American citizens found to have aligned themselves with U.S. enemies overseas. For example, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was the 16-year-old American son of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda operative killed by a drone one year ago. The son was killed in a separate strike two weeks after his father's death. When cornered about the administration's use of the drone strikes, Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs said the teen “should have [had] a far more responsible father,” the Huffington Post reported.
According to a recent Pew Global Attitudes survey, “in 17 of 20 countries, more than half [of people] disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.”
However, those supportive of the strikes have argued that it means fewer U.S. troops in harm’s way. Former army infantryman Leo Dunson, 27, said he is supportive of anything that achieves fewer U.S. casualties.