It isn’t easy being President of the United States of America.
All of us are armchair quarterbacks of course, with very distinct ideas of how things ought to be done around here. While there is no shortage of advice and opinion there is a distinct lack of understanding what the job of POTUS is really like.
The chief executive has to make decisions predicated on information only he and a select few others have. The president must factor in short term, medium term and long term implications his decision might have. Je has to consider his allies- both real and fair weather and he has to deal with constraints the leader of a democratic nation many other leaders do not have to contend with.
The decisions Mr Obama and those his predecessor have made must take into account national security, foreign relations and domestic and economic policies. These are not easy decisions because every adversary of the president , both foreign and political opponents alike, all work very hard at pushing the envelope. Further, adversaries rarely have similar agendas and in some cases (adversarial)politics will dictate the agenda. The president has to contend with political foes who will oppose him simply because the need to oppose him is their entire raison d’etre.
Of all the decisions the president- any president- must make are the ones to send American troops into harm’s way. These decisions never come easily- it isn’t the media images of coffins being met with solemn ceremonies but rather with the knowledge that your decision means the loved ones of others will not come home.
Every candidate understands this going in but yet they still want the job. Why? Because they want to leave the country a better place. Of course, that always gets trumped by the memories of the men and women sent into harms way. In the same way we might second guess ourselves about the might have beens or the could have beens, our presidents do the same. Only they reflect on decisions which have affected many more people in often far more serious matters.
All in all, that is a good thing. Our presidents really do reflect us. It is comforting to know our leaders anguish over the same things we would, over lives lost and lives forever changed
Not every nation is so blessed.
To understand how air-force navigator Tyler Stark ended up in a thornbush in the Libyan desert in March 2011, one must understand what it’s like to be president of the United States—and this president in particular. Hanging around Barack Obama for six months, in the White House, aboard Air Force One, and on the basketball court, Michael Lewis learns the reality of the Nobel Peace Prize winner who sent Stark into combat.
Even after his parachute opened, Tyler Stark sensed he was coming down too fast. The last thing he’d heard was the pilot saying, “Bailout! Bailout! Bail—” Before the third call was finished, there’d come the violent kick in the rear from the ejector seat, then a rush of cool air. They called it “opening shock” for a reason. He was disoriented. A minute earlier, when the plane had started to spin—it felt like a car hitting a patch of ice—his first thought had been that everything was going to be fine: My first mission, I had my first close call. He’d since changed his mind. He could see the red light of his jet’s rocket fading away and also, falling more slowly, the pilot’s parachute. He went immediately to his checklist: he untangled himself from his life raft, then checked the canopy of his chute and saw the gash. That’s why he was coming down too fast. How fast he couldn’t say, but he told himself he’d have to execute a perfect landing. It was the middle of the night. The sky was black. Below his feet he could see a few lights and houses, but mainly it was just desert.
When he was two years old, Tyler Stark had told his parents he wanted to fly, like his grandfather who had been shot down by the Germans over Austria. His parents didn’t take him too seriously until he went to college, at Colorado State University, when on the first day of school he had enrolled in the air-force R.O.T.C. program. A misdiagnosis about his eyesight killed his dreams of being a pilot and forced him into the backseat, as a navigator. At first he was crushed by the news, but then he realized that, while an air-force pilot might be assigned to fly cargo planes or even drones, the only planes with navigators in them were fighter jets. So the mix-up about his eyesight had been a blessing in disguise. The first years of his air-force career he’d spent on bases in Florida and North Carolina. In 2009 they’d shipped him to England, and to a position where he might see action. And on the night of March 21, 2011, Captain Tyler Stark took off in an F-15 from a base in Italy, with a pilot he’d only just met, on his first combat mission. He now had reasons to think it might also be his last.