What Happened to the Barack Obama I Voted For (Twice)?

The president promised “change,” and once spoke out against “dumb” and “rash” wars. So what is he thinking on Syria?

I voted for President Obama. Twice.

It was the first election that ever made me feel that I’d actually won something. He was the first candidate I’d ever voted for who seemed to believe in all the same things I did. I felt like my concerns were going to land on the desks of the people who could do something about them.

He had me at “change.”

Senator Obama struck me as a different kind of candidate. He seemed like someone who “got it” as a Gen X’er with modern sensibilities and interests. Despite his pedigree as a constitutional law professor at Harvard University, he read as an everyman archetype. That in another space or time, we could know each other somehow. I didn’t want (or need) a president I could have a beer with. But I appreciated the sense of familiarity and, more importantly, deferred to his intellect and scholarship and perspective on the issues that mattered to me.

I was reassured when he spoke out against the war in Afghanistan.

“I don’t oppose all wars,” Obama said less than a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, when he was still a political unknown. “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.”

I have an appreciation for the days where isolationism as the international policy of the United States, so I agreed with this and felt assured. And he carried this through his first run at the presidency, distancing himself from McCain and the policies of George Bush, whose presidency (especially the part about Dick Cheney) still perplexes me all these years later.

As of late, however, the president’s familiarity has waned; he reads a bit differently. I’d like to think that once a candidate assumes the highest office in the land, he becomes privy to intelligence that changes his perspective and perhaps complicates campaign rhetoric and influences decision-making processes.

Maybe, he knows something that we do not. At least, I hope that’s the case.

Seemingly overnight, Syria has become the newest centerfold in the world of military porn. Splashed across the front pages of major news sites, it’s become the leading news story out of Washington, forcing editorial teams to compile Cliff’s Notes on the issue in order to get the average reader up to speed. Once a passing mention in the 2012 Presidential Debates, Syria is quickly becoming the issue that could define the Obama presidency.

“What we’ve done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go. We’ve mobilized sanctions against that government. We have made sure that they are isolated. We have provided humanitarian assistance, and we are helping the opposition organize. But ultimately, Syrians are going to have to determine their own future,” he said last October. “What we’re seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that’s why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition. I am confident that Assad’s days are numbered, but we also have to recognize that for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step.”

And here we are.

With the United Nations just concluding its investigation into the attacks, the president is already lobbying for Congressional support in a strike against Syria. France, in keeping with tradition, is doing the French thing and is coming along for the ride. The British Parliament, however, voted against a military strike, most likely because of that other time in which they invaded a country based on bad intelligence provided by the United States.

And so we wait to see if the constitutional lawyer will continue the modern tradition of imperial presidency, though it seems that the White House wants Congress on board so it can spread around accountability for an unpopular act. If you are of the opinion that the United States needs to be involved at all–I am not; this is a civil issue–then this is an opportunity for change. “Change” means forging a new path in diplomacy, not military action. It means allowing the findings of the UN investigation to be revealed, and not pre-empting them with a punitive war, that could only embarrass the U.S. in the end. It means not creating a more tenuous relationship with Russia, which could happen should the U.S. circumvent the United Nations in order to attack Syria.

For this voter, change means renewing our attention to solving our own domestic issues, rather than attempting to resolve those of other nations. It means repairing the United States’ international reputation by being credible, not only in the eyes of our allies, but to those who aren’t so sure. It means repairing the damage that was done to our reputation in the months following Sept. 11. It means stepping back from this nation’s self-appointed role as an international arbiter of universal justice and morality, and playing by the rules of law.