The Decider: Obama and other officials in New York, September 2014.
POOL / GETTY IMAGES

On January 28, 2009, barely a week into his presidency, Barack Obama met with the U.S. military’s top generals and admirals on their own turf, inside “the tank,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s conference room on the second floor of the Pentagon. A senior official recalled the new president as “remarkably confident—composed, relaxed, but also deferential, not trying to act too much the commander in chief.” Obama walked around the room, introducing himself to everyone; he thanked them and the entire armed forces for their service and sacrifice; then he sat down for a freewheeling discussion of the world’s challenges, region by region, crisis by crisis. He was “the man in full,” the official said, fluent on every issue, but more than that—a surprise to the officers, who had been leery of this young, inexperienced Democrat—he displayed a deep streak of realism.

At one point,

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