During the 2008 election, Barack Obama emerged as the consummate anti-war candidate. He wanted to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, funnel resources to the home front, and generally remedy the nation’s reputation as a global bully. Now, as the 2012 elections ramp up, he continues to carve a softer stance on foreign policy, telling voters that “the tides of war are receding.” But how much has actually changed? Neither disillusioned Democrats nor triumphant Republicans have had much data to go on. Until now.
In an exclusive analysis, Newsweek combed through a decade of military deployment history, and found only a faint line between the Bush and Obama presidencies. The number of American troops abroad has dropped less than 1 percent under President Obama, buoyed by what appears to be a sharp rise in the number of clandestine assignments, and curious growth in the number of personnel at Guantanamo Bay. None of the robust deployment trends begun under Bush have significantly abated. And since World War II, only President Bush has scattered a greater proportion of American might overseas: 39.5, 42.8, and 39.1 percent of American troops were abroad between 2006 and 2008, compared to Obama’s 39.3 percent in 2009 and 38.2 percent as of December 2010, the most recent date for which worldwide data is available.* Even with an aggressive—or, to some minds, reckless—drawdown in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, it would take nearly another 300,000 tickets home before the military was as united at home as they were on September 10, 2001.