Here's former UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto's rendition of a standard narrative of Obama admirers:
The United States is not what people think it is. I don’t think it’s what President Obama thought it was. I thought that being president—I think that he meant, really—I liked him. And I thank God for his coming to that high office in the United States, and I prayed that he would be elected. And I know that he was sincere. And in my waiting room, in my office at the United States, I had a great big picture of him, with—it’s like a poster with "hope" written underneath. And I wrote him a letter saying how much—how glad I was to hear him. But it has remained promises, because I think now he realizes that he is only the president in a country where the industrial-military complex decides what has to be done, and you cannot go beyond the parameters of what they decide. It would be dangerous.
The general version goes like this: Barack Obama is sincerely dedicated to progressive social change and earnestly wants to fulfill our every wish for a better society, but he's been thwarted by the powerful forces of a permanent government/corporate nexus that's beyond his control, and he's powerless to govern outside of their parameters (in some advanced versions of this fantasy he risks unspecified but presumably dire consequences unless he toes the line—"it would be dangerous", as d'Escoto says).
In this worldview, Obama is a pragmatic enemy of the forces of corporatism and militarism rather than a willing co-conspirator. He's our secret ally in the White House, chipping away from the inside when he can and making difficult compromises when he must. Much like God—in fact, exactly like God—he's never held responsible for even his worst crimes and betrayals. To take just one example, when the Obama administration kills hundreds of innocent people with drone strikes in Pakistan (and Afghanistan, and Yemen), it would be unfair to put any of the responsibility for this on Obama himself, because he effectively has no choice in the matter.
There's just one small problem with this worldview: objective reality. This was Obama in August of 2007, outlining his plans for Pakistan:
[L]et me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will. [...] I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom.
Obama repeated this same intention throughout the campaign, as in his first debate with McCain in September 2008:
[W]e've got to deal with Pakistan, because al Qaeda and the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan, across the border in the northwest regions, and although, you know, under George Bush, with the support of Senator McCain, we've been giving them $10 billion over the last seven years, they have not done what needs to be done to get rid of those safe havens. And until we do, Americans here at home are not going to be safe.
Obama actually outflanked McCain to the right on this, and McCain and other conservatives attacked him on multiple occasions for his irresponsibly hawkish rhetoric. It didn't make any difference, of course, and Obama easily won the presidency. And true to his word, one of his first acts as president was to launch drone strikes inside Pakistan—and he only accelerated the attacks from there:
The first drone strikes of the new presidency took place on Obama's third day in office - four Arabs, presumed to be al-Qaeda associates, died in a strike in the border region. But as many as 16 members of the extended family of a respected pro-government tribal elder died when the second drone strike that day went terribly awry.
A study by the New America Foundation last year found that just six of 41 CIA-launched drone attacks in the border region had targeted al-Qaeda members. Eighteen of the targets were Taliban and 16 of them alone were efforts to kill Baitullah Mehsud - which, depending on who did the counting, racked up more than 300 additional civilian deaths.
As that same article observed, "the professorial Obama is the new killer on the block, authorising more drone attacks in the first year of his term in office than Bush did in his entire presidency." And the new killer kept up the pace through his second year as well:
In the 21 months since his inauguration, President Obama has ordered or approved 120 drone attacks on Pakistan. There were 22 such attacks in September 2010 alone, reportedly killing more than 100 people. In contrast, Obama's predecessor Bush ordered just 60 attacks in eight years.
So to review: 1) in 2007 Obama announced his plan to launch attacks inside Pakistan; 2) he reiterated this intention throughout the campaign, going so far that he drew criticism from the right for his bellicose rhetoric; 3) after taking office he immediately started authorizing the very drone strikes he'd spent the past few years promising to carry out; and 4) his administration proceeded to launch more drone strikes in one year than George Bush had during his entire presidency, and Obama's total now stands at more than double Bush's.
Does this sound like a man who's acting against his will?
But the irrationality of Obama apologists doesn't end there. Consider just the last point above—that Obama launched more drone strikes in his first year in office than Bush did in eight years. To believe that this massive increase in the rate of drone attacks was not a direct result of Obama's policy, you have to believe either that 1) the military and intelligence services had wanted to ramp up the drone strikes for years, but were balked by well-known hippie peaceniks like George Bush and Dick Cheney who refused to go along with them, or 2) the fact that it started right as Obama became president was just a giant coincidence. Which just goes to show the depths of absurdity you can reach when your overriding goal is to explain away Democratic misdeeds.
The lesson of the drones is that Obama isn't a victim of powerful forces, but a willing ally. With few exceptions, he does what he does—from drone strikes to corporate tax cuts to whistleblower prosecutions—not because he has no choice, but because it's what he wants to do. And the lesson of those who refuse to learn the lesson of the drones is that partisanship trumps not just principle but common sense; to paraphrase Orwell, not only don't they disapprove of atrocities committed by their own side, but they have a remarkable capacity for not even seeing them.