I'm pretty much completely making stuff up at this point, but my sense, looking at the overall arc of Obama's presidency so far, is that the man is hoarding political capital. A lot of his decisions seem heavily defensive...the complete lack of interest in investigating anything the Bush administration might have done, because that would be a distraction. The unwillingness to ease up on the increased surveillance & dentention powers that the presidency now holds, because if he does and something happens blame will fall heavily in his direction. The cautious tiptoing around cultural issues (although I guess Don't Ask, Don't Tell did get repealed...so maybe he doesn't deserve as much criticism here as he might have at one point). The capitulation to Republicans on the question of stimulus vs. spending cuts. It seems like every president has issues that he cares passionately about, and ones that he wishes would just go away...I think LBJ most basic priority in Vietnam (which he failed at) was to keep it from undermining his domestic Great Society programs, whereas Nixon spent most of his presidency wishing domestic politics would just shut up for a while and let him fix foreign relations. If you asked me to identify what Obama really, truly cares about though...I couldn't tell you. At one point I thought it might be government transparency...feeding off of his success in the Illinois legislature in getting police interrogations recorded...but the evidence since his election just doesn't support that. Gay rights clearly isn't making the top ten, or any other kind of crusade for equality for any marginalized group so far as I can tell. I don't see him giving any more attention to the environment than I would expect from any boilerplate Democrat. I guess you could argue that health care was his priority, and now that it's passed that means ensuring his own reelection and putting off Republican attempts to dismantle it as long as possible. But that seems kind of unconnected with the platform he ran on.
Maybe it doesn't have to be connected. Maybe he ran for president because he thought he'd be good at it, and since he was elected in 2008 when health care reform was a big issue, that's what he applied himself to. I guess that might be a more realistic way of looking at political careers. Does anyone think Harry Truman got into politics because he thought it would be really cool to get to rebuild Europe & Japan someday? (Actually, I think it's generally accepted that Harry Truman got into politics because he needed a job. This is one of the many things I like about him). Obama does not really seem like he comes from the Harry Truman mold though.
Anyways, this is all getting around to an exciting half baked theory and an equally exciting round of linking to stuff that Matt Yglesias has written today. I propose, based on Obama's pre-presidency political career and the stuff that he's done so far this week (which clearly should be weighted more heavily than anything he's done in the previous 2.5 years, because I remember it so much more clearly), that our president's innermost and most secret desire is a complete reworking of our national security strategy. He's trying to get us out of Iraq & Afghanistan with a minimum of political controversy. The success of the getting out part has clearly been limited, but with Republican presidential hopefuls now trying to claim that they'd do an even better job of getting us out quickly I guess he could claim to have won on the political front. The involvement in Libya is a demonstration of a new, much more limited role for the United States in these kinds of international interventions. I'm sure he hoped it would be a dramatic and quick success, enabling him to draw a clear contrast with Bush's all in approach to national security...but you know what they say about the best laid plans. Now he's used the debt ceiling crisis to create actual debate within the Republican party about the trade offs involved in a maximalist approach to defense spending. If everything had gone perfectly, I could see how this might be the groundwork for significantly decreasing U.S. military expenditures and military involvement around the world in a lasting way. Even without the benefit of things going as planned as Libya, I think it might still work if Obama gets a second term. Assuming I'm anywhere close to guessing what his priorities.
Who knows, maybe what he really wants to do is invade Canada.