George W. Bush expanded executive power to an extreme degree, but he wasn't an exception, writes historian Garry Wills. Since World War II, the presidency has accrued massive, unintended authority—controlling nuclear weapons, intelligence agencies, and a worldwide military network under "the cult of the commander in chief." Barack Obama swore to reverse some of this, but as soon as they were in the White House, "the Obama people grabbed at the powers, the secrecy, the unaccountability that had led Bush into such opprobrium."
Writing in the New York Review of Books, Wills describes the impossible task of dismantling what he calls "the National Security State," an apparatus so vast that even presidents don't know its extent. Regardless of Obama's intentions, "a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only commander in chief but Leader of the Free World."