Was Obama really the first?

I have seen claims that Obama was the first two-term president to be at war for all 8 years he was in office.

The claim seems problematic to me from two sides:

1) The United States does not declare war anymore; we engage in "police actions" and so on. So in a strict sense, one could say Obama has never "been at war."

2) In another sense, the United States is perpetually at war: we are always bombing or subverting the government or supporting rebels in some nation: so haven't most of our recent presidents been continuously at war in this broader sense?

So (sincere question, I really don't know), is there some sense that this claim of "eight years at war" is true of Obama but not, say, Bush?


  1. I'd say the Bush comparison is reasonable -- he entered office on the campaign rhetoric of "a more humble foreign policy," but hadn't really wound down previous interventions (Iraq no-fly-zone enforcement, Kosovo, etc.) by 9/11, after which of course it was all escalation.

    The US had already been involved in Vietnam for years, albeit mostly with "advisors" and so forth, when LBJ suddenly found himself in the White House, and it was of course far more so when he left (there was also the invasion of the Dominican Republic, etc.).

    Truman came into office at the end of World War II, presided over the end of that war and the occupations of Germany and Japan,US intervention in the Greek civil war, then Korea, etc.

    And then there were the "banana wars" that stretched from the Spanish-American war through the early part of FDR's administration (and, really, after that).

    So no, Obama is hardly unique.

  2. Would this statement be accurate? "Obama is the first two-term President who had American soldiers dying in the line of duty for all 8 years he was in office."

  3. Well, I certainly agree with your basic premise. Clearly, U.S. military involvement overseas ramped up after 9/11 and started to ratchet back down after the surge. It still probably isn't back to where it was before 9/11, so in that sense one could say that Obama has been at heightened levels of military engagement for his whole presidency, whereas Bush had an 8+ month window of relative placidity before the Bush ramp-up began. But this like talking about a plateau when you're already in the mountains or at least the foothills.

  4. Probably only in the sense of not ending Afghanistan, as one focal point, and even there would only have lasted a few months longer than Bush, as I would consign War on Terror along with Cold War as too diffuse of meaning.

  5. That's an interesting question.

    Did Bush the younger lie us into war? Or Is it more proper to say that he lied us into an escalation of an ongoing war?

  6. -----
    Would this statement be accurate? "Obama is the first two-term President who had American soldiers dying in the line of duty for all 8 years he was in office."

    Almost certainly not. The Moro-American conflict in the Philippines spanned the entirety of Theodore Roosevent's presidency. And of course there were the Indian wars.


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