Which president kept America at war the longest?

Which president kept America at war the longest? As of this month, May 2016, the answer is President Barack Obama.

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The New York Times reports:

President Obama came into office seven years ago pledging to end the wars of his predecessor, George W. Bush. On May 6, with eight months left before he vacates the White House, Mr. Obama passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.

If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term — a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria — he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.

Mr. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and spent his years in the White House trying to fulfill the promises he made as an antiwar candidate, would have a longer tour of duty as a wartime president than Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon or his hero Abraham Lincoln.

This is fascinating for plenty of reasons, but it is not, as the New York Times report above suggests, particularly surprising.

To be sure, Obama came into office talking the antiwar talk, but it soon became very clear that there would be little distance between his foreign policy and that of his predecessor.

Obama has been a war president through and through—and, as I’ve argued at The Week, it is mainly by comparison to the truly outrageous foreign policy rhetoric of uber-hawks like Marco Rubio and Chris Christie that the president can be painted (and paints himself) as an advocate of restraint or disengagement.

I noted at The Week, it is “only in contrast to the GOP hawks’ ‘bomb everything, everywhere, all the time’ agenda that Obama’s actual foreign policy can be convincingly presented as strength through diplomacy, human rights, and cooperation. War in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria) and varying degrees of military intervention in at least four more (Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya) are not the marks of an isolationist president.”

It’s no wonder the former director of the Nobel Institute regrets that peace prize.

But the really bad news is that this new norm of endless war won’t end when Obama leaves office. The Cato Institute’s Gene Healy explains at Time:

Seven years in, it’s clear that Obama has forged a legacy of enormous consequence. But the most transformational aspect of his presidency is something liberals never hoped for: as president, Barack Obama’s most far-reaching achievement has been to strip out any remaining legal limits on the president’s power to wage war.

 Obama’s predecessor insisted that he didn’t need approval from Congress to launch a war; yet in the two major wars he fought, George W. Bush secured congressional authorization anyway. By the time Obama hit the dais at Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, our 44th president had already launched more drone strikes than “43” carried out during two full terms. Since then, he’s launched two undeclared wars, and—as Obama bragged in a speech last year defending the Iran deal—bombed no fewer than seven countries.
Even for those who (unlike me) find something to like in the 2016 offering, that is a dangerous legacy indeed.

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