I recently read about a strange trend: Since the start of the 20th century, the United States has stepped in or started conflicts involving the direct use of military force mainly under presidents from the Democratic Party.

Is this trend really present?

  • 9
    I don't believe this is a push question, as it makes no judgement as to whether intervening in foreign conflicts is a good thing or a bad thing. It's simply asking whether Democratic presidents are more likely to do so.
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 3, 2020 at 11:46
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    Where did you read this? Linking to the source in the question would be helpful.
    – Brian Z
    Sep 3, 2020 at 12:51
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    This leaves out two gulf wars, the US invasion of Grenada and numerous others. This seems a rather disingenuous presentation of the US's foreign involvement.
    – Don Hosek
    Sep 3, 2020 at 14:33
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    @JustMe It also leaves out the invasion of Afghanistan, there's the first Gulf war... The pulling out of "George Bush and the Iraq War" from the list (and allowing two Iraq wars started under two George Bushes) seems very much like an attempt to distort the record.
    – Don Hosek
    Sep 3, 2020 at 14:36
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    you know, you'd get less accusation of push if you actually linked to wherever it is you recently read about a strange trend otherwise, it is an incomplete list and it does look a bit fishy. Sep 3, 2020 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


Part of the issue with answering this question is defining what counts as a foreign intervention. The Congressional Research Service has published a report entitled Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2020, which is an attempt to "provide a rough survey of past U.S. military ventures abroad". However, it is questionable whether some of these deployments really count as interventions in foreign conflicts - for example, the list includes entries such as:

1904 - Tangiers, Morocco

A squadron demonstrated to force the release of a kidnapped Americans Ion Hanford Perdicaris and Cromwell Varley. Marines were landed to protect the consul general.

1922 - Turkey

A landing force was sent ashore with consent of both Greek and Turkish authorities to protect American lives and property when the Turkish Nationalists entered Smyrna.

1948 - China

Marines were dispatched to Nanking to protect the American embassy when the city fell to Communist troops, and to Shanghai to aid in the protection and evacuation of Americans.

It does, however, note the eleven times in its history that the US has formally declared war, as well as the number of informal declarations of war.

The instances differ greatly in number of forces, purpose, extent of hostilities, and legal authorization. Eleven times in its history, the United States has formally declared war against foreign nations. These 11 U.S. war declarations encompassed five separate wars: the war with Great Britain declared in 1812; the war with Mexico declared in 1846; the war with Spain declared in 1898; the First World War, during which the United States declared war with Germany and with Austria-Hungary during 1917; and World War II, during which the United States declared war against Japan, Germany, and Italy in 1941, and against Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania in 1942.

Some of the instances were extended military engagements that might be considered undeclared wars. These include the Undeclared Naval War with France from 1798 to 1800; the First Barbary War from 1801 to 1805; the Second Barbary War of 1815; the Korean War of 1950-1953; the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973; the Persian Gulf War of 1991; global actions against foreign terrorists after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States; and the war with Iraq in 2003. With the exception of the Korean War, all of these conflicts received congressional authorization in some form short of a formal declaration of war.

If we look at these conflicts, all formal declarations of war since 1900 have come under Democratic presidents - those related to WWI & II, while the informal declarations of war are more mixed; the Korean & Vietnam wars began under Democratic presidents, while the Gulf War, the response to the 9/11 attacks, and the Iraq war all came under Republicans; Bush Sr. & Jr. This would seem to be a fairly even split.

In an optimistic attempt to view this issue in a more data-focused manner, I've looked at the Militarized Interstate Disputes dataset maintained by the Correlates of War Project, which lists information about 'conflicts in which one or more states threaten, display, or use force against one or more other states'. I've narrowed the dataset down to conflicts which involved the US, began after 1900, and in which the hostility level reached a level of '4' - indicating use of force, rather than just a display of force.

Below is a graph of these conflicts, the size of each red or blue dot relating to the fatality level, and the color of each relating to the party of the President. On a purely numerical basis, Republican presidents oversaw 53 of these incidents, while Democratic presidents oversaw 41. However, when we look at the severity of the disputes, those which came under Democratic presidents reached, on average, a higher level of hostility and a higher fatality level.

Note - 'Interstate' refers to conflicts between two or more sovereign states, not two or more states within the USA.

enter image description here

  • it would be very nice if the motive of war endeavors was also analised, with respect to the party in power at the time.
    – carlo
    Sep 4, 2020 at 10:35
  • 2
    @carlo that seems hard to do objectively. Is there a more narrowly defined aspect of the motives that you think is useful and amenable to objectively measuring?
    – James_pic
    Sep 4, 2020 at 11:12
  • How does it change if the it is broken out by who initiated the formal conflict with the USA. For example Japan attacking Pearl Harbor lead FDR to declare war, but I wouldn't considering this FDR starting the conflict.
    – Wes H
    Sep 25, 2020 at 15:48

This list omits a lot of less known foreign conflicts. Looking at the list of wars involving the United States on Wikipedia, we find a lot more. Let's start with the second World War, as WWII really marks the start of US military involvement in geopolitics.

  • World War II - US engagement started under Franklin D. Roosevelt (Dem)
  • Korean War - Harry S. Truman (Dem)
  • Laotian Civil War - Lyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
  • Lebanon Crisis - Dwight D. Eisenhower (Rep)
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion - John F. Kennedy (Dem)
  • Vietnam War - Lyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
  • Dominican Civil War - Lyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
  • Che Guevara's Insurgency in Bolivia - Lyndon B. Johnson (Dem)
  • Cambodian Civil War - Richard Nixon (Rep)
  • War in South Zaire - Jimmy Carter (Dem)
  • Multinational Intervention in Lebanon - Ronald Reagan (Rep)
  • Invasion of Grenada - Ronald Reagan (Rep)
  • Various shootouts with Libya in the 1980s - Ronald Reagan (Rep)
  • Iran-Iraq War - Ronald Reagan (Rep)
  • Invasion of Panama - George H.W. Bush (Rep)
  • Gulf War - George H.W. Bush (Rep)
  • Somali Civil War Part 1 - George H.W. Bush (Rep)
  • Bosnian War - Bill Clinton (Dem)
  • Intervention in Haiti - Bill Clinton (Dem)
  • Kosovo War - Bill Clinton (Dem)
  • Operation Infinite Reach in Afghanistan - Bill Clinton (Dem)
  • War in Afghanistan ("War on Terror") - George W. Bush (Rep)
  • Iraq War - George W. Bush (Rep)
  • Somali Civil War Part 2 - George W. Bush (Rep)
  • Operation Ocean Shield (anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean) - Barack Obama (Dem)
  • International intervention in Libya - Barack Obama (Dem)
  • Uganda Civil War - Barack Obama (Dem)
  • Syrian Civil War - Barack Obama (Dem)
  • American Intervention in Libya - Barack Obama (Dem)

I left out the following conflicts from the Wikipedia list, because US involvement was either negligible or involved US forces which happened to be on location when someone else started a war:

  • Communist insurgency in Thailand
  • Simba Rebellion
  • Korean DMZ Conflict
  • Gulf of Sidra incident
  • Yemen Civil War

So if we look at that list, we can see that there were just 2 presidents since World War II which did not start any armed foreign conflicts:

  • Gerald Ford (Rep)
  • Donald Trump (Rep)

But it would be disingenuous to label any party as the party of warmongering presidents and the other as the party of pacifist presidents. The United States fought a lot of wars under a lot of Presidents of both parties.

  • 3
    Regarding the recent edit I reverted: The "War in Afghanistan" was not a continuation of Operation Infinite Reach. Infinite Reach was over. The War in Afghanistan was the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan which removed the Taliban regime.
    – Philipp
    Sep 3, 2020 at 13:24
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    Equating the "Somali Civil War Part 2" with WW2 or the Vietnam war is kind of ridiculous. -1. Sep 3, 2020 at 13:53
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    @YellowBadger I tried to provide a picture which is as complete as possible. How and where exactly would you suggest to draw the line between noteworthy and not-noteworthy wars?
    – Philipp
    Sep 3, 2020 at 14:10
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    @Philip I can appreciate bringing attention to lesser wars but some of those listed could hardly be called "wars" at all (Bay of Pigs invasion??) and others seem so obscure and serve only to dilute the significance of other wars. Also seems rather arbitrary to start listing small-scale conflicts starting with WW2 as the USA has had many international conflicts before then (Spanish-American war, Mexican-American war, WW1, war of Independence etc). Sep 3, 2020 at 14:24
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    @YellowBadger: well, the premise of the question, i.e. "conflict counting" is ridiculous. Sep 3, 2020 at 14:45

That list is really misleading -- look at the reasons the US entered the war instead of just looking at the party of the person in office.

It should also be noted that the president doesn't have the power to take us to war without the approval of congress.

WW1: Germany was sinking US merchant ships.

WW2: Pearl Harbor attacked by Japan.

Korean: Protecting South Korea from being taken over by North Korea.

Vietnam: Protecting South Vietnam from being taken over by North Vietnam.

The last two wars listed were to counter the moves by the Soviet Union attempting to increase its overall power.

  • 7
    "It should also be noted that the last two wars I listed where to counter the moves by the soviet union attempting to spread Communism ans increase its overall power at our detriment." - this is exactly the problem with the US. If something undermines US power projection, then the US intervenes - regardless of the effect it has on the rest of the world.
    – user33938
    Sep 4, 2020 at 1:34
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    I downvoted because this answers a slightly different question as compared to the question that is being asked - in particular it implies that the US should have intervened, which isn't something that's in the question.
    – Allure
    Sep 4, 2020 at 9:29
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    @JoeW A rule of exams is to answer the question that's being asked, not the question you think is asked, and "Is it true that the US has stepped into foreign conflicts mostly under Democratic presidents?" is a yes/no question. It's either true or untrue. Your answer doesn't deal with that, it deals with the question "is it morally justified for the US to intervene?" or some other similar question.
    – Allure
    Sep 4, 2020 at 12:21
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    @JoeW if you want to debate whether it is morally justified or whatever, you should do it in a different question. I won't be drawn off topic. As I wrote, the OP is a yes/no question. You are imposing your interpretation on it, an interpretation that might not align with what the OP intends. Hence the downvote.
    – Allure
    Sep 4, 2020 at 12:32
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    @JoeW no, I'm saying it's irrelevant to this question. If you don't know what "irrelevant" means, please search it up in a dictionary. I won't be responding anymore.
    – Allure
    Sep 4, 2020 at 12:46

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