Wartime Presidents

The Wartime Presidency: From James Madison To Barack Obama

Now that it seems evident that America is to be engaged in a long drawn-out war against ISIL (ISIS), it means that we can expect the war to last possibly a generation, 20 years, and affect every Presidential election from 2016 through at least 2032.  It will also transform the Congress, and change the direction of American history, and it comes at a terrible time, as we have greater inequities economically now than even in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

But national security and defense always trump anything else, inevitably and necessarily!

So Barack Obama, who came into office determined to end the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars started by George W. Bush, is to be the promoter of a new war, against his desire.

So this is a good time to reflect on how many Presidents have chosen or been forced  to wage war!

James Madison reluctantly took America through the War of 1812, often depicted as “The Sorry Little War”, which led to the burning of the US Capitol and the White House by the invading British forces.

James K. Polk willingly took us through the Mexican War, leading to the acquisition of the American Southwest and California.

Abraham Lincoln took us into the Civil War, believing there was no alternative to “preserve the Union”.

William McKinley was convinced that the Spanish American War was a moral cause, and it led to the development of the “American Empire” in an age of expansionism and imperialism.  He also waged war to force the Philippines to accept American overlordship, after being “liberated” by the United States from Spanish control.

Theodore Roosevelt continued the fight against the Filipino revolutionaries, in what was well hidden for years and not taught in schools below the college level,, but was known to history as the Filipino Insurrection.

Woodrow Wilson took us into the First World War, after trying to avoid direct involvement for more than two years.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took us into the Second World War against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan,  after isolationists bitterly opposed  such entrance, but forced by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,  Hawaii.

Harry Truman continued our engagement in the Second World War, and used the atomic bomb against Japan, but also took us into the Korean War.

Dwight D. Eisenhower continued US involvement in the Korean War for the fist six month of his Presidency.

John F. Kennedy escalated our involvement in Vietnam, from 2,000 “advisers”under Eisenhower,  to over 16,500 Green Beret Special Forces by the time he was assassinated.

Lyndon B. Johnson massively escalated our involvement in Vietnam, reaching a grand total of 549.500 troops in 1968.

Richard Nixon continued the Vietnam War for four long years, causing a massive split in the nation, not seen since the Civil War.

George H. W. Bush took us into the Persian Gulf War, to force Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from keeping control of Kuwait, and being a threat to Saudi Arabia.

George W. Bush took us into war in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, and they became the longest wars in American history.

Barack Obama inherited both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and ended our involvement in Iraq, and is soon to end involvement in Afghanistan.  But now the war against ISIL (ISIS) is forecast to last a generation!

So 15 Presidents were commanders in chief in wartime, and this does not include invasions or bombings,  or undeclared naval wars, or wars against Native Americans!

Ranking Presidents Affected By Being A One Term Or Two Term President?

The game of ranking Presidents is a continuous topic among historians, political scientists, journalists, and ordinary citizens.

In the upcoming June issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly, Professor Curt Nichols, an assistant professor of political science at Baylor University in Texas, comes up with a new theory and premise about how Presidents are ultimately ranked in history.

Nichols used a statistical method known as regression analysis, utilizing Presidential ranking polls conducted by C Span, the Wall Street Journal, and the Siena Research Institute.

Each poll has different factors in judging Presidential leadership, with C Span having ten.

But Nichols says the rating score of Presidents is ultimately raised if the following six factors are considered:

Number of years served
Wartime leadership
If transformation of political landscape occurs in their term
If they are part of the Founding Fathers group
If they are considered “progressive” and pursue “equal justice for all”
If they are assassinated progressives

At the same time, two factors will decrease the rating scores of Presidents:

If the President is impeached, resigns, or has major political scandals during his administration
If they push the nation into political crisis or are unable to lift the country out of a political crisis

Going by this discussion, Nichols believes that IF Barack Obama is defeated for re-election, he will rank only as “average”, as number 22, between William McKinley and George H. W. Bush.

But Nichols also believes that If Barack Obama is re-elected to the Presidency, he could end up as high as number FOUR, behind Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Washington, and ahead of Thomas Jefferson!

There is lots of room for debate on the Nichols viewpoint, but it certainly will cause much more discussion and analysis of the men who have been President of the United States.

A few observations here:

If wartime Presidents have an edge, then why is James Madison, William McKinley, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush rated quite low on the rankings list generally accepted?

One term Presidencies that stick out as better include James K. Polk and John F. Kennedy.

Two term Presidencies that are seen negatively include James Madison, Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland, and George W. Bush.

So whether having a second term really helps raise the stature of a President is still very debatable.

And whether Barack Obama could end up ranked ahead of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton is something that will be hotly debated into the long term future.