Who was the last US president who did not start a war?

  • 6
    Wikipedia is your friend - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Opt Dec 26 '11 at 10:15
  • 6
    @apoorv020 - depends on what OP counts as starting a war. For instance, they may count the US bombing of Libya (as part of NATO) as starting a war. – Opt Dec 26 '11 at 21:32
  • 8
    Indeed. Technically, only Congress can declare war, and that hasn't happened since 1941. – mmyers Dec 27 '11 at 0:28
  • 2
    Yeah, but we all know it really comes down to the President in practice. :-P – Noldorin Dec 27 '11 at 1:35
  • 4
    Moral or immoral is irrelevant to the question. I believe any initial deployment of military resources resulting in combat should count, whether the war was declared or not. – RI Swamp Yankee Apr 2 '13 at 17:11

As noted in the comments, this depends on what you mean by "Starting a war".

  • Technically speaking, a war requires a formal declaration by Congress (though specific forms are subject to debate). As such, the last one started by the USA was in WW2, with declarations in 1941 (Japan/Germany/Italy) and 1942 (Romania and other Axys countries); which makes the answer to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last one to start a war, and every president since then did not.

  • More broadly speaking, if you count congressional authorization for the war, the last (and really only) 3 presidents since FDR who did not start a war were Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. So Ford is the answer to your question.

    Ford also differs from LBJ and Nixon in the fact that he can't be said to have actively prolonged Vietnam War (since his tenure started AFTER Paris peace accords of 1973). In contrast, Nixon continued the war despite Congress rescinding Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.


So far (2017), Donald J. Trump didn't seem to start any wars (though he didn't completely shy away from Obama's prior policy of small scale operations such attacking Syria once for using chemical weapons). . So as of 11/2017, that's the correct answer.

| improve this answer | |
  • 9
    For people, killed by bombs, or their relatives, act of war was the war. It is not the law, but the history site. And the quesion is which president started, not which congress started. – Gangnus Jan 28 '12 at 23:09
  • 2
    @RonMaimon - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multinational_Force_in_Lebanon – DVK Nov 3 '12 at 20:44
  • 2
    @DVK Is that link correct? I'm not aware of the U.S. being involved in UNIFIL (beyond being a member and host of the UN obviously). Norway and France initially was it not? – lucideer Jan 16 '13 at 23:52
  • 5
    This answer is incorrect - Ford ordered military action against the Khmer Rouge - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayag%C3%BCez_incident – RI Swamp Yankee Apr 2 '13 at 17:15
  • 3
    Carter ordered the Iran Hostage Rescue mission, which was an attack on a country – Oldcat Mar 6 '14 at 18:08

The last time the US officially declared war against another nation was on December 8, 1941 - Japan. And that declaration was necessary, because Japan didn't declare ware on the US before starting the attack. Germany declared war on the US soon after. Franklin D. Roosevelt spearheaded that one, for those of you who really don't know your history.

However, officially declaring war appears to have gone out of style since then. If you want to define 'war' as a US president initiating military action against another nation, on a level that mandates congressional approval, that's a bit harder to define.

After Roosevelt, Truman authorized the US intervention in Korea, in conjunction with a UN resolution.

Eisenhower... inherited the Korean war and brought it to an end. He did keep US troops out of the Suez crisis, but he also sent troops into Lebanon in 1958, the Lebanon crisis. Technically, that wasn't an invasion, it was supporting an existing government. Eisenhower's administration was also involved in the 1953 Iran coup, although technically speaking, US forces weren't directly involved.

Kennedy kicked off the Vietnam war with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, plus the unofficial backing of the Bay of Pigs invasion by rebels.

Johnson... didn't really initiate a fresh action, but he did escalate the US involvement in Vietnam considerably, from an advise and support with some troops role, into the US becoming the primary combat force.

Nixon authorized the incursion into Cambodia and Laos, although he wasn't attacking the Cambodian and Laotian forces, just N Vietnamese forces using eastern Cambodia and Laos.

Ford did authorize force against the Khmer Rouge (who were ruling Cambodia at the time) as a response to the Mayaguez incident.

Carter authorized the disastrous hostage rescue attempt against Iran, which technically was an armed invasion of a sovereign nation.

Reagan initiated the invasion of Grenada. His support of the contra rebels wasn't technically armed action by the US. He also sent 1200 Marines into Lebanon in 1983 as a peacekeeping force, leading to the bombing of the barracks at great loss of life, but technically, that wasn't an invasion, it was support of the existing Lebanon government.

GHW Bush authorized Gulf War 1.

Bill Clinton expanded the Somalia aid mission to include force, and then pulled the heavy weaponry out as a conciliatory gesture, leading to the Blackhawk Down incident.

GW Bush started the Afghanistan invasion, and then the Iraq invasion.

Obama initiated the Libya overthrow that directly involved US forces, and indirect involvement in Syria.

So it appears that the last president not to commit US troops to combat on a scale that requires congressional approval, was Eisenhower.

The last US president not to use the US military in a combat situation... Herbert Hoover, who left office in 1932.

| improve this answer | |
  • IMO The CIA involved in the 1958 Iran were American "forces", so it sounds like the answer is Hoover. – axsvl77 Dec 1 '17 at 2:46
  • 1
    None of these, except possibly Grenada (and the invasion of Panama, which you didn't mention) are examples of US Presidents STARTING wars. E.g. Roosevelt responded to Pearl Harbor, Carter tried to respond to the Iranian attack on US territory (embassies are considered territory of the country), GW Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks... In every case, the war was started by some other force, the US responded. Whether that response was appropriate or not is a different question. – jamesqf Dec 2 '17 at 6:36
  • 1
    Clinton is famous for bombing Serbia – Anixx Mar 9 '19 at 14:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.