Words of Warcraft: How Presidents Wage War

Includes videos

President Obama’s address on Wednesday authorizing U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIL or ISIS) in Syria, was a sobering reminder of the immense power bestowed on the Commander in Chief to single-handedly order military action.

Like his address last September threatening the use of military force against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (a threat that never materialized),  Obama’s most recent speech was the latest in a long history of solemn presidential declarations of war and authorizations of lesser military action.

Since World War II, the United States’ increasingly large and powerful military has been quite busy, to say the least, consistently involved in conflicts around the world. In little over half a century, American forces have fought in five all-out wars (Korea, Vietnam, the first war in Iraq, Afghanistan and the second war in Iraq) and been involved in many additional smaller military invasions.

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Timeline: A Robust History of Recent U.S. Military Invasions

Includes interactive timeline
Ahmad Mansur/Wikimedia Commons

Ahmad Mansur/Wikimedia Commons

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has had its hands full. Starting in 1990, we’ve fought three official wars, and been involved in no less than seven additional military interventions.

It is still unclear whether the U.S. will engage in a bombing campaign against Syria as punishment for that government’s supposed use of chemical weapons against its people. Until the announcement last week of a tentative deal between the U.S. and Russia (Syria’s most powerful ally) requiring the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal within a specific time-frame, a U.S. military intervention seemed imminent.

Although far from a guarantee against the a U.S. bombing campaign, the agreement — if adhered to by all parties– has the promise of preventing U.S. military involvement. If, however, the deal is broken, intervention is all but assured, making Syria the 11th large-scale military action the U.S. has taken in less than 25 years.

Scroll through this interactive timeline — produced by Al Jazeera — to learn about the history, causes, and outcomes of each military conflict that the United States has gotten itself involved in. Click here to view the full-size version.

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Six Excellent Resources Explaining the Situation in Syria

On Saturday, President Obama announced his willingness to launch military action in Syria in order to punish the government of Bashar al-Assad for its alleged use of chemical weapons in a recent attack that killed hundreds of civilians. Syria has been embroiled in a state of civil war since March of 2011, when government protests began as part of the Arab Spring. Below are six excellent resources to help make sense of the conflict, why it matters so much to both the region and the world, and what the role the United States will likely play in it. Click on the images or headers to view content.

1. Associated Press: multimedia backgrounder and explainer on the crisis

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2. NY Times: Key questions about what’s happening now and how we got here

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3. Huffington Post: Interactive historical timeline and slideshow

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4. Al Jazeera: An interactive chart of Syria’s global allies and enemies

allies and enemies

5.  BBC: A country profile and fact sheet on Syria


6. AP: A short video (produced last year) documenting the history of the conflict