President or the Congress Is More Powerful When Deciding on the Use of Force?

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 5
Words: 1457
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6 min
Study level: PhD


After the Vietnam War, Congress recognized that the president has no jurisdiction to declare or wage any war outside the War Power Resolutions provisions, enacted by congress. However, the president is constitutionally required to defend the country from any intrusive power. He is the commander in chief of the armed forces and must take the designated role of commander in chief to lead the forces in defending the country. Many law scholars have projected that the president has some constitutional powers to wage war where the country’s security is at risk. This is necessitated when the attacks are spontaneous and require immediate action (Jess 67).

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Before the World Wars

The powers of the president, or so the argument, that the president can wage war without consulting congress, has been exercised by different presidents. This has been witnessed on more than a hundred occasions mainly during the 20th and 21st centuries. This has been so due to the emergence of the US as a superpower after World War One and World War Two. Before the two wars, the US foreign policies excluded her from participating in world affairs as she was mainly focusing on internal development and national building. The policies changed after the Zimmerman letter, where Germany urged Mexico to attack the US embassy, and the sinking of American ships by Germany thereby prompting the US to enter World War Two. The US has been taking a keen interest in world affairs since

The War in Korea and Kosovo

The powers to commit troops abroad are not clearly defined or present a broad interpretation by different scholars. With the rise of the Soviet Union and communism, it was unanimously agreed that that was the biggest threat at the time and to safeguard American interests, all needed to use whichever power to counter this common foe. This was the turning that saw many presidents committing troops without the consent of Congress as it was assumed everybody was unanimously in consent of fighting communism. This is seen on several occasions. For example, when communist North Korea attacked the Republic of Korea which was pro-capitalist, President Truman as the commander in chief ordered General McArthur to offer assistance.

McArthur was the commander in charge of forces occupying Japan and also headed the allied forces controlling that area. Truman was worried that The Soviet Union was supporting the north and thus feared the south would fall under communism. If the aggression was not stopped then Russia would support other communist attacks and the world would be ruled by communism. Truman argued that military engagements and national interest safeguarding, did not need convening congress to debate or vote; it was a case of priority. In support of Kosovo to secede and establish its autonomy, President Clinton did not consult Congress in sending US forces together with allied NATO forces to the war-prone area. The US forces were engaged in peacekeeping and engaged in combative action to deter intruders into Kosovo.

The US in Troops in Lebanon

Many presidents since 1973 do not recognize the War Powers Resolution to be authentic and have constitutional validity of controlling their powers (McDougal 54). This can be seen in 1982 when at the request of the Lebanon government, the US deployed its forces to help Lebanon maintain peace and protect civilians. After the assassination of pro-Christian elect leader, Syria in the pretense to be offering help had invaded Lebanon. Israel on the other hand was hunting extremists attacking its bases who were operating from Lebanon. A fierce war erupted in Lebanon leading to the deaths of refugees.

The authority in Washington decided to send troops to Lebanon. However, Congress wanted the resolution clause to be followed as stipulated. The President obliged but he stated it was only to give the resolution consistency and not because of relentless persuasion. A conflict emerged when two soldiers were killed while on the mission. Congress wanted withdrawal as this was now seen as hostility, but the president remained adamant and insisted it was just an accident. This created a sharp difference between the president and the congress. However, the president was supported by the majority because they were from the same party.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The president has constitutional powers to make decisions when the country is faced with hostility especially terrorism. The constitution also favors the president in that whenever there is ambiguity and vagueness in power designation to the executive, the solution arrived at, must be in favor of the executive. This enables the president to take measures that he feels the best suit the security of the nation. During the Cuba missile saga, the discussions held by the president were private, confidential, and excluded congress at the initial stages, until the saga was made public. The president of the time, J. F. Kennedy had organized his advisory committee known as Excomm. This committee was hand-picked by the president and comprised of individuals whom the president was convinced were intelligent and served the country with diligence (Jordan 43).

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The committee then joined hands with congress in pressurizing The Soviet Union to withdraw its missiles and military activities in Cuba. Cuba, a neighbor to the US, had become an ally of the Soviet Union prompting strained relations with the US. This time the congress and executives worked with harmony and saw the eventual withdrawal of soviet weapons. Communism has been of major concern to the US. Former president George Bush senior acknowledges that he supported the unification of West and East Germany to deter East Germany from becoming more pro-communist. Many countries were concerned that the unification of Germany might destabilize world peace as Germany is viewed as the main cause of the two world wars. This created what was popularly referred to as the German question.

The German Question

Bush notes that he was confident Germany had atoned for its transgressions and the end of the Nazi rule made unification safe. As this was the era of the Cold War, Bush was concerned that East Germany leaning towards Russia was more dangerous to world peace than the unification of Germany (Bush 4). The unification was thus supported by the US and this saw the US sending personnel and aids to help in the rebuilding of a unified nation. This unification was even greater to the US as the fall of the Berlin wall, in a way signified the end of the cold war, subsequently leaving the US as the only superpower. The peace of the universe was guaranteed.

War on Terror

Wars in recent times have seen congress and the executive work together. This has mainly been fostered by common interests like the paramount national security issues. Wars in Afghanistan and later the controversial Iraq war saw approval from congress. After the September 11 terrorist invasion of the US, the Senate unanimously granted the then president, George W Bush, all the mandate to exercise unlimited military powers. This was mainly in phasing out terrorist activities and other activities, organizations, individuals, and agents who seemed to pose threat to national security.

This unlimited power was however to come to be a center of controversy. Bush as the commander in chief and with approval from congress invaded Afghanistan. The attack was aimed at toppling Taliban rule which was perceived to be harboring terrorists. Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the attack on the US was believed to be hiding there and Bush vowed on the live national telecast to get Osama whether living or as a corpse. Osama is still at large and his whereabouts are not known. Bush then attacked Iraq with the conviction; there were weapons of mass destruction. Contrary to that nothing was found yet billions of dollars were used to finance the war. Both wars have not been concluded adding financial burden to a country faced with the effects of the economic crunch.


The use of force is still a debatable issue in the US. Some argue that the two arms of government must work together to have harmony and satisfactory accountability. Those in favor of the Legislature argue that the president might be tempted to misuse his powers and hence require the congress to check his powers (Chomsky 28). They argue that matters of national security cannot be left to one person only. Those in support of the president argue that the constitution permits him to commit forces abroad in his capacity as the commander in chief of the armed. Still, they argue that matters of urgency cannot wait for meetings of congress to take place as this could compromise national security. They also argue that the president’s decisions could be frustrated in a case where his party does not hold a majority.

Works Cited

Bush, George & Swocroft Brent. A World Transformed. New York: Alfred A, Knoff, 1998.

Chomsky Noam & Rai Milan. War in Iraq: ten reasons against war on Iraq. New York: Arrow Publications, 2002.

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Jess Sara, Beck, Gabriel & Joseph, Rhawn. America Attacked: Terrorist Declare War on America. California: California University Press, 2001.

Jordan Amos, et al. American National Security 6th edition. Maryland: JHU Press, 2009.

McDougal, Smith. Studies in World Public Order. New Haven: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987.