The President’s Power to Declare War

I’ve always wondered why any sane person would want to become President of the United States.  Their salary is a measly $400,000 per year far less than most corporate executives.  They are often hated by almost everyone.  They have to constantly fight Congress for appropriations and other things.  They have to deal with domestic and global crisis, and they have to be constantly making decisions that can affect millions of lives.  It just does not seem worth it.  So what drives people to become President of the United States and want to run for a second term?

One thing the President is, he is the single most powerful and influential person in the world.  I think it is the Power of the presidency which drives a person to run for this office and rerun for a second term.  A President can accomplish more in one day than in a lifetime as a civilian.

So what power does the President really have?  Our founding fathers established a government consisting of three branches: the Executive (President), the Legislative (Congress), and the Judicial (Supreme Court).  The intent was that the United States would be a nation of Laws and each branch would have certain powers to intact and enforce Law.  But these powers were not absolute, rather there was supposed to be a balance of powers and a system of checks and balances whereby abuses by one branch could be checked by anther.  In principal this is a beautiful system very well thought out and conceived.  The Executive branch was the enforcer of the law, the Legislative branch the creator of laws, and the Judicial the branch the interpreter of the legitimacy or constitutionality of the laws, a perfectly harmonious and balanced system.

But over time the Presidency has been given more power to deal with situations perceived as being urgent related to national welfare and security.  The President was responsible for foreign policy in the dealing with other nations.  He was granted more power to give weight to his office when dealing with foreign powers especially those considered hostile, and to quickly deal with mass domestic violence as well as quickly deal with national disasters.  One of these powers later granted the Presidency was the power to declare war, initially called police actions as in the Vietnam war and later to invade Iraq.

Since World War II and during the Cold War, the US became the leader of the Free World and one of the most powerful military nations raveled only by the Soviet Union.  After the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Unison the US defaulted to the most powerful nation on earth.

Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution says “Congress shall have power to … declare War”.  But the Constitution never defined the specifics for declaring war.  This left some room for lawmakers to further define declaration of war.  I personally believe that the framers of the Constitutions literally meant what they wrote, that Congress had the sole responsibility to declare war.  Early on the Presidency had limited power to repeal attacks upon the United States and its possession (police actions) but not to start wars without Congressional approval.  However the Presidency sometimes abused its powers so Congress pass the War Powers Resolution in 1973 to better define the Presidents power to engage in war.  But all presidents since have ignored this Resolution as being unconstitutional.

Thus the President appears to have virtually unfettered power to declare war for just about any reason.  This power makes the President the most powerful person on the face of the earth since we have the most powerful military force on earth.  The power of our military might gives him great influence internationally for nations needing our protection and for nations hostile to us.  We have enough nuclear weapons to destroy any nation many times over.  Our ground forces and ability to mobilize troops makes the US a formidable‎ threat.  The problem is it gives the President free license to declare war when he, a single and fallible person, feels the need.  Such power is dangerous and can have unintended consequences if inappropriately exercised or based upon faulty information.  It is no longer necessary for a country to be a direct threat to the US in order for the President to declare war.  There is no check and balance system to protect against abuses of the most dangerous action of the Presidency.  Most wars have not a result from a respond to a sudden attack upon us but planned well in advance.  I think that if a credible organization were to evaluate every war we have been involved in since World War II as to their overall cost in money, lives, and social impact vs. their overall benefit to this nation, and what would have been the consequences or benefits had the US not engaged in that war, we would likely find that in most cases we would have been far better off not having engaged in that war.

My point is that wars have all kinds of unintended consequences.  Having the most powerful military in the world allows us to win battles but not necessarily to win wars.  We still do not know how to deal with the consequence of occupation or maintaining peace during occupation or how to establish sustainable self-government in order to withdraw quickly from our conquest a better place than before our occupation.

I believe that the President has far too much discretionary power to declare war and not the wisdom to anticipate and deal with most of the consequential result of occupation.  Most of the time we don’t even have an exit strategy.  I believe that if we were to do an analysis of past wars we would find that it would have been much wiser not to have engaged in most wars.  There could have been other options employed, other than engaging in war and putting our troops in harm’s way often for a lost cause, such as letting the U.N. deal with it.  American has been engaged in more wars since World War II than any other nation making us appear to others as a war like military country.

See my article Spending on War and Destruction vs. Investing on Building a better America

What do you think of the President’s powers?  Please leave a Remark to let me know.  Thanks you.

This entry was posted in Constitution, Do No Harm, Foriegn Policy and War, Government and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The President’s Power to Declare War

  1. Marthin says:

    I’m not an American! But I agree most of your sentiments. Presidential powers shall be subject to scrutiny, where absolute power shall not be granted. As a nations is far more bigger than the president or his party, every action should be based on merit.

    • FG says:

      Thanks Marthin for your comments. We need to hear from more people abroad how we appear to the rest of the world. We are sometimes wrapped up in our on personal cocoons so isolated from the rest of the world that we do not see how we affect the rest of the world from their perspectives. Thanks for giving us a gimps from outside our cocoon.

  2. RE: your conclusion, “American has been engaged in more wars since World War II than any other nation making us appear to others as a war like military country.”
    To make it more accurate, delete “appear to others as”…we are “a war-like military country. And we have wasted a tremendous amount of resources in this effort. We need leaders who put peace and diplomacy before war, human needs before warmongering.

    • FG says:

      I think you have done an excellent job of putting a more assertive spin on my message. I just wanted to say that America should be more aware of how we affect and appear to other countries. As usual thank you for your valuable inputs.

  3. Pingback: The Absurdaties of War | ouR Social Conscience

  4. Pingback: “War Powers Act” Repeatedly Ignored by Presidents | ouR Social Conscience

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