President in National Security
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Political Role of the President in National Security






Political Role of the President in National Security


In the United States, foreign policy cannot be separated from national security as the two are closely intertwined. Congress is empowered by the constitution to provide oversight to the executive. However, over the years, the executive has amassed a lot of powers through political maneuvers and in some cases by seeking the enactment of favorable laws under increasing worldwide insecurity that has left  Congress with little power to check the actions of the executive. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the powers of the president in decision-making on matters of national security as compared to the powers of Congress under a changing political environment where bipartisan politics undermine political principles and constitutional mandate.

American Foreign Policy Impact on Presidential Elections

The American foreign policy affects the outcomes of the presidential elections depending on the candidate’s focus on American enemies and the extent they promise to use military power or diplomacy (Jain & Pavel, 2020). American foreign policy often determines the popularity of the candidate during elections as the electorate examines their manifesto. American rivals, as well as allies in world politics, always influence how an American presidential candidate becomes popular with the people. According to Sushentsov (2020), the Russians since the era of the Cold War have been of interest to American politics creating a sense of euphoria when citizens were promised that the enemy would be dealt with as soon as the candidate occupied the oval office.

In the past, the question of foreign policy always had American politicians concerned about how to respond to the media. Gadarian (2010) stated that a presidential candidate seen by the public to understand foreign policy issues and support prevailing public views often got elected as president. John. F. Kennedy rose to the presidency by proposing diplomacy, unlike Lyndon Johnson who proposed war and failed to secure peace for Americans and therefore served just a single term (Barber, 2015). As such, foreign policy is about the political maneuvers that would favor the American people. The case of Richard Nixon on the question of the Vietnam War and his proposal to withdraw American troops as well as how to deal with the Middle East and Africa proved politically correct for him (Barber, 2015).  The American foreign policy always revolves around where to wage war, how to secure peace, and how the potential presidential candidate would ensure America’s rise to power and glory. Nixon proved prudent to stop the Vietnam War. As such, the center stage of American foreign policy includes disarmament, dealing with communism, creating allies, foreign aid, the Arab- Israel conflict, and China’s influence in Asia (Congressional Research Service, 2021). These issues always raise questions on whether the president or Congress should make the ultimate decision when declaring war on American enemies.

In the recent past, both the Russians and the Chinese are the prime competitors with the United States in world politics and have repeatedly been accused of meddling with American presidential elections (Sushentsov, 2020). The local and international media have played a significant role in the creation of this political image. As explained by Sotirovic, (2019), the United States foreign policy is based on waging war on countries that pose a threat to the economic and political agendas of the country. A presidential candidate portrayed by the media as strongly inclined to military warfare during an era of terrorism and cybercrime tended to garner more votes on foreign policy (Gadarian, 2010). America considers the resources of Europe and Asia as the right of the American people for the advancement of the nation and any opposition to the economic goals of the United States is seen as a threat to the survival of the nation as a world power. For this reason, any presidential candidate who promises Americans great economic progress and amassing of power in the world scene is bound to be elected to the white house. Sotirovic, (2019) stated that America opposes any military and political coalitions of individual states in Europe and Asia with a close target on the European nations that formed the former USSR as well as China, and other Asia countries.  One of the main concerns in the 21st century and featured in the last four elections is the coalition between China and Russia.

Political Influence of Congress in National Security

Congress’s function in providing Oversight is well document and provided for in the constitution. Congress plays an important role in policymaking and determines the legal direction of American politics. Trumbore and Dulio (2013) argued that if the former government failed to deliver on foreign policy issues, the public voted out its Congressional members associated with the ruling party to effect political change by voting in a new party. Republicans and Democrats have used this political strategy to influence majority votes in Congress leading to bipartisan politics. Article 1 section 1 grants Congress all the powers to make laws and consists of the senate and the House of Representatives (Congressional Research Service, 2019). Congressional oversight refers to the powers given to Congress used in monitoring and supervision of federal agencies including checking the powers of the president on certain matters. Congressional oversight involves the scrutiny of the executive and its agencies and examines how its functions are enforced within the law and their mandate (Slaughter, n.d).  A key objective of Congressional oversight is to prevent the executive from encroaching on the powers of the other arms of government. Congress reflects the political landscape in the United States and advocates the main U.S. policies on national security. The issue of global leadership, international order and national defense, the promotion of democracy and human rights, prevention of emergence of other political powers especially in Eurasia are approved by Congress (Congressional Research Service, 2021). As such, the incumbent may not be able to frame his political agenda outside these key issues that are closely intertwined with national security. As discussed by Murray and Tama (2017), the president often faces challenges when seeking to advance his national security agendas due to the limitations imposed on him by Congress, government bureaucracy, and political power brokers in government as well as the opinion of the voters. This creates a challenge for the president when implementing foreign policy decisions that may impact national security.  The oversight function of Congress is often affected by bipartisan politics in a nation where the two main political parties namely the Republicans and the Democrats exercise power to control decision-making in Congress (Oleszek, & Oleszek, n.d.). The party with the majority votes in Congress often influences the decision on how much power to allow the president on matters of national security. In 2014, it was found that leaders in Congress compromised their stand to vote along party lines due to a high political polarization of Congress (Pew Research Center, 2017).  This has made Congress ineffective in oversight especially when the president’s party has majority votes in the house.

Role of Congress in the Department of Defense

Congress has oversight authority over the size, administration, and operations of the department of defense (DoD). Congress checks and monitors the actions of the DoD and provides necessary permission on acts of War (Feickert, 2014). It determines the administrative budget that is to be allocated to the department of defense which is often the nation’s largest allocation. The armed services committee in Congress has the power to authorize and monitor budgetary allocation to the armed forces and can start Congressional hearings and investigations in case of misappropriation or misuse of authority (Towell, n.d.).   It authorizes and audits the expenditures of the provided funds. It is after the approval of the budget by Congress that the president signs it for dispersion. After September 11, national security was allocated a huge amount of financial resources empowering it to acquire the technology that has made it very powerful especially on information gathering and control of cyberspace (Oleszek & Oleszek, 2011).  In this instance, Congress has the upper hand and decides how much of the nation’s resources should be allocated to Congress.

Other than budgetary allocation, Congress is in charge of determining the military strategies that need to be implemented for the sake of national security and must approve such strategies before the president can sign them for implementation. As discussed by Lucas and McInnis (2015), Congress examines the policies intended to be implemented by the department of defense regarding international military operations by providing oversight on the National Security Strategy (NSS). In most cases, the Congressional Service committee has leaders with military experience who sympathize with the DOD leading to favorable decisions that empower the president (Towell, n.d.).  The National Security Strategy Report is an important document used to highlight what is planned to secure the nation and is passed by Congress under Section 603 of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (McInnis, 2016).  The report is prepared by the executive led by the president defining the national security objectives and strategies for the country but it must be approved by Congress. In 2015, Congress decided to review the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 due to failures and deficiencies that were attributed to challenges in foreign military operations such as the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, the president can manipulate the national security strategy if his political party in Congress has majority votes. As reported by Drezner (2017), President Trump managed to act and give presidential addresses that contradicted the national security strategies that had been laid down for thirty years by former presidents such as Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Such a move shows how a politically connected president can manipulate the national security agenda of the department of defense.

Limitations of Congress and Institutional Challenges

The executive continues to exercise power and control over the House of Representatives and the Senate through manipulation of information, legislative expansion of powers, and political maneuvers. Congress is often dominated by the executive during decision-making with the president exercising control over when and how to declare war (OpenStax; Rice University (n.d.).  As such, the president has often been able to make decisions without being opposed by Congress. According to Reynolds (2019), the House of Representatives and the Senate do not have enough resources to gather relevant information which is necessary to act on during decision-making.  For this reason, the executive which has a lot of resources allocated to it can act in ways that the members of the Congressional committees cannot be able, especially, under the cloak of privacy and need to know bases. The President has access to the secrets of the world under the CIA and the FBI and other information gathering security agencies that give him a lot of latitude in decision making and most of these remain national secrets (Graff, 2017). As such, the president can act without the knowledge of Congress on sensitive national security emergencies and report later after the fact. This limits the ability of Congress to make any interventions before such covert operations are carried out. Jimenez-Bacardi and Prados (2019) explained that former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush played an important role in limiting what could be reported by the CIA to Congress after their clandestine operations since the Iran-Contra Affair of 1986 to 1992. Therefore, the president authorizes intelligence operations without much oversight from Congress.

The presidential powers have expanded over time as laws have been enacted to achieve this objective. Wilt (2019) explains that the president is the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces and the Navy as well as the Militia of the United States which gives him a lot of power.  If the president has two-thirds of the senators being affiliated to his party, then, such senators’ vote along party lines and not on principle as has been the case in the recent past. Therefore, the president can influence foreign policy decision-making. Being the head of states allows the president to make treaties with foreign nations and enter into agreements with international leaders.

Freedom of the Press

The constitution does not allow Congress to make laws that may interfere with the freedom of the press. Congress cannot make laws that infringe on the freedom of the press who in turn can influence the political landscape through coverage of certain political matters so long as it is not incitement to insurgence (Constitution Annotated, n.d.). This makes Congress powerless concerning limiting the operations of the press. The presidential press is protected under this constitutional right. Schoenfeld (2011) argued that the press has continued to leak sensitive government secrets that have resulted in the executive becoming more protective and secretive leading to the strengthening of the intelligence community answerable only to the president. Oftentimes, such state secrets are withheld from Congress making the executive act independently based on the information acquired. Stone and Volokh (2021) stated that the First Amendment protects the freedom of the press and only the Supreme Court can interpret what is unconstitutional. The president has direct communications with foreign diplomats and leaders and such communication cannot be vetoed by Congress. According to Schoenfeld (2011), the Media has leaked sensitive information that has put members of Congress in a difficult political position which has crippled autonomous participation in the House. Since presidential communications can also be used to direct foreign policy, this empowers the president.

The powers of the President in National Security

The president is the commander in chief and the holder of the highest executive office in the country. He wields a lot of power. The 1861 Precedent set by President Abraham Lincoln overshadowing Congress allowed him to overstep the powers of Congress and declared war and later got support from the Supreme Court as he had acted in the interests of national security (Murray & Tama, 2017).  Just like Lincoln, former American presidents have found that they could exercise their powers before Congress stepped in to overturn their decision. Although Congress has the power to declare war, the president has the mandate to engage any country in military action for two months before Congress or the Supreme Court can intervene as provided by the 1973 War Powers Resolution (Murray & Tama, 2017). This gives the president a lot of power to act decisively when national security is threatened.

After the terrorist attack of September 11, the presidency sought more power to act in the interest of national security. The administration of George W. Bush created loopholes and ignored laws established by Congress as the issue of terrorism created fear in the American population leading to increased surveillance and torture of suspected criminals (Edelson, 2016). Congress could not openly address this issue due to the political climate that demanded the protection of Americans. Similarly, the Obama presidency increased its power on the military, surveillance, and state secrecy policies without breaking the law which made Congress hesitate to act these actions (Edelson, 2016). In this era of increased cybercrime and terrorism, the American president has more power than before despite the lack of legal backing by Congress. As discussed by DePlato (2017) Americans are faced with increased executive powers as national insecurity issues increase leading to legal and political hurdles that are difficult to circumvent. The general political climate is that it is better to have a powerful executive office and improve the national security of the United States. The president can assume absolute power in advancing the war on terror beyond American borders with the capacity to authorize drone strikes on terrorist leaders in the absence of the authority of Congress. DePlato (2017) explained that the executive power has increased due to the political differences exiting in Congress with the party having majority votes influencing decision making. Political strategy and power have changed in the United States because of the party partisan interests between democrats and republicans.  This has made the president overshadow Congress in national security issues.

The Mandate of the National Security Council

The National Security Council is the vehicle that is used to deliver the agendas of protecting Americans. It is chaired by the president who makes the decisions on the declaration of war with the approval of Congress (Library of Congress Law, n.d.). As such, the National Security Council coordinates the various issues concerning the security of the United States. Since the president is the chairman, the National Security Council coordinates all the military affairs with other government agencies creating a powerful system through which foreign policy and national security issues are addressed. However, some of the sensitive and urgent national matters addressed here are not vetoed by Congress; but instead, they are implemented swiftly for the sake of national security. This makes Congress or the Supreme Court intervene after the action has been taken when legal issues arise.  The national Security Council gives the president more power than Congress in dealing with the urgent matters of national security.

While the president is supposed to brief Congress after six months during an engagement in war, the political affiliation of the president with the party with more votes insulates him from any oversight or opposition.  Section 50 USC Ch. 33: War Powers Resolution before and after September 11 requires the president to report the introduction of US forces into a hostile territory (Wilt, 2019).  Still, bipartisan politics give the president leeway on this matter. The president can use the powers given to him to seek coalitions with allies in fighting American enemies abroad. This power makes the president powerful since he can support military warfare abroad without directly involving the military. Since September 11, the President of the United States has more power to declare war especially in fighting terrorism.


The President of the United States is the most powerful individual on earth. However, there are checks and balances in the constitution that seek to limit the powers of the president through the Judiciary and Congress. The American foreign policy and national security are issues that have resulted in various legislations and Supreme Court interventions to curtail the powers of the executive. Still, the powers of the executive concerning foreign policy have been increasing over time. The freedom of the press and bipartisan politics in Congress has contributed to the increase in the power of the president when making decisions on foreign policy.  The power of the president to chair the National Security Council as the chief of the armed forces of the United States endows a lot of power on him. Increasing cases of terrorism and cybercrime have led to a political climate that has allowed the president more power to act quickly in dealing with national security threats. The Information gathering and actions of the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security among others have given the president more power and leeway to act on matters of national security without necessarily reporting to Congress as required by law. Therefore, the president has more power than Congress when dealing with issues of national security and foreign policy.




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