Assess the constraints on the President’s role as commander in chief (15 marks)
Article 2 of the US constitution states that the president is to act as commander in chief of the US armed forces. In recent years the president’s foreign policy role can be seen to have grown for a number of reasons, including the emergence of the US as a world superpower, and the end of the Cold War. However, there remain a number of constitutional and informal constraints on this power, and each can be seen to have worked to differing extents.
A number of constraints on the president’s role as commander in chief come directly from the constitution, which lays out Congress’ power both to declare war, and to control foreign policy spending (the latter is referred to as the ‘power of the purse’). The former power has, at least since 1941 (the last time Congress effectively ‘declared’ war) been largely nullified, with a move towards Congress authorizing many presidential actions with regards to war. However, even this modified constraint can be seen to have been abused by modern-day presidents, enhancing their role as commander in chief beyond constitutional boundaries. For example, President George W. Bush manipulated the timing of the congressional vote on the deployment of troops to Iraq to fall just after the 2002 mid-term elections. Congress’ ‘power of the purse’ can also be regarded to have had little effect in this situation. Although they attempted to control Bush’s spending on military operations in Iraq, the majority of people viewed this as superficial, and attempts were largely overridden by the President.
However, constraints on the president’s role of commander in chief are not only constitutional. There are a number of more informal, context-dependent constraints. One of the most significant, especially with the growth of the media, has been public opinion. President Bill Clinton was cautious about deployment of ground troops to Kosovo, whilst in 2010 President Obama...