Commander In Chief
The President is the Commander In Chief
The President of the United States is the permanent Commander in Chief over the American military. He may deploy and direct his armed forces as he sees fit. This authority comes from the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, which states that the President must obtain approval from Congress for treaties and ambassadorships but does not need permission from anyone to use military force.
Reasons Why the President is Commander in Chief
The title ‘Commander in Chief’ signifies that the essential authority to conduct military operations is vested in the President. Before the ratification of the Constitution, Anti-Federalists objected vehemently to this power to wage war abiding in one man. The Federalists were for it and won the argument by assuring those in the middle that Congress could exert some control by curtailing the flow of funds for the armed forces.
The thing is, the Chief Executive, also known as the President, must have the ability to act immediately when urgent action is required. The enemy will not wait for deliberation and consensus. Congress and the Judiciary are sometimes in session and sometimes not. The President is always on duty. He cannot wait for Congress to get together, talk it over, and take a vote on what to do next. The world is unpredictable. The Chief Executive must possess the freedom to act expeditiously, to improvise on the fly, and even to operate secretly.
Americans are so used to civilian control over the military that many of us do not realize that it is not how things are always done in other places. The Founding Fathers made sure that our armed forces would be under civilian control because military officers plotting against their governments was - and is - common in the world.
Our military officers generally declined to involve themselves in politics—most refused to even vote—for much of our history. Their job is to follow the orders of the Commander in Chief regardless of his political party or policies. Civilian control has been an enormous blessing to America.
What is the Role of Congress?
Congress controls the purse. Only Congress has the authority to tax, borrow, and fund government activities. The Constitution limits congressional involvement in the military to appropriating the money it needs, and to “Declare War.” The President cannot declare war.
Article 1 of the Constitution declares that individual states may not “engage in War” “without the consent of Congress,” as Presidents can. To “Declare War” does not give Congress the authority to initiate, conduct, or control War.
Therefore, the Chief Executive is in command of the armed forces. Still, Congress provides and supplies the armed forces for him to command. The President does not preside over domestic industry, which would make weapons and munitions, for instance, not to mention facilities, uniforms, and victuals.
Perhaps Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson explained it best: “The Constitution expressly places in Congress the power to 'raise and support Armies' and 'to provide and maintain a Navy.' This certainly lays upon Congress the primary responsibility for supplying the armed forces. Congress alone controls the raising of revenues and their appropriation and may determine in what manner and by what means they shall be spent for military and naval procurement.”
The President is the Commander In Chief
In America's glorious history, its presidents have deployed the military 230 times without a Declaration of War from Congress. President Truman sent troops to Korea in 1950 without congressional approval, which he firmly asserted he did not require. President Johnson took actions of astonishing magnitude sans a Declaration of War in Vietnam. That led to the 1973 War Powers Resolution, by which Congress claimed it confines the President’s power to make war without its approval to sixty days.
President Carter did not tell Congress before he tried and failed to rescue American hostages in Iran. President Reagan ignored the War Powers Resolution when he took action in Lebanon, Grenada, and Libya. President Obama did the same when he took action against Libya.
President Clinton paid no attention to the Resolution when he engaged our military in Somalia, Haiti, and Kosovo. Congress even sued Clinton over his airstrikes in Yugoslavia. A Federal Court unanimously dismissed the case, in which Congress had claimed that the Air Force campaign was illegal because of the War Powers Resolution. President Clinton’s victorious defense was that for Congress to limit his use of the armed forces was an inappropriate, unconstitutional restraint on his "command and control" of the military.
Back in 1936, the Supreme Court ruled that because the Commander in Chief is the "sole organ" in international relations. Therefore, he inherently possesses substantive authority over foreign affairs, far exceeding the powers he has in domestic matters or any authority accorded to the U.S. Congress.
The President is the Chief Executive of the United States of America and the Commander in Chief of its military.