We Explain… The Military Powers of the US President

So how familiar are you with a little thing we like to call, the War Powers Act?



Every now and then we get so many questions in our inbox on a certain subject that it’s hard to either ignore or just sneak it into another topic. That’s why we created this feature “We Explain…”, in which we answer your said questions about… whatever it may be in the world of politics. It’s kind of like mansplaning, but hopefully it’s something you want us to explain. As always, if you have any questions you want us to answer, send them at contact[AT]thepostturtle.com!



In this installment we talk about the president’s military powers and how they relate to the recent military actions taken by President Donald Trump over the last few days.



A good place to start, when understanding the president’s military powers, would be with the Constitution. Technically speaking, the Constitution breaks up military action between Congress and the US presidency. While Congress can be the only one that can officially declare war and/or control funds for the war effort, the president is in charge of directing the military.


Yet, it’s because of this power granted by the Constitution that would actually give the presidency more military power over time. Since the founding of the US, military power was starting to sway heavily towards the president. Much of this had to do with the interpretation that the US president could use military action for national security reasons, specifically to repel attacks against the US.


However, because of the conflicts in Vietnam and Korea in the 1960’s-70’s – mostly by how unpopular the Vietnam War was – Congress tried to curb the president’s military power through what is known as the War Powers Resolution (aka the War Powers Act).


To understand the modern president’s military powers, you have to understand the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Under the War Powers Resolution, the president (in some respects) has to explain the reason for his military actions. The two major provisions that came from the War Powers Resolution are:


  • The president has to notify Congress 48 hours after a military operation has commenced.

  • Military actions longer than 60 days require Congressional approval.


As you may have guessed, it’s not unusual for the White House and Congress to have this constant push/pull when it comes to the president’s war powers. Historically it has happened with every president whether it was regarding President Clinton’s bombing campaign in Kosovo, President Bush’s military actions in Iraq/Afghanistan, President Obama’s drone program, and now President Trump’s military action in Syria.



As the above video shows, many in Congress (like Republican Sen. Rand Paul) have always felt military actions like the one President Trump took in Syria, don’t necessarily fall under concerns of national security or using force to repel attacks against the US. Though for most people, military actions by a president has always fallen into a grey area when it comes to their justifications.


While there will always be some that say military actions like drone strikes or targeted bombings are overstepping a president’s military powers given by the Constitution, however the majority of Americans feel these actions since presidents have more classified information available to them (better intelligence, expert analysis, ect).


For that reason, single military actions are generally looked at as something a president can do without taking congressional approval beforehand. But larger military actions, like the Invasion of Iraq back in 2002, would be impossible for the president to do without Congress. Not only would larger military actions be harder to successfully pull-off within the 60-day time frame, but eventually the public and congress would want some type of explanation for such a prolonged military conflict.


As for the Trump administration themselves, military actions like the bombing of Assad’s airfield in Syria or dropping “the mother of all bombs” on ISIS, is generally looked at as actions his administration can take.


(Photo Credits: Pixabay.com)


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