Power of President and Congress


The presidency and congress play a very important role in the foreign policy of the US. The constitution gives the two branches some specific powers with some areas needing both of them to work together. The president and Congress share the foreign policy role by principle of Codetermination.

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The president is the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, the head of national security establishment as well as head of state and government. This simply gives the president powers to direct military, intelligence and   powers to appoint high ranking security officers as well as power to issue executive orders affecting both. For example, its Congress to decide on raising money, support and maintain an army during war times while the president could be their commander. However, the US foreign policy is slowly changing as well as presidential and Congressional powers. When the president goes overseas, he speaks for the US as a country. He/she has powers to make treaties and bring it to congress or veto or not veto what congress passes regarding foreign policy. Congress has also powers to declare war on another nation, budget authority on foreign trips by the president, ratify all treaties by the president touching of foreign policy.

The above is usually guided by the Monroe Doctrine that became a cornerstone of future US foreign policy. This is contained in Monroe’s 7th annual message to Congress on foreign affairs. The Doctrine warned European countries not to interfere in the Western Hemisphere as the US’s sphere of interest. This has seen the US take particular interest in its neighbors. The Doctrine warns European countries that the US would not tolerate further colonization. The policy was used by American presidents over the years including JF Kennedy.

Current events sometimes have agitated a constitutional controversy between the President and Congress awakening issues of international law. This was especially during the Cold War after a crucial chapter of the United Nations Charter resulted to an international legal issue.  The United Nations Charter is the constituting UN instruments that set out the rights and obligations of its member states. It is an international treaty that codifies major principles of international relations from the sovereignty of states to prohibition of use of force in international relations. The Charter signed on August 14, 1941 in which US president Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill had “certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.” For example, during the Korean War (1950-1953), president Truman, pursuant to the UN Security council recommendation that states come to assist South Korea and those doing so to put their command under the US, the president ordered US forces to help defend South Korea. The president said that he claimed authority from the President’s Power to carry out such undertakings by the US under the UN Charter which is a treaty of the US. In such a case, President Truman did not request authority from Congress. Although in some quarters there were people questioning the president’s authority, little came out of it as much of Congress were in support of the war. In 1990, President Bush also sought the United Nations Security Council resolution to attack Iraq after it led an invasion in Kuwait.

It is worth noting that Congress has acknowledged an inherent executive power in the war Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution of Congress. A Joint Resolution of Congress is a type of measure that Congress may consider and act upon in addition to treaties in the Senate. According to this measure:

The president has broad constitutional power to take military action in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Congress has acknowledged this inherent executive power in both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on September 14, 2001

The President has constitutional power not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations.

The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11 (justice.gov).

This basically means that the president has more powers and can in fact take military action against terrorists or nations that support such kind of people.

The Bush Doctrine was a set of foreign policies that were drafted during the Bush era and introduced by George Bush during his time as president. The responses were mainly in regard to response to terrorism activities in September 11, 2011. The policies are basically based on the view that those harboring terrorists should also be treated as terrorists. The idea is for a preventive war, like the invasion of other countries to stop any future threats from those countries for example the invasion of Iraq during his era.

There are several unifying principles of foreign policy that describes the current president’s foreign policy and how foreign policy has indeed shifted over time. according to a speech he made at the National Defense University, Obama’s message was to turn a new page on the terrorism era that began in September bombings. The president spoke with an emphasis on negotiation and collaboration rather than unilateralism and confrontation when it comes to foreign policy. This is exactly the opposite of the Bush Doctrine widely seen as being interventionist. However, some people see it as naïve and that it only promotes appeasing of US enemies. It is however seen as a departure in tone from policies of former presidents. According to a report in the New York Times titled “Pivoting From a War Footing, Obama Acts to Curtail Drones,” the president is slowly but surely trying to avoid


American presidents have become known for signature statements on statements and responses to foreign policy matters. The “Doctrines” have set the tone on how America relates to the outside world. The Doctrines have been slowly but steadily changing over time due to changing dynamics in the international arena.





Henkin, L. (1991). Congress, the president and the United nations. Pace International Law Review. Vol 3, Iss. 1

Holmes, K. R., & Carafano, J. J. (2010). Defining Obama’s Foreign Policy Doctrine, Its Pitfalls, and How to Avoid Them. Conservative Policy Research and Analysis. Retrieved June 24, 2013, from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/08/defining-the-obama-doctrine-its-pitfalls-and-how-to-avoid-them