The US President
The US President,Under the Constitution, the President serves as head of state and head of government. In most other governments (Britain’s and Germany’s, for example), the two functions are separate. As head of state, the President is, in effect, the personification of the U.S.: its visible image, its official voice and its primary representative to the outside world. As head of government, he formulates foreign policy, supervises its implementation and attempts to obtain the resources to support it. He also organizes and directs the departments and agencies that play a part in the foreign policy process. Along with the Vice President, he is the only government official elected nationally. This places him in a unique position to identify, express and pursue the “national interests” of the U.S.
The President’s specific foreign policy powers under the Constitution are actually few and restricted. He serves as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy; nominates and appoints ambassadors and other public ministers, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate; and makes treaties, by and with the advice of the Senate, provided two thirds of the senators present concur. Though the President’s specific powers may be few, his role in foreign policy, many believe, is crucial.For example, executive agreements, which have largely replaced the cumbersome process of treaty-making, comprise most of the understandings and commitments between the U.S. and foreign governments today. These are understood to be the President’s prerogative, though they are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.
The President is the Commander in Chief, but the power to declare war rests with Congress- though Congress has only exercised the right in response to a presidential request. There have been only five declared wars in the nation’s history (World War II, 1941–45, was the last), a fact that illustrates both the changes in the nature of international conflict and the shift to the President of the power to employ the armed forces without an official authorization by Congress. The War in Iraq was no exception, as the Congress only gave its support of the President’s right to use force at his discretion. Yet it is the rise in covert operations deployed by the President, such as the select group of Navy SEALS who assassinated Osama Bin Laden, that evidence a profound change in the type of wars and manner of their deployment.
The President also has the power to receive foreign ambassadors and, in effect, to recognize foreign governments. The President has two additional informal but influential powers in foreign affairs. One of these is the ability to determine the national agenda by bringing issues to the forefront of public attention and concern. The other, which ranks among the President’s most potent weapons for controlling foreign policy, is the power to commit the nation to a particular course of action diplomatically. Once he does so, it can be extremely difficult for the President’s opponents to alter that course.
Executive power refers to the executive branch’s ability to make decisions without the permission or direction of the legislative branch (Congress) and the judicial branch (the Supreme Court). Although Congress and the Supreme Court can limit executive branch actions, often in matters of national security, the president, as the leader of the executive branch, will make an irreversible decision on his own.
Summary: The U.S. Constitution divides power between the three branches of government: the legislative, the executive and the judicial. It also gives each branch some check on the other. The President can veto legislation; Congress can override the President’s veto; the courts can declare a law of Congress or an act of the President unconstitutional.