As you probably know, the soldiers and sailors in the U.S. Armed Forces are organized by rank. When you think about the highest-ranking officers in the Armed Forces, you might think about generals and admirals. It's true that these are high-ranking officials, but they aren't the highest. Even they are subordinate to the Command-in-Chief, more commonly referred to as the President of the United States (or POTUS).
Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states that "[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; . . ." Although this does mean that the President is the head honcho, the Constitution does not give the Commander-in-Chief unlimited power to use the Armed Forces any way he or she wants.
For example, the President does not have the right to declare war against another country. Only Congress can declare war, and to date, they've done it only five times. Congress also controls military funding.
Here are some of the pros and cons of giving the President supreme power over the Armed Forces:
- PRO: Expediency: With one person at the helm, the U.S. military can react quickly to developing situations without the necessity of debates and floor votes.
- CON: Creating conflict: Because the President can commit troops to other parts of the world, he or she could create an international situation that could descend into violence and ultimately war.
- PRO: No conflicts between leaders: Imagine what could happen if the President didn't run the military. What would happen if the President and the Commander of the Armed Forces disagreed? Who would you follow: the person you elected to lead, or the person in charge of the military?
- PRO and CON: Covert missions: The President can command the execution of covert missions that may or may not have been acceptable to the general ethics of the nation.
Presidential military power has always been a controversial issue, and Congress further limited that power in 1973, following the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Under the War Powers Resolution, which was ratified over a Presidential veto, the President must notify Congress within 48 hours of committing any armed forces to military action, and those armed forces cannot remain in action for more than 60 days without Congressional approval or a declaration of war.