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Congress, the president, and the use of military force: cooperation or conflict in the post-Cold War era?

The separation of powers regarding the use of the military force is one of the most widely disputed issues in the constitutional law of U.S. foreign policy. Many scholars have debated this question from a legal perspective, arguing whether the president or Congress has the ultimate right to control the use of force.(1) Unfortunately, we have little knowledge about the factors that might encourage cooperation or conflict between the president and Congress during real decision-making situations. This is not just a theoretical issue. Undeclared wars are far and away the norm in U.S. history(2), and disputes over the proper division of labor between the executive and the legislature have steadily strengthened the hand of the president in this area. However, since the Vietnam War, Congress has shown itself to be a more assertive actor in foreign policy(3), although it has never successfully used the War Powers Resolution (WPR) to prevent a military action.(4) Understanding "war powers as we live them"(5) can shed some light on the ability of the United States to effectively, responsibly, and democratically wield military power as a tool of foreign policy. To be credible, threats, like promises, must be ratified via domestic processes and to the extent that Congress influences--whether tacitly or explicity--the ratification process,(6) and thus the international bargaining power of the president, we need to understand its behavior.

Since presidents tend to dominate decision making over the use of force, our attention should focus on the response of Congress. Indeed, the WPR places the burden of confronting the president on members of Congress, who must vote to invoke the resolution while presidents have consistently refused to acknowledge the WPR as a check on their powers over the use of force. If Congress fails to vote to invoke the WPR or to otherwise restrain the executive, then the president can draw upon his powers as commander in chief to authorize a fairly wide variety of military operations with little or no regard (at least at the time of the deployment) for legal questions over the matter. Other factors, such as the "rally 'round the flag effect" during times of crisis,(7) also help tilt the balance of power in favor of the president. Finally, U.S. courts have effectively refused to get involved in disputes over the use of force. Unable to objectively define which types of military operations (rescue missions, peacekeeping, UN operations, humanitarian missions, acts of anticipatory self-defense) should invite congressional involvement, the courts have understandably opted to treat the question of executive or legislative supremacy as a political matter, not a legal one.(8) In the view of the courts, Congress has various powers to influence executive military operations; if legislators have not always chosen to employ those powers, the courts can do little about it.

Hence, this article focuses on the behavior of Congress vis-a-vis the president. If the past decade is any indication, there will be repeated opportunities for executive-legislative confrontation over this area of foreign policy. The end of the cold war has seen a number of foreign crises that provoked national debates over the proper role of military force in U.S. foreign policy. These debates seem to have intensified this belligerent attitude on the part of Congress. The question of whether to make these deployments has been especially difficult without the Soviet presence as an organizing principle for decision making in world politics. Debates have been taking place in an ideological vacuum, as neither Democrats nor Republicans have forged compelling rationales for the deployment of U.S. troops, even for peacekeeping or humanitarian missions.

Indeed, one irony of American unpreparedness for a post-cold war future is the spectacle of lawmakers proving unable (or unwilling) to find common ground regarding the use of force during crises such as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, violence in Haiti, or ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In public debates during these episodes, it appeared that some former cold war doves in Congress were more supportive of the use of military force for "acceptable" forms of military intervention: peacekeeping, humanitarian, or state-building operations. Equally, after 1989, some cold war hawks appeared to have second thoughts about the wisdom of using U.S. military forces for missions that did not involve the protection of vital U.S. interests overseas. Unlike moments of high drama in the early years of the U.S.-Soviet contest, when both Democrats and Republicans tended to support U.S. military engagements (especially those that encouraged anticommunist rhetoric) and expected the president to take the lead in this area, since Vietnam there has been an increasingly wide gap between hawks and doves in situations where deadly force is under consideration. With the end of the cold war, both sides of this debate have been forced to reevaluate their attitudes toward this crucial area of U.S. foreign policy.

However, I argue that this split between hawks and doves over the use of force--manifested as the willingness of Congress to challenge the president--can be traced to a more fundamental cause: an increased level of partisanship over the issue. In particular, I examine roll call voting in the House of Representatives on legislation regarding the deployment of U.S. troops. Attitudes toward the use of force are but one manifestation of "hawkishness," of course, but these attitudes reveal something more fundamental and important in the way the United States conducts its foreign relations. Comprehensive studies(9) of congressional decisions strongly suggest that foreign policy should be disaggregated into various issues--trade policy, arms control, foreign aid and defense spending, or the use of force--since voting cues (constituencies, ideology, regionalism, partisanship, or national public opinion) vary depending on the issue at hand.(10) Voting on defense spending, for example, could be linked to concerns for the economy and/or one's constituency rather than to broader support for the use of force in foreign policy.(11)

In contrast, military action is one of the most costly and politically contentious tools in a state's foreign policy arsenal. Governments and lawmakers do not take lightly a decision to risk American lives; for most, there need to be clear and compelling reasons for doing so. For hawks, the pervasive threat of communism provided such a reason, while doves--especially after Vietnam--became increasingly skeptical about the need to confront communism in all comers of the world. Yet, the salience of anticommunism appears to have diminished with the end of the cold war and the spread of democracy among former Soviet client states.

Since hawkishness over the use of force to oppose communism has been primarily associated with Republicans and conservative Democrats, the end of the cold war should have caused these groups to reconsider their rationales for sending U.S. troops into harm's way. This has happened, but we have also observed former doves calling for military intervention as well, mainly for humanitarian or peacekeeping operations. The question is, are lawmakers resorting to new conceptions of hawkishness and dovishness, or are they using their arguments to mask a return to partisan struggles over military intervention? In other words, are members of Congress only hawkish when they share the party of the president and he orders the use of force? The evidence presented here strongly suggests that this is so. The key change came about after the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, which soon saw both parties readjusting their support for interventionist military policies during several important episodes. This change can be confirmed by examining roll call voting on several major military interventions.

The Data

To determine the extent of the change in outlooks among lawmakers, I chose several substantive measures used to halt or limit the deployment of U.S. forces in hostile situations to indicate the extent of hawkish or dovish support. Although the president has been able to deploy military forces with impunity since the WPR entered into force, since Vietnam, Congress has become increasingly vocal in its willingness to question presidential decisions to send troops into harm's way. The end of the cold war has only intensified this trend. However, even though legislators of both parties have strong institutional reasons to challenge the president's use of the war power, once debate moves to action, most members of Congress line up like soldiers for or against the president, depending on their party identification.

For example, in his recent study of congressional responses to military intervention between 1973 and 1990, James Meernik found that divided government is the most important predictor of a congressional response to the use (or threat) of force.(12) The trend toward increased partisanship over the war power is also demonstrated by observing how many members of each party sponsored bills or resolutions regarding the WPR during a U.S. military action. Martha Gibson has performed such an analysis; between 1980 and 1989, sixty-two of seventy-eight such measures (79 percent) were introduced by Democrats in response to deployments made during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Of all the foreign policy issues she analyzed, only the war power shows "both a partisan and ideological dimension clearly driving interbranch relations. It is here, more than in other (foreign policy) issue areas, that we would expect to find the most evidence of the effect of divided government. And we do."(13)

If this is so, if members are displaying a "knee-jerk" partisan reaction to the use of force above other factors (such as public opinion, the purpose or duration of the conflict, or ideology), then we should observe a major change in congressional behavior since President Bill Clinton entered office. In particular, we can examine House voting behavior during six major political uses of force from the Reagan through the Clinton administrations to show changes in support since the end of the cold war in 1989. "Political uses of force" occur "when a physical change in the disposition of some elements of the military is used to influence a foreign actor."(14) For my purposes, these are military interventions involving outright combat or a high possibility that U.S. forces will come under fire; obviously the episodes also must be of sufficient duration and visibility so that Congress has time to involve itself in the matter.(15) Thus, I do not consider actions such as quick armed attacks, naval blockades, patrols, reconnaissance, surveillance, or covert action.(16) Equally, I do not consider all measures introduced in the House regarding military intervention, only those that resulted in a roll call vote and that represented a clear challenge to the president's decision. In incidents where the House voted on more than one measure regarding the use of force, the key vote on the issue as decided by the Congressional Quarterly Almanac is used.

Using these guidelines, the House has held highly contentious floor votes in response to three U.S. military operations in the decade prior to the end of the cold war: the deployment of U.S. forces in Central America during the mid-1980s, U.S. participation in the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (1983), and the reflagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers (1987) during the Iran-Iraq war. Only the Central American intervention was directly and explicitly linked to fears of communism in the Western Hemisphere, making it a "classic" cold war intervention. President Carter sent the first military advisers (nineteen of them) to Central America; President Reagan gradually increased this amount to over one thousand U.S. military personnel in the region by 1983. He also conducted training missions with land and naval forces and constructed military facilities in the region to intimidate the leftist government of Nicaragua and to aid the contras in El Salvador, prompting Congress to attempt to ban the deployment.(17)

While the Lebanon mission and the reflagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers were not explicitly motivated by anticommunism, the Middle East has long been an arena for superpower rivalry and both of these deployments reflected an element of that competition. Up to seventeen hundred U.S. marines were deployed in Lebanon in 1982-84, prompting Congress to invoke the WPR for the first time with passage of legislation (HJRes 364).(18) This deployment ended a few months after 241 marines were killed in a suicide bombing in Beirut in October 1983. Later, Reagan allowed U.S. forces to escort Kuwaiti oil tankers by flagging them as U.S. vessels, which meant that the United States and Iran were virtually at war with each other in 1987-88 since these tankers supplied oil to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. The Reagan administration argued that the level of hostilities was too low for Congress to be concerned. However, thirty-seven U.S. sailors were killed when an Iraqi aircraft fired a missile at the U.S.S. Stark in May 1987; a year later, a U.S. naval commander shot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290 civilians. Also, the Pentagon authorized "imminent danger" pay for the armed forces in this deployment.(19) Hence, Congress certainly considered this a military intervention, introducing a measure (H.R. 2342) to stop or at least delay the deployment.(20)

Was there a change in congressional support for military intervention with the end of the cold war? To answer this question, we can compare three interventions since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 with those above: the Persian Gulf War (1991),(21) Somalia (1992-93),(22) and Haiti (1994).(23) Like the three cold war votes above, these were the most serious in the immediate post-cold war period and all provoked a response from the legislature. In all cases, legislators from both parties expressed confidence in the president during the early stages of the crisis, but that support began to fracture once the possibility of direct U.S. military intervention became a reality.

All results on the six votes were coded so that "support for intervention" means that a Representative either agreed to legislation endorsing the president's deployment in anyway (HJRes 364 on Lebanon; HJRes 77 on Iraq; HConRes 170 on Somalia) or opposed legislation to prohibit, cease, or restrict the deployment in any way (H.R. 2969 on the El Salvador deployment; H.R. 2342 on the reflagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers; HJRes 416 on Haiti).

Data Analysis

As Figure 1 shows, House support for military intervention (based on voting on the above measures) was split between the parties, but enough Democrats supported Republican presidents so that the deployments could continue. One can see a clear shift after the Gulf War vote when Clinton entered office, but even before then the "hawkish" coalition was disintegrating. The Gulf War vote is especially instructive. In this case there were arguably threats to U.S. interests: oil supplies and the possible use or proliferation of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Major U.S. allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) were threatened as well, and the administration also argued that U.S. ideals ("democracy" and the protection of human rights in Kuwait) were at risk. Finally, President Bush personally managed to forge a considerable amount of support among other world leaders with his talent for "Rolodex diplomacy." Even with these factors in his favor, many Democrats remained unconvinced of the need to commit U.S. forces so hastily, resulting in a weak endorsement of the administration's policy primarily along party lines in both Houses of Congress during the historic vote on January 12, 1991.


The change after Bush left office is clear. Not only did this support switch dramatically when Clinton entered office, but virtually no Republicans voted to support the president's position on Somalia and Haiti (and few Democrats opposed it), although the Somalia deployment was, in fact, first authorized by President Bush in late 1992. The parties were almost completely polarized on the votes for this "humanitarian" intervention; as during the Gulf War, there was no bipartisan ideological consensus in favor of using force for this purpose.

This switch in support, of course, could be due to a large influx over the last decade of congressional members who are likely to vote more partisan on this issue. Or it also could be due to the fact that sitting members were switching from "hawkishness" to "dovishness" (and vice versa), depending on the president's party. To test this possibility, a simple natural experiment was designed. I first selected a sample of House members who had voted on every measure noted above by pulling the names of all House members who had served longest in Congress and were still in office before the mid-term congressional elections in 1994, which substantially changed the composition of Congress. These elections saw a number of younger Republicans enter Congress and would have prevented an adequate sample among all votes. Among Democrats, the sample includes those elected between 1941 and 1972 (n = 32). Among Republicans, the sample includes those elected between 1956 and 1978 (n = 29).(24) The total sample (N = 61) represents about 14 percent of the House and includes a wide range of age cohorts and regions.

As Figure 2 reveals, this sample of 61 legislators voted almost the same way that the entire House did on these six votes concerning military intervention.


In other words, we can see that members who voted on these six interventions deliberately adjusted their support for military intervention after a Democratic administration took office, indicating the importance of partisanship. Indeed, comparing cold war and post-cold war votes in this manner reveals that many cold war Democratic doves rapidly turned hawkish under President Clinton. Even though the relevant interventions under Clinton (Somalia and Haiti) could be labeled "humanitarian" in nature, it is arguable that partisanship was the real factor behind the switch in Democratic support. Note that in this sample, virtually all of the 60 to 80 percent of dovish Democrats who had opposed the four military interventions under Republican administrations ended up supporting votes on the deployments to Somalia and Haiti.

The reverse, of course, is true with Republicans; in their case, neither Republican hawks nor doves during the Reagan/Bush interventions supported legislation on the deployments to Somalia and Haiti. Republican hawks in particular appear to be increasingly opposed to such operations, which, they argue, do not involve the pursuit of a clear national interest and thus are not worth the risk of U.S. lives. Such renewed differences over the use of force reflect a century-old dilemma for makers of U.S. foreign policy: how to justify the potentially unbearable costs of questionable uses of military force in nondefensive situations (i.e., using force when the United States or its major allies are not directly attacked or threatened) in terms of ideological goals. With no compelling post-cold war ideological rationale supported by any faction in Congress, members are resorting to partisanship to guide their decisions.

The extent to which House members have been voting in support of their own president in these votes and sample data is illustrated by the following table:
 Party of Member

 Party of President Democrat (%) Republican

 Democrat 85 0
 Republican 29 84

Thus, under a Democratic president, House Democrats in this sample supported the intervention policies 85 percent of the time, while House Republicans consistently opposed them. Under a Republican president, enough Democrats (averaging 29 percent; usually among Southerners) in this sample supported the president to still give the appearance of a limited bipartisan consensus on military interventions. These findings are also somewhat consistent with other research demonstrating that the "two presidencies" thesis--meaning the president gets his way more often on foreign policy than domestic policy--primarily applies to Republicans, although other studies have shown a decreasing or negligible difference between presidential success in Congress regarding foreign policy issues as compared with domestic issues.(25)


Congressional votes on questionable cases of military intervention--those that are not precipitated by a direct attack on U.S. territory or allies--are somewhat curious. On one hand, they are clearly viewed as "votes of conscience" by members of Congress and other insiders. It is apparently quite inappropriate to use logrolling tactics or to rely on the party whip to impose discipline when members decide to support or oppose the president's use of military force. Superficially, the question of risking U.S. lives is considered a grave, highly personal matter, one not subject to the usual legislative battles or bargains over policy. As Senator Joseph Lieberman reflected during the Gulf War debate, "To cast the vote to place other Americans in the line of fire is the most humbling, painful decision I can imagine."(26) Similarly, Senator Robert C. Byrd remarked that of the 12,822 votes he had cast during his thirty-eight years in Congress, the Persian Gulf vote was the most important and one of the most troubling.(27) Of course, President Bush and other administration officials did attempt to elicit the support of key members of Congress, phoning them in the, few days before the vote, but there was no arm-twisting or pressure over the issue.(28)

On the other hand, votes on these questionable military interventions, which are not provoked by direct attack, and where information is scarce and public opinion is divided, are invariably driven by partisanship. During the Persian Gulf War debate, both Democrats and Republicans strongly agreed that Saddam Hussein had violated international law and that a U.S. response was necessary to dislodge his forces from Kuwait. Yet, the House and Senate barely passed a measure supporting President Bush's decision to use force to accomplish just that. Only an unusual coalition of Republicans, southern conservative Democrats and northeastern liberal internationalist Democrats (some of whom were concerned about the threat to Israel) tilted the scales in the president's favor in both Houses of Congress.(29) After President Clinton entered office, Republicans balked at the deployment to Somalia (and the one to Haiti later), even though President Bush first authorized it. Grand Old Party (GOP) members of Congress argued that these humanitarian interventions did not reflect pressing security concerns.

The real test would be if President Clinton was forced to order a more "security-related" intervention and Congress responded with a vote on substantive legislation concerning it. This finally happened in late 1995, when Clinton announced his intention to commit U.S. troops to the Implementation Force as part of the Dayton peace agreement regarding Bosnia-Herzegovina. Considering the Republican control of Congress after 1994, and the increasing tendency toward partisanship since the end of the cold war mentioned above, we would expect Congress to respond negatively to Clinton's decision. Mile both parties in Congress expressed concern about deploying troops in Bosnia during the early part of the debate, once House Republicans brought several measures to the floor to restrict the deployment, the parties split on the issue and relied on partisanship to guide their voting. Although the changed composition of Congress after the midterm elections of 1994 prevents an extension of the sample analyzed in the previous section, results in the entire House are similar to previous votes. The House vote on the key measure to influence the Bosnia deployment (H.R. 2606)(30) was 243 to 171; fully 85 percent of Democrats opposed the measure (thus supporting the president) and only 5 percent of Republicans opposed it, which is consistent with the data above.
 Persian Guff Bosnia

 (Republican President) (Democratic President)

House support
 Republicans 98% 5%
 Democrats 33% 85%
Senate support
 Republicans 96% 60%
 Democrats 18% 98%

As noted, the support among Democrats in the Gulf War can be explained by northeastern liberals (internationalist, with some sympathy for Israel) and conservative southern Democrats. Note that the key Bosnian vote, unlike that for the Persian Gulf War where the bill to authorize force barely passed (52 to 47) the Senate, the bill to delay the Bosnian intervention was rejected in the Senate (22 to 77), on December 13, 1995, which meant a victory for Clinton. It seems the Bosnian intervention passed the higher chamber only because it could be directly linked to America's most important alliance commitment (North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO]), thus encouraging leading Republicans such as Senator Bob Dole to support President Clinton's policy. Obviously this condition does not hold in most parts of the world, and the president who faces an opposition Congress in such a situation is likely to have a far more difficult time winning the support of Congress.

As with the Persian Gulf War, both Houses later easily passed symbolic measures to express support for U.S. troops. Curiously, several months before the Bosnia vote, the House voted to defeat yet another GOP-supported measure to kill the WPR, indicating that the battle for institutional control of the war power is far from over. The vote was 217 to 201, and many Republican freshmen sided with Democrats to retain congressional authority over the war power, in part because of the looming question of U.S. involvement in Bosnia. Since so many Democrats helped to defeat the measure, while under a Democratic administration, it is clear that Congress is still sensitive to using a legal mechanism to permanently delegate war-making power to the president. In the words of Republican Representative Henry Hyde,

It was a dangerous amendment to offer with Bosnia imminent. This was

perceived by some people as strengthening Mr. Clinton's hand on Bosnia, and

they didn't want to have to go home and try to explain why they had done


Republican Representative Toby Roth was more blunt: "A deepening crisis in Bosnia may lead us, at some point, to invoke the War Powers Act."(31)

Yet, when the question of U.S. military intervention in Bosnia did arise, members of the House overwhelmingly tended to vote according to their parties, reaffirming the partisan interest over the institutional one during specific cases. Thus, these data suggest we should see more conflict over this issue between the executive and the legislature in the future because presidents are unlikely to back down to congressional pressure if they see this pressure is motivated by partisanship. Indeed, today it is almost inconceivable that, lacking a direct attack on U.S. forces or citizens (or those of its major allies), legislators would support an intervention as strongly as they did during the Tonkin Gulf incident, when of all members of Congress only, two senators voted against the deployment of American forces to Vietnam.


If one accepts that the first two decades or so of the cold war resulted in an unusual spirit of cooperation--however limited in duration and scope--between the executive and Congress in foreign affairs,(32) then Vietnam and the dramatic events of 1989-91 seem to have brought the politics of foreign policy back to a state of business as usual: partisan rivalry and, when the government is divided, institutional conflict. Although it cannot be said that Congress has effectively tied the hands of the president in this area, it is clear that presidents must think twice before committing U.S. forces to potentially deadly situations. Presidents have also benefited from the relatively short duration of these deployments (as compared to Korea or Vietnam); if a mission lasts for several years or results in deaths of U.S. personnel, Congress will have even more reason to confront the president. Thus, congressional acquiescence to the use of force (or foreign policy in general) should not be taken for granted in the foreseeable future. Especially at the end of a major conflict, such as the Civil War and World War I, Congress has attempted to reign in, if not dominate, the executive. The only exception to this pattern (the early post-World War II era) was a result of the highly unusual ideological consensus in support of a strong executive and an active foreign policy, which can be attributed to the perceived threat of the Soviet Union and international communism. Even this consensus took time to achieve, as many GOP leaders and some Democrats hoped to retreat to a more passive role for the U.S. immediately after the war.

With the end of the cold war, partisanship and competition are likely to continue. No new, persuasive ideological justification for an active foreign policy has been advanced by leaders of either party. Both Democrats and Republicans have been unable to forge a stable bipartisan internationalist coalition to guide foreign policy, making it likely that legislative support will depend on the strength of the president's party in Congress alone. President Bush's calls for a "new world order" and President Clinton's appeal for the "enlargement" of democracy around the globe were greeted halfheartedly, by members of both parties and the public. No prominent GOP legislator has emerged to play for Clinton the role that Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg played for Harry Truman: that of a foreign policy coalition builder in the opposing party. Continued Republican control of Congress--with conservative Senator Jesse Helms at the helm of the foreign relations committee--makes such an accommodation more unlikely without a major external threat to unite the parties. Indeed, Clinton and the Republicans have loudly and repeatedly clashed over foreign aid, defense spending, Bosnia, the nomination of Anthony Lake as director of central intelligence, and other matters of foreign (and domestic) policy.

Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely that U.S. politicians can create a patriotic "litmus test" with some new ideological orientation involving the enlargement of democracy, peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, or any other goals. The contrast during the cold war, when the taunt of "soft on communism" was a powerful tool for inducing conformity among politicians (and citizens), is clear. As of yet, "anti-internationalism" has not been so easily linked to "anti-Americanism" in the eyes of the American public; in fact, the reverse may be true. Politicians on the right (Perot and Buchanan) and the left (Gephardt) have made use of America's uneasiness with foreign affairs. Changes in America's demography and economic composition may also divide the nation into opposing camps where foreign affairs are concerned: export-oriented versus import-competing sectors; services versus manufacturing versus agriculture; knowledge-based industries versus those based on manual labor; domestic regions focused on Asian, Latin American, or European trade; or the "Sun Belt" versus the "rust belt." To the extent that these divisions are reflected in parties and in Congress, the stage is clearly set for more conflict, if not a constitutional crisis.(33)

Without a compelling threat to help foster consensus in Congress, members are more likely to attempt to protect their party's president in deciding to support intervention unless some bargains can be made among the various factions. Since there probably is a lingering concern with executive efficacy in military operations, successful legislative challenges to the president in this area may require appeals to the congressional role in defense policy as a check on the president, rather than arguments that question the desirability of any particular operation. For presidents, this means co-opting the leaders of both parties by bargaining (a difficult and perhaps crude task during a crisis) or even outright deception, as presidents have realized at least since "President Polk's War" with Mexico. For opposing members of Congress, this means emphasizing the institutional role of Congress as a check on the president rather than their own partisan interests. It is reasonable to suggest, then, that foreign policy will be shaped as much by Congress as by the president in coming years, even if the legislature does not manage to achieve a consensus on which international interests to protect. Obstruction is a powerful tool of its own, as U.S. presidents have learned since the foundation of the nation.

To be sure, the president still possesses a formidable arsenal of military instruments whose use is difficult for Congress to control (and which Congress may be unaware of): quick armed attacks, naval blockades, military patrols, reconnaissance, surveillance, or covert action. He also frames the national debate over such matters and controls much of the information regarding diplomatic events. Yet, since the Vietnam War, Congress has steadily attempted to regain its standing as the chief holder of the war power in the United States as specified in the Constitution, as decided during the ratification debates in the thirteen original states, as practiced for the first 160 years of the nation's existence, and as decided by a series of legal cases until the twentieth century.(34)

Thus, in the past twenty years, we have moved from the "imperial presidency" to the "imperial Congress,(35) and finally to a rough stalemate between the two institutions today, a situation in which each side depends on the other when committing the United States to a major military operation. Ideally, the president provides energy and expediency in ordering forces overseas, acts as the highest level of the chain of command when forces are actually engaged, and serves as the focal point for U.S. interests on the world stage. Congress serves as a forum for the intensive deliberation and debate that necessarily accompany important questions of national policy and provides the political support to U.S. forces when they are sent in harm's way. This division of labor can become a major point of contention during periods of divided government. With no external threat to induce members of Congress and the president to play these cooperative roles, they will have to rely on more elusive catalysts: character and leadership.

I would like to thank Bernie Grofman and Patrick Morgan for their comments on previous drafts of this is article.


(1.) Thomas Eagleton, War and Presidential Power (New York: Liveright, 1974); W. Taylor Reveley, War Powers of the President and Congress (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1981); and David Gray Adler, "The Constitution and Presidential Warmaking: The Enduring Debate," Political Science Quarterly 103, no. 1 (1988): 1-36, are examples of this type of analysis. The most comprehensive discussion of specific constitutional debates between the two branches over the war power is Francis D. Wormuth and Edwin B. Firmage, To Chain the Dog of War. The War Power of Congress in History and Law (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1989).

(2.) One study cites over 200 cases in which armed force was used without a formal declaration of war. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, "Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-1989," (December 4, 1989).

(3.) Among others, see Graham Allison, "Making War: The President and Congress," in The Presidency Reappraised, ed. Thomas E. Cronin and Rexford G. Tugwell, 2d ed. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1977); W. Taylor Reveley III, War Powers of the President and Congress (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981); James Sundquist, The Decline and Resurgence of Congress (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1981); Marc E. Smyrl, Conflict or Codetermination (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1988); Robert A. Katzmann, "War Powers: Toward a New Accommodation," in A Question of Balance: The President, the Congress, and Foreign Policy, ed. Thomas E. Mann (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1990); and David P. Forsythe and Ryan C. Hendrickson, "U.S. Use of Force Abroad: What Law for the President?" Presidential Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (Fall 1996): 950-61.

(4.) Congressional refusal to fully implement the War Powers Resolution (WPR) is a favorite topic among those who believe executive dominance in foreign policy is permanent. For example, see Michael Rubner, "The Reagan Administration, the 1973 War Powers Resolution, and the Invasion of Grenada, "Political Science Quarterly 100, no. 4 (1985): 636-41; Robert Zutz, "The Recapture of the S.S. Mayaguez: Failure of the Consultation Clause of the War Powers Resolution," International Law and Politics 8, no. 3 (1976): 457-78; Eileen Burgin, "Congress, the War Powers Resolution, and the Invasion of Panama," Polity 25, no. 2 (1992): 217-42; James Nathan, "Salvaging the War Powers Resolution," Presidential Studies Quarterly 23, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 235-68; and Katzmann, "War Powers."

(5.) Christopher A. Ford, "War Powers as We Live Them: Congressional-Executive Bargaining under the Shadow of the War Powers Resolution," Journal of Law and Politics 11, no. 4 (1995): 609-708.

(6.) On "credible commitments," see Robert D. Putnam, "Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games," International Organization 42, no. 3 (Summer 1988): 429-60; Peter B. Evans, Harold K. Jacobson, and Robert D. Putnam, eds., Double-Edged Diplomacy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); and Peter F. Cowhey, "Domestic Institutions and the Credibility of International Commitments: Japan and the United States," International Organization 47, no. 2 (1993): 299-326.

(7.) John Mueller, War, Presidents, and Public Opinion (New York: John Wiley, 1973); John R. Lee, "Rallying 'Round the Flag," Presidential Studies Quarterly 7, no. 2 (1977): 252-56; Richard J. Stoll, "The Sound of the Guns: Is There a Congressional Rally Effect after U.S. Military Action?" American Politics Quarterly 15, no. 2 (1987): 223-37; Michael MacKuen, "Political Drama, Economic Conditions, and the Dynamics of Presidential Popularity," American Journal of Political Science 27, no. 2 (1983): 165-92; and Bradley Lian and John R. Oneal, "Presidents, the Use of Force, and Public Opinion," Journal of Conflict Resolution 37, no. 3 (1993): 277-300.

(8.) Thomas M. Franck, "Courts and Foreign Policy," Foreign Policy 107 (Summer 1991): 66-86.

(9.) Classic studies include Aage R. Clausen, How Congressmen Decide: A Policy Focus (New York: St. Martin's, 1973); Morris Fiorina, Representatives, Roll Calls, and Constituencies (Lexington, KY: D. C. Heath, 1974); David Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974). For an updated analysis, see Martha Liebler Gibson, "Managing Conflict: The Role of the Legislative Veto in American Foreign Policy," Polity 26, no. 3 (1994): 441-72.

(10.) Robert Bernstein and William Anthony, "The ABM Issue in the Senate, 1968-1970: The Importance of Ideology," American Political Science Review 68, no. 4 (1974): 1198-1206; James McCormick and Michael Black, "Ideology and Voting on the Panama Canal Treaties," Legislative Studies Quarterly 8, no. 1 (1983): 45-63; James M. McCormick, "Congressional Voting on the Nuclear Freeze Resolutions," American Politics Quarterly 13, no. 1 (1985): 122-36; Richard Fleischer, "Economic Benefit, Ideology, and Senate Voting on the B-1 Bomber," American Politics Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1985): 200-211; and Eileen Burgin, "Representatives' Decisions on Participation in Foreign Policy Issues," Legislative Studies Quarterly 16, no. 4 (1991): 521-46.

(11.) For example, see Edward J. Laurance, "The Changing Role of Congress in Defense Policy-Making," Journal of Conflict Resolution 20, no. 3 (1976): 213-53; Bruce A. Ray, "Defense Department Spending and `Hawkish' Voting in the House of Representatives," Western Political Quarterly 34, no. 3 (1981): 438-46; James M. Lindsay, "Congress and Defense Policy: 1961 to 1986," Armed Forces & Society 13, no. 3 (1987): 371-401; and Barry Rundquist, Jeong-Hwa Lee, and Jungho Rhee, "The Distributive Politics of Cold War Defense Spending: Some State Level Evidence, "Legislative Studies Quarterly 21, no. 2 (1996): 265-81.

(12.) James Meernik, "Congress, the President, and the Commitment of the U.S. Military," Legislative Studies Quarterly 20, no. 3 (1995): 377-92.

(13.) Gibson, "Managing Conflict," p. 470.

(14.) This definition is from Barry M. Blechman and Stephen S. Kaplan, Force Without War. U.S. Armed Forces as a Political Instrument (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1978), pp. 12-16; cited in Stoll, "The Sound of the Guns," p. 229.

(15.) Minor uses of force since the Vietnam War include Cyprus (1975), Lebanon (1976), Korea (1976), Zaire (1978), Iran (1980), Libya (1981), Sinai (1982), Egypt (1983), Chad (1983). Egypt (1985), Bolivia (1986). Libya (1986), and the Philippines (1989). Cited in Burgin, "Congress, the War Powers Resolution, and the Invasion of Panama." House measures were passed to invoke the WPR in response to the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and to praise the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, but these deployments were quick and did not reflect a higher level of disagreement than the measures considered below.

(16.) On these distinctions between types of intervention, see Richard J. Stoll, "The Guns of November: Presidential Re-elections and the Use of Force, 1947-1982," Journal of Conflict Resolution 28, no. 3 (June 1984): 231-46.

(17.) The measure regarding Central America is H.R. 2969, "Department of Defense Authorization." Edward J. Markey (D-MA) amendment to bar the deployment of U.S. combat troops to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala or Costa Rica unless authorized by joint resolution, intended to evacuate U.S. citizens or to respond to a clear and present danger of military attack on the United States. Rejected 165-259: Republicans 9-155; Democrats 156-104 (northern Democrats 141-30, southern Democrats 15-74), July 26, 1983. "South" is defined as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. This summary and those that follow are taken verbatim from Congressional Quarterly's Washington Alert on-line database service, various years.

(18.) The measure regarding Lebanon is HJRes364, "Multinational Force in Lebanon," a joint resolution to provide statutory authorization under the WPR for continued U.S. participation in the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon for up to eighteen months after the enactment of the resolution. Passed 270-161: Republicans 140-27; Democrats 130-134 (northern Democrats 70-105, southern Democrats 60-29), September 28, 1983.

(19.) These deployments are briefly described in Cecil V. Crabb, Jr. and Pat M. Holt, Invitation to Struggle: Congress, the President, and Foreign Policy (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1992), pp. 146-52.

(20.) The measure regarding the Kuwaiti tanker reflagging was H.R. 2342, "Coast Guard Authorization--Reflagging Kuwaiti Ships." Mike Lowry (D-WA) amendment to delay until ninety days after enactment the registration under U.S. ownership of any ships owned by Kuwait. Adopted 222-184: Republicans 22-146; Democrats 200-38 (northern Democrats 149-12, southern Democrats 51-26), July 8, 1987.

(21.) The measure regarding the Persian Gulf War was HJRes77, "Use of Force Against Iraq." Passage of the joint resolution to authorize the use of military force if Iraq has not withdrawn from Kuwait and complied with United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions by January 15. The resolution authorizes the use of force and the expenditure of funds under the War Powers Act and requires the president to report to Congress every 60 days on the efforts to obtain Iraqi compliance with the UN resolutions. Passed 250-183: Republicans 164-3; Independent 0-1; Democrats 86-179 (northern Democrats 33-147, southern Democrats 53-32), January 12, 1991.

(22.) The measure regarding Somalia was HConRes170, "Somalia Troop Removal--March 31 Deadline." Lee Hamilton (D-IN) substitute amendment to change the deadline for the removal of U.S. troops in Somalia back to March 31, 1994, from the January 31, 1994, date substituted by the Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) amendment. Adopted 226-201: Republicans 2-170; Independent, 0-1; Democrats 224-30 (northern Democrats 150-21, southern Democrats 74-9), November 9, 1993.

(23.) The measure regarding Haiti was HJRes416, "U.S. Troops in Haiti--Immediate Withdrawal." Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) substitute amendment to express the sense of Congress that the president should not have ordered U.S. troops to occupy Haiti and that the president should immediately commence "the safe and orderly withdrawal" of all U.S. forces from Haiti. The substitute also would provide for consideration of a joint resolution to be introduced January 3, 1995, that if enacted would prohibit the continued use of U.S troops in Haiti within thirty days. Rejected in the Committee of the Whole 205-225: Republicans 173-1; Independent 0-1; Democrats 32-223 (northern Democrats 21-153, southern Democrats 11-70), October 6, 1994.

(24.) Robert Doman (R-CA) would have been a member of this sample; however, he was not in office from 1983 to 1985 (he quit to run for the Senate) and thus missed two votes. Hence, I did not include him in the study.

(25.) The "two presidencies" debate is covered in Aaron Wildavsky, "The Two Presidencies," Trans-Action 4, no. 4 (1966): 7-14; Lee Sigelman, "A Reassessment of the `Two Presidencies' Thesis," Journal of Politics 41, no. 4 (1979): 1195-206; George Edwards, "The Two Presidencies: A Reevaluation," American Politics Quarterly 14, no. 3 (1986): 247-63; Richard Fleisher and Jon R. Bond, "Are There Two Presidencies? Yes, But Only for Republicans," Journal of Politics 50, no. 3 (1988): 747-67; Stephen A. Shull, ed., The Two Presidencies: A Quarter-Century Reassessment (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1991); and Karen Toombs Parsons, "Exploring the `Two Presidencies' Phenomenon: New Evidence from the Truman Administration," Presidential Studies Quarterly 24, no. 3 (Summer 1994): 495-514.

(26.) Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 49, no. 1 January 5, 1991): 7.

(27.) Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 49, no. 2 January 12, 1991): 66.

(28.) U.S. News staff, Triumph without Victory: The History of the Persian Gulf War (Washington, DC: U.S. News, 1993), p. 206; and Cecil V. Crabb and Kevin V. Mulcahy, "George Bush's Management Style and Operation Desert Storm," Presidential Studies Quarterly 25, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 261-63. Also see the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 49, no. 2 January 12, 1991): 67.

(29.) Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report 49, no. 2 January 12, 1991): 65.

(30.) The key Bosnia measure was H.R. 2606, "Prevention of deployment of U.S. troops to Bosnia," Joel Hefley (R-CO) measure to prohibit the use of funds appropriated to the Department of Defense from being used for the deployment on the ground of armed forces in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of any peacekeeping operation, or as part of any implementation force, unless funds for such deployment are specifically appropriated by law. Passed by the Committee of the Whole 243-171: Republicans 214-12; Democrats 28-159 (northern Democrats 19-110, southern Democrats 9-49), November 17,1995.

(31.) Michael Ross, "House Defeats GOP Effort to Kill War Powers Act," Los Angeles Times June 8,1995, p. A4.

(32.) Ole R. Holsti and James M. Rosenau, "Vietnam, Consensus, and the Belief Systems of American Leaders," World Politics 32, no. 1 (1979): 1-56; Eugene R. Wittkopf and James R. McCormick, "The Cold War Consensus: Did It Exist?" Polity 22, no. 4 (1990): 227-53; and James R. McCormick and Eugene R. Wittkopf, "Bipartisanship, Partisanship, and Ideology in Congressional-Executive Foreign Policy Relations, 1947-1988," Journal of Politics 52, no. 4 (1990): 1077-1100.

(33.) For a persuasive argument that sectionalism will make it difficult to forge a national consensus on American foreign policy after the cold war, see Peter Trubowitz, "Sectionalism and American Foreign Policy: The Political Geography of Consensus and Conflict," International Studies Quarterly 36, no. 2 (1992): 173-90.

(34.) The chief culprit here is United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (299 U.S. 304, 320 [1936]), a case "in which the Supreme Court cited approvingly the notion that `the president is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.'" Presidents since then have relied on Curtiss-Wright to usurp congressional authority on matters of foreign affairs, military-related and otherwise, and legal scholars have repeatedly questioned this interpretation. Such "quasi-treaties" do not require approval of the Senate. See the discussions in Wormuth and Firmage, To Chain the Dog of War, pp. 184-87 and pp. 196-97; and Katzmann, "War Powers," p. 39.

(35.) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973); Gordon S. Jones and John A. Marini, eds., The Imperial Congress: Crisis in the Separation of Powers (Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation and Claremont, CA: Claremont Institute, 1988); and Thomas M. Franck and Edward Weisband, Foreign Policy by Congress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).
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Title Annotation:Wheeling and Dealing in the White House
Author:Smith, Michael E.
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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