Powers and Constraints of the Modern President

Powers and Constraints of the Modern President



The intention of this research is to offer insight on the conduct in which the presentation of George W. Bush following the 9/11terrorist hit on the World Trade Center illustrates both the influence and the constraints upon the contemporary president. This will be done through an in-depth examination of the legitimate authority of the president as well as the available constraints from the Congress, media, as well as the public in general. Through showing how some events by the executive challenges their constitutional mandate, this research seeks to highlight adoption of new strategies after the atrocities of 9/11 that bestows the president authority over public policies in cases of national security issues. This paper seeks to delineate the concept that the power of the contemporary president is subjective to individual aspiration instead of the wishes of individuals who elected him, along with the professed height or stage of a national security issue.



On 9/11 the year 2001, America was attacked by terrorists who forcefully took control of four airplanes on flight. The targeted areas were the World Trade Center twin towers in New York. Subsequently, the pentagon was also attacked. This incident resulted to the death close to three thousand people from all walks of life. The US government under the leadership of George W. Bush reacted by attacking Afghanistan, the home ground of al Qaeda terrorist group who were responsible for these atrocities. Soon after, an attack was launched on Iraq as it was believed to be hiding weapons of mass destruction that threatened the life of many people across the world.

Many scholars and writers have posited that George W. Bush’s term was marred by misuse of authority. Pfiffner (2010) brings to light the notion that Bush demoralized and challenged the statute of regulations as well as the distribution of power as stipulated in the constitution. He further states that Bush, together with his vice president Cheney believed that executive authority had been disproportionately and overly controlled. Therefore, they decided that by the point they left power the executive office would be having more legal authority regarding public policy. Bush is criticized by many individuals to have enthused to defend and guard his interests, right, and choices. It is public knowledge that the radical activities that happened on 9/11 offered President Bush with a chance to function on the foundation of individual and liberal understanding of executive authority. The happenings of 9/11 left the nation shocked and disturbed hence both the legislature and the public were not all set to impose and encourage constraints against the president. The most significant mistake committed by Bush is that he shoved the reasonable and realistic obligations or of the president past the legal limits and constraints.

The manner in which United States of America countered the attacks by the al Qaeda in the wake of 11th September 2001 as well as the commencement of the war on terrorism brings an insight into the powers and limitations that are bequeathed on the President. According to Ducat (2009), studies done in precedent elucidates the actuality that attainment, achievement, and consolidation of authority or command by those in political office especially the President is the most legitimate derivative of being in war. Results from these historical studies also show that since the commencement of the First World War, war creates autocrats. A scholar by the name Edward S. Corwin once cautioned that a country take ages to go back to a diplomatic rule of law once a wage has been started. This notion has been confirmed by George W. Bush in his term as leader particularly subsequent the 9/11 incident on terror. His presidential aspiration and the threat of terrorism led to the materialization of his regal executive power.


The 9/11 incident altered the worldwide milieu that made the executive a stronger office and ultimately reinforced its authority. The executive has enjoyed a number of significant legal authorities since time immemorial. Owing to the truth that these constitutional liberties were not made comprehensible in the constitution, the commencement or inauguration of executive supremacy initially started in overseas strategies and downplayed towards the executive’s assertion of war to national enemies. To comprehend the powers and limitations of the modern president, it is imperative to appreciate the accounts of several former American presidents who waged war against other nations. During the era of Abraham Lincoln, America resulted to military measures against straightforwardly notorious opponents and this occurred on physically restricted front lines on the basis of conformist provisions of commitment. These military actions were halted without more ado after the capture of the enemies’ resources or when the enemy admitted defeat. However, the current war on terrorism that was started by President George W. Bush after the September 9th 2001 attacks was set apart by new battle qualities (Morris, 2010).

A president can never declare that he is the solitary determiner of national strategies and other plans of action founded on the truth that lawful or legal dealings between the congress and the presidency are plainly and evidently defined by specific provisions. In other words, both the congress and the presidency share authority for national plans of action. Subsequently, the presidents’ authority is supposed to be in the form of convincing and influencing strategy instead of having control and authority over public policy. It is apparent George Bush proclaimed and publicized the notion that he was the singular as well as exclusive architect of choices and resolutions within his government. This undoubtedly put him at loggerheads with the conventional notion that had already been established (Morris, 2010). George Bush administration led to the establishment of a lasting situation where the president benefits from confidentiality of reports of intelligence as well as the fact that he can now take action on public policy independently.

According to Greenstein (2005), “Bush made a forceful presentation to Congress in which he gave the regime in Afghanistan an ultimatum to turn the al Qaeda leadership over to the United States and close down its terrorist camps” (pg. 227). Soon after, the Afghan government made it public that it would not surrender. This forced Bush’s government jointly with their allies in Britain to declare war on Afghanistan.

The fundamental nature of Bush’s ideas of presidency brought with it a fresh model in contravention with the American Constitution. This model is distinguished by the notion that the president is the Commander-in-Chief hence has power and right to ignore practically each and every subsequent and acknowledged authorized or lawful restrictions for the safety of the American people. In his book, Ducat (2009) posits that, “The view that the President had inherent power to protest the nation was premised on the belief that a strong national security and defense was the first priority and that without a string defense there is no much expectations or hope of having other freedoms” (pg. 250). The war against terrorism by the United States of America was declared and affirmed as being different from the conventional wars hence the deterrence of potential terrorism and national security required a drastic re-characterization of the military situation.

There are a number of independent events and proceedings undertake by George W. Bush after the 9/11 incident that demonstrate the powers and constraints of the modern president. It is evident in some of Bush’s undertakings that the congress had no power to take action. Bush allowed the incarceration of those captured in combat in regard to war on terror mainly in Middle East countries. These individuals were imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. These actions by Bush are held up by the President’s Article II of authority in the constitution. Bush protected the interests of his security officers when he openly shielded them from claims of tormenting and persecuting war prisoners. He brought to public attention that the United States required to incorporate forceful methods of questioning anybody withholding crucial information on terrorism (Healy, 2009).

It is evident from available sources that after the happenings of the 9/11, in-house and peripheral forces inside the Bush government bickered that the head of state has the power to commence and order precautionary and defensive wars. They also posited that the head of state has the authority to organize and facilitate torture whether acting in disregard of international agreements or not, and also he has the authority to take into custody anybody believed to be or aiding terrorist activities and incarcerate them devoid of lawful procedures. He also has right to employ measures to allow spying within the nation without heeding the legislative legitimate structures as required by the congress (Healy, 2009).

Following the 9/11 incident, the Bush regime locked up a lot of individuals believed to be either associates of the Taliban or individuals abetting terrorist activities. Bush and his government insisted that these captives of war had no civil privileges that they could petition the verdict of the President to imprison them. This shows that the president or executive had authority and control over the judicial system in subjects of national security. According to the Bush government, the judiciary had no authority to make a verdict over the choice of the president to detain the prisoners of war (Ashbee, 2004). In doing so, Bush was affirming executive power that many executive institutions had in earlier times been dispossessed of. In instances where the captives of war tried to petition, the executive realm reacted by asserting that the executive was the only institution that had the authority to decide the fate of terrorists and other prisoners of war.


According to Barilleaux and Kelley (2010), “Congress has abdicated considerable responsibility for war making and that the president has claimed more power. But congress still retains significant powers to restrain the executive, although Congress’s willingness to exercise those restraints is conditioned by the partisan composition. Political cover for the President is provided by his political allies in Congress” (pg. 195). Consequently, if the head of state exercises complete power on decision-making within the central government, no more than the judicial system can limit or constrict his authority. This can only be done via the elucidation and analysis of the legal precincts of administrative control. Additional constraints may occur through impeachment or failure to be re-elected to office. Based on reality that the power of impeachment lies with the congress and the president has complete political cover within the congress, the decision of constraining presidency lies in the judicial realm.

It is important to illustrate the fact that the executive is controlled in a number of ways past the conventional established methods of control. These controls come together to develop a valuable and effectual structure of coordination responsible for inspecting and scrutinizing executive powers. Some of the modern presidents hungry for war ignore and discount the conventional confinements of executive control hence endeavor to operate independently. However, they encounter novel and fresh controls by the internally antagonistic and insistent media as well as from the observant and computer savvy individuals in the public domain. These, together with the justification and support for war comes together to confine and limit the authority and influence of the president. Bolton (2008) puts forward the fact that constraining or controlling the influence of the president either through Congress, media, or the public domain influence manipulates the results of plans of action put into practice by the president. Therefore, the atrocities of 9/11 put in motion the development of reform or restructuring organizations and systems of government that are usually mandated to put into practice strategies aimed at ensuring national security.


In winding up, the Bush government is condemned by many individuals for stimulating the protection and fortification of its interests, right, and choices. It is widely known that the terrorist activities that happened on 9/11 gave Bush with a prospect to function on the foundation of personality and liberal considerations in regard to executive authority. The happenings of 9/11 left the nation shaken and distressed hence both the Congress and the public were not prepared to inflict and hearten constraints in opposition to the president. George Bush declared and exposed the concept that he was the draftsman of alternative and decision within his administration. This undeniably put him at loggerheads with the conformist view that had previously been recognized. George Bush contributed to the establishment of a permanent state of affairs where the president benefits from discretion of intelligence reports as well as the fact that he can now take action on public policy independently. The president is the Commander-in-Chief and for this reason has authority and right to disregard basically each and every previously approved, endorsed or legitimate constraint for the safety of the American people (Pfiffner, 2010). In his paperback, Ducat (2009) argues that the President has intrinsic control over policies aimed at protecting national interests. Therefore, a tough public safety policy is the primary concern of the president hence in absence of a strong defense there is no much expectations or hope of having other freedoms.

The head president has the authority to instigate and organize defensive wars in favor of national security. He also has the authority to aid and assist persecution of terrorist and other prisoners of war even if it is in contravention of international agreements, and also he has the power or the right to take into custody anybody believed to be or aiding terrorist activities and incarcerate them devoid of lawful procedures. He also has authority to employ measures to allow undercover and intelligence work within the nation in contravention of the legislative structures as required by the congress. Modern presidents are ambitious hence ignore and discount the conventional confinements of executive control and endeavor to operate independently. However, they bump into distinctive constraints from the hostile and adamant media as well as from the perceptive and learned individuals in the public domain. These, jointly with the validation and sustainace of war come together to confine and limit the power of the president. Further constraints may happen through impeachment or failure to be re-elected to office (Healy, 2009). Based on realism that the authority to impeachment a president lies solely with the congress and the president has complete political cover within the congress, the decision of constraining presidency lies in the judicial realm.


Ashbee, E. (2004). US Politics Today: Second Edition. New York, USA: Manchester University   Press.

Barilleaux, R. J., & Kelly, C. s. (2010). The Unitary Executive and Modern Presidency. Texas,      USA: Texas A & M University Press.

Bolton, K. M. (2008). U.S National Security and Foreign Policymaking After 9/11: Present at       the Re-Creation. Maryland, USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Ducat, C. R. (2009). Constitutional Interpretation: Powers of Government, Volume I. Boston,       USA: Cengage Learning.

Greenstein, F. I. (2005). Presidents, Their Styles and their Leadership. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.

Healy, G. (2009). The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive            Power. Washington, DC: Cato Institute.

Morris, I. L. (2010). The American Presidency: An Analytical Approach. New York, USA:           Cambridge University Press.

Pfiffner, J. P. (2010). The Modern Presidency. Boston, USA: Cengage Learning.




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