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President Reagan as Commander in Chief

How did President Reagan justify his constitutional authority to invade Grenada?

How did President Reagan justify his constitutional authority to invade Grenada? Do you think the president had the authority to commit troops without congressional approval? Explain why or why not.

One short military engagement illustrates Ronald Reagan as commander in chief. President Reagan’s administration was concerned about Soviet and Cuban influence in Central America and the Caribbean. On the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada, a pro-Soviet communist government with close ties to communist Cuba seized power in 1979 and was proceeding with construction of a large airfield. President Reagan believed it would be used by the Soviets and Cuba to supply communist groups in Central America.

In October 1983, the government of Grenada was overthrown and the island’s military assumed control. In response, President Reagan ordered American troops to invade. Several other Caribbean nations also sent troops. The invasion, conducted as a rescue mission, ensured the safety of about a thousand Americans on the island.

The mission achieved success quickly. The Americans on the island were evacuated to the United States, procommunist forces—largely Cuban troops—were defeated, and a new civilian government was formed. Even so, the invasion raised some of the same questions regarding executive authority that had been raised during the Vietnam War a decade earlier with previous presidents.

The constitutional division of war powers between the president and Congress has been debated since the Constitutional Convention. History provides us with many examples of presidents committing troops without either a Declaration of War or prior congressional approval. But the War Powers Resolution of 1973 required presidents to consult with Congress before committing troops, except in cases of serious and immediate threats. In the case of Grenada, Ronald Reagan’s administration informed some congressional leaders but did not seek actual approval or advice before the invasion.

President Reagan’s position was that as commander in chief he had an obligation to ensure national security and protect the interests of the country and its citizens. As for the War Powers Resolution, President Reagan reported to Congress, but only consistent with, not under the War Powers Resolution. He stated that he was acting under his constitutional authority to swiftly commit troops. Subsequent presidents have also used this distinction when reporting to Congress concerning troop deployment and have not sought formal consultation with Congress before committing troops.

The invasion of Grenada is often cited as an example of President Reagan’s decisiveness and action against the expansion of communism. Although there was some controversy over this exercise of presidential power, the invasion denied communism another foothold in the Caribbean and restored Grenada’s parliamentary government, which continues to hold free elections. The Grenada invasion is also regarded as a return to the vigorous exercise of war powers by the president.

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