In the United States, Congress declares war, and such restrictions can disadvantage the U.S. in the realm of foreign policy, but some say that some presidents have gone too far in the past.
The major questions in foreign policy remain: how great are the president’s powers, what role should Congress play, and how important are the public and interest groups?
The decision to go to war, the signing of alliances with European nations, and the negotiation of nuclear test ban treaties are examples of foreign policy that fall under majoritarian politics.
The president is usually the powerful figure supported by the public.
Foreign policy decisions, such as the adjustment of tariff rates, could reflect interest group politics too.
Raising the tariff on Japanese-produced steel helps American steel makers but hurts those that used to purchase Japanese steel.
Examples in client politics can occur when, say, America provides aid to U.S. corporations doing business abroad; another example is the U.S. involvement in Israel, since lots of Jews favor it.
In client or interest group politics, Congress plays a much larger role, and it can also be the forum where clashing opinions are expressed and criticism is laced.
Congress often seeks to expand it foreign policy power during times of controversy, especially if it is the president’s fault!
I.The Constitutional and Legal Context
The president is commander in chief of the armed forces, appoints ambassadors, and negotiates treaties, but Congress authorizes and appropriates money for armed forces, approves ambassadors, and ratifies treaties; thus, foreign policy can become very sticky.
Yet, most people think that the president is in charge of foreign affairs, and in many cases, he has asserted the right to send troops abroad for a war, plus, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency are almost totally presidential agencies.
The president has signed over 7000 executive agreements with other countries that didn’t require Congressional ratification, as opposed to the 1000 treaties that Congress has passed.
The president tends to get more Congressional approval on foreign matters than domestic matters.
Here are examples of presidents who have been very strong in foreign policy matters:
1801: Thomas Jefferson sends the navy to deal w/ the Barbary pirates.
1845: James K. Polk sends troops into Mexico to defend newly-acquired Texas.
1861: Abraham Lincoln blockaded Southern ports and declared martial law.
1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt sent 50 destroyers to Britain to use against Germany, even though the U.S. was technically at peace.
1950: Harry S. Truman sent troops to South Korea to repulse North Korea.
1960s: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson send troops to Vietnam w/o declaring war.
1989-90: George Bush sends troops to depose Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and into Saudi Arabia to defend Kuwait against invading Iraq.
Leaders of other Democratic nations often have greater freedom than the president.
One’s opinion of a president being too weak or strong also depends on one’s support of his policies.
BTW, states have very little say in foreign policies; most of that is up to the president and Congress.
The Supreme Court has also often supported the president when he has made drastic measures during crises, such as when Lincoln acted questionably during the Civil War, when F.D.R. interned the Japanese during WWII, and when J.F.K. and L.B.J. sent troops to Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Congress does have certain checks on the president, but they’re political, not Constitutional:
Limitations on the president’s ability to give military or economic aid to other countries.
The War Powers Act, which, when passed in 1973, said that a president must report to Congress within 48 hours the sending of troops into hostilities, that Congress must approve of a continuation of hostility within 60 days after troops are sent and that the president must withdraw troops if Congress doesn’t continue to allow troops being placed there, and that Congress can passed an unvetoable concurrent resolution directing the removing of U.S. troops that the president MUST obey.
Part of this act was struck down when the Supreme Court banned the legislative veto, but other parts have not been tested in court, and no president has acknowledged the Constitutionality of this act.
Usually, though, Congress supports the president during times of war or during quick attacks.
The House and Senate Intelligence Committees must be kept known of all covert activities.
II.The Machinery of Foreign Policy
Foreign policy used to be almost completely taken care of by the Secretary of State, but ever since World War II, the president and numerous agencies have taken larger roles in directing it.
The Defense Department, CIA, and Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor have mission abroad, and today, foreign policy is simply too big of a job for one person to handle.
The president thus hires a staff (part of the National Security Council) to coordinate foreign policy for him and give him balanced accounts of matters.
Controversial matters will almost always become public, though.
Each side of a group that participates in foreign policy often roots for itself and is most optimistic when it can run things.
Before WWII, most people opposed U.S. involvement in international affairs, but afterwards, the public saw how important it was for the U.S. to take the reigns of foreign policy.
This occurred during WWII because the war was practically unopposed, was very successful, had avenged an attack on U.S. soil, and had put the U.S. at the top of the world powers.
Before, most people, Congress included, supported a pacifist, isolationist, non-interventionist policy, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed all of that, resulting in near-universal support for the war and active involvement in post-war world affairs (i.e. United Nations).
This persisted until the horror of the Vietnam War quelled that former enthusiasm.
The public usually seems to support the president more after major foreign policy events; even after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, when J.F.K. accepted responsibility for the mistakes, his popularity rose!
However, although a president receives support just after a major international incident, if that incident drags on and stalemates, he will lose support (i.e. Vietnam), so presidents do not always eagerly welcome major international events to approach them.
Interestingly, while the public thinks more bitterly about Vietnam than about Korea, public opinion was the same for both; it was the elite’s opinion that okayed Korea but not Vietnam.
Basically, for presidents, either fight popular, successful battles or engage in short ones.
The general public is usually less informed and will tend to support successful campaigns and not support failing efforts.
The political elite, however, is more volatile and moralistic (in Vietnam, while average citizens didn’t like the U.S. being so defensive, the elite didn’t like the U.S. being so offensive).
The leaders have a more liberal and internationalist outlook than the general public, which favors protecting local interest and American citizens.
The political elite consists of those people with administrative positions in the foreign policy field and the members and staffs of the key congressional committees concerned with foreign affairs and various private organizations that help shape elite opinion, as well as the influential columnists and editorial writers of the national press.
The beliefs of such elites can be called worldviews, comprehensive mental pictures of the major issues facing the United States today.
One of the most influential worldviews was written by George F. Kennan and basically led to the massive arms race against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
A predominant worldview is important because it prevails over other views.
There have been three general worldviews since the 1920s: isolationism, which referred to the U.S.’s ignorance of world affairs as a result of its unhappy experiences during World War I; antiappeasement (also called containment) which was the result of World War II, after Adolf Hitler nearly took over Europe after being repeatedly appeased, and basically killed isolationism (especially the Pearl Harbor bombing); and disengagement, which resulted from the bad Vietnam experience and the new younger political elite that was rising up and desired a less active involvement in world affairs.
Vietnam continues to color discussions of foreign policy, and every active step into international hostilities “could turn into another Vietnam,” critics say.
V.The Beginning of a New Era
After the Soviet Union fell, a new era began, but as the U.S.S.R. was breaking up, antiappeasement folks were saying that the Soviet Union was still dangerous, since it had lost member states as a result of economic conditions, not because of philosophical changes, while disengagement-favoring elites held that since Europe was now safe from attack, U.S. forces could be reduced, and Moscow WAS changing.
After Russian president Boris Yeltsin successfully broke up a coup that had captured Mikhail Gorbachev, he became a hero, felled the Soviet Union, and ultimately turned Russia completely into a democratic state.
Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, foreign policy may have become harder, since before, it was basically anti-Soviet Union, and today, there are threats that there may be more coups in Russia that can reclaim power and turn Russia Communist again; that fighting within and among the remnants of the Soviet empire (i.e. Bosnia and Serbia) could draw other countries in; that ancient antagonism in the Middle East could explode; that nuclear weapons can explode; and that China could rise to be a threat.
How the U.S. reacts to such threats depends on the political elite, some of which say that the U.S. shouldn’t be the “world’s policeman,” others of which say the U.S. is the only power strong enough to prevent the rise of regional aggressors.
The United Nations has played a large role in settling conflicts among member nations, and now that it is no longer dominated by a conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, it can act more certainly without appearing to break its neutrality.
U.N. missions (like the one in Kuwait) have become more diverse and unopposed by the Big Five, and U.N. Peacekeeping Missions have also become more numerous.
Some people want the U.S. to work through the U.N. while others don’t want U.S. policy controlled by other nations.
Liberals like the U.S. to use the U.N.; conservatives favor acting w/o U.N. authority or controls.