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Foreign Policy Roles of The President and The Congress Essay

According to the United States Constitution, the making of foreign policy is shared by both the President and the Congress. They are said to be working at a cross-purposes in foreign policy. Each plays important roles that are different but often overlap. It is quite inevitable to have disagreements between these executive and legislative branches. But these foreign policy disputes are actually sometimes constructive or not necessarily bad.

Every so often, this can contribute to useful improvements to foreign policies. Significantly, the two branches possess ongoing opportunities in making and altering foreign policies, and the interactions between them continue indefinitely throughout the life of a policy. However, when the foreign policy is poorly served, the relationship between the executive and legislative branches becomes hostile and unpleasant.

Having the accountability for check and balance between these government branches, the Congress should critic the administration of the President in the light that it is seeking better partnership with the administration in view of better governance of the country and, in this specific case, progress in the formulation of America foreign policy. The President usually responds to current events in foreign countries and thus initiates U. S. policy.

Sometimes, the executive branch wants to begin a foreign policy program that requires legislation, and accordingly proposes legislation to Congress, thereby needing approval from the latter in this situation. Also, the power of negotiation gives the executive branch a dominant role in making foreign policy through international agreements, but the President must take into account congressional opinion because these agreements often require the approval of the Senate or the Congress.

The latter also influence agreements by placing in legislation instructions and views concerning international agreements, indicating what kind of agreement would be acceptable. The President also establishes US foreign policy through unilateral statements or joint statements with other governments. The executive branch also establishes foreign policy through legislation, continues to shape policy as it interprets and applies the various provisions of law. Occasionally, the President undertakes a sudden foreign policy action before Congress is fully informed about it.

The Congress then usually supports the President, but sometimes it tries to halt or reverse the policy or pass legislation to restrain the President from similar actions in the future. The Congress introduces many resolutions stating the sense of the House on foreign policy, and many of these resolutions are adopted. It sometimes initiates a foreign policy by using legislation to establish a new program, set objectives and guidelines, authorize and direct the executive branch to undertake specified activities, and by earmarking appropriations used in a specified way.

At times, the Congress pressures the executive branch into a new direction in foreign policy by threatening to pass legislation, even though the legislation is not enacted, or by continuing to exhort a policy through many means. Providing advice to the executive branch in informal contacts is also a means of the Congress to shape foreign policy. Regular oversight of executive branch implementation of foreign policy helps the Congress as well in shaping these policies (Grimmet).

The international agreements regardless of their title, designation or form whose entry into force with respect to the United States takes place only after two thirds of the US Senate has given its advice and consent under Article II, section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution, are treaties. On the other hand, international agreements brought into force with respect to the United States on a constitutional basis other than with the advice and consent of the Senate are international agreements other than treaties, and are often referred to as executive agreements.

Treaties require the consent of the Senate. The Senate, therefore, may approve, reject or revise a treaty. The Senate approves most of the treaties but some are also rejected. One significant example is the Treaty of Versailles. Executive agreements are far more common than treaties. They do not require the consent of the Senate, though Congress may be notified shortly after an agreement is reached. Unlike treaties, these agreements do not supersede existing statues.

Examples are the Yalta and Potsdam agreements and the Vietnam Peace agreement. In summary, the President or the executive branch can make foreign policy through responses to foreign events, proposals for legislation, negotiation of international agreements, policy statements, policy implementation and independent action. Moreover, the Congress can make foreign policy through resolutions and policy statements, legislative directives, legislative pressure, legislative restrictions / funding denials, informal advice, and congressional oversight.

The Congress maintains a decisive voice in either supporting the President’s approach or changing it. Changing policies may prove to be quite complex in the short term. In most cases though, Congress agrees with the President, but often makes significant modifications in the process of approving them. It is then important to note that the support or approval of both the legislative and executive branch is required for an effective and well-founded U. S. foreign policy.

Works Cited

Grimmett, Richard F. Foreign Policy Roles of the President and Congress. Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division. US Department of State. 1999, June 1. <http://fpc.state.gov/fpc/6172.htm>.


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