Foreign policy is important to any country as it dictates how it will relate with other country in pursuit of its national interest; socially, economically politically and militarily. The Political system in the United States is, for the president and congress, an invitation to struggle for the privilege of directing foreign policy. This is due to the fact that, the political system is an open one with a constitution that that bestows powers to the United States institutions: both the presidency and congress, as far as foreign policy direction is concerned.
The United States Constitution is not explicit about foreign policy. Nevertheless its provisions make clear who is in charge of United States official relations with the rest of the world. Concerning the executive branch, Article II (1) of US constitution establishes the president as the commander in chief of the armed forces giving him/her immense power over how America interacts with the rest of the world. Article II (2) says that the president has the power to make treaties with other countries (with the consent of the senate).
He also has the power appoint US ambassadors to other countries, Keith Porter (2010 ¶ 2).
On the other hand, the constitution confers power on the congress which has a bearing on the United States foreign policy especially on the economic realm. Article 1(11) bestows on the congress the power to declare war. However there has always been a conflict between the provision and president constitutional task as commander in chief of the armed forces. The War Power Act of 1973 was meant to clarify how the president could carry out military action but presidents have always it ignored claiming that it’s unconstitutional.
The congress too has the power of the purse meaning that ideally, the congress is supposed to approve any budget allocation as far as foreign missions are concerned. Keith Porter (2010 ¶ 3).
The constitution bestows the congress with legislative powers. At the same time, it confers on the presidents and congress with veto power and power to override the veto respectively. The congress can , by having a 2/3 majority vote in the House of Representatives and Senate, can override presidential veto and as a result enact a bill into law, president’s veto not withstanding. However a pocket veto, where the president simply ignores the bill cannot be overridden.
The Wars Powers resolution is a case pointing out to the presidential pre-eminence as far as foreign policy is concerned. During the Vietnam and Korean wars, the US the found itself deeply involved in conflict in total disregard of the constitutional provision that requires the congress to declare war. Majority of the congress were concerned with the erosion of their authority in deciding when the United should be involved in war or use military forces that might lead to war. As a remedy the war power resolution was passed in 1973. The laws demands that the president consults the congress over any decision to deploy troops can sent the US military into action abroad only after consultation and subsequent authorization of congress or in a situation whereby the United States is already under attack or in grave threat. In total disregard of WPR there has been more than thirty military deployments decision with only a few instances of congress being consulted in advance. Also the get out clause has never been applied. Is due to the fact that foreign policy is in essence in pursuit of United States national interest and most recently security concerns have topped the list. Therefore the congress is wary of trending on presidential prerogative in case it undermines his pursuit of American National interest.
The terms too are imprecise and therefore the president can take advantage of the loopholes. For instance it requires that the president consult congress when hostilities are eminent hence open to interpretation about both timing and meaning. In fact the Sep 11, 2001 attack and subsequent attack on Iraq and afganistan rendered WPR irrelevant as congress gave the president authority to invade countries perceived to be a security threat to the United States. In 2003, Bush Jr had 225.00 troops deployed in Persian Gulf preparing to attack Iraq, install a new government, depose Sadam Hussein as well as get rid of weapons of mass destruction. Unlike Bush Sr, twelve years earlier, he was unable to secure UN’s Security Council resolution allowing the use of force due to overwhelming opposition from international scenes. He was however able to secure congressional support for the same which consequently absolved him from complying with the WPR by virtue of his congress authorization to use force against Iraq. In justifying the Gulf war of 1991, Bush Sr claimed that the United Nation Security Council resolution authorizing the use of “all necessary force” Sue & Peltason (2007, pp.189-191)
The UN Security Council authorized the use of every possible means to eject Iraq from Kuwait and restore international peace and security in case Iraq had not withdrawn by Jan 1991. President Bush asserted that he was not obligated to consult with the congress under the WPR since the UN resolution provided an adequate basis for the use of force by US. He reasoned that since the US was a party to the united Nation’s Charter – a binding treaty to which consent had been given by the senate and a security councils member that had issued the resolution, authorizing the use of force he had ample reasons to use force. Sue & Peltason (2007, p.195).
Congress has a greater constitutional prerogative and constituency interest over international trade Keith Porter (2010, ¶4). The congress has continually managed to restrain presidential endeavors to expand free trade. In 2005, the extension of NAFTA(North America Free trade Agreement) by bush administration. In 1997, the congress refused to renew fast track authority on presidential agreement thwarting Clinton’s plan to include Chile in NAFTA.
According to theories of foreign policy making, group think, bureaucratic model and rational model, implies that the process of policy making is an intricate one and that the preeminence of the president can be curtailed by a myriad of factors. In bureaucratic model, foreign policy is a result of a process of hulling and pulling and making compromise. Position taken by agencies generally reflects their own institutional interests Morton, Clapp& Kanter (1974, pp 20-35- ). For example there has always been Intra service rivalry between Army, Air force and Navy over the allocation of the defense budget. There can also bee a clash between Joint Chief of Staff and civilian Pentagon officials (press reports indicated that pentagon civilians were far keener than the military for war on Iraq and Afghanistan Schmitt & Brinkley (2003, ¶ 9). Some departments such as security have more influence than others: where you stand, depends on where you sit. Russet, Harvey & Kinsella (2009, pp. 335-340). On the other hand, the rational actor model assumes that states act in relations to threats and opportunities as well as costs. And that states action is always value maximizing. Russet, Harvey & Kinsella (2009, pp. 346-349).
Presidents have foreign policy expertise for example in the case of Nixon, Eisenhower and bush Senior or have expert advisors to guide them as in the case of Reagan Clinton and bush Jr. they therefore do not act solely. Nixon put into place an advisory system characterized by rigid hierarchy, centralization of debate on policy and decision making within White House and made use of gate keepers such as Henry Kissinger to eliminate conflict before it reached him. He was unconformable in an environment characterized by political infighting, aggressive advocacy between advisors and open conflict and was likely to support competitive organizational style favored by Franklin Roosevelt who encouraged such kind of group interactions. George (1980, p. 200)
The process by which the executive reach foreign policy decision is complex. Even though the president is at the centre, there are key advisors as well as executive departments/ agencies with institutional interests which conflict with the notion of the state as a unitary actor after national interest. United states policy decision making is such that American president are faced with fewer institutional restraints in the realm of foreign policy as opposed to domestic policy, where congress involvement is usually required to make or implement policy. In foreign policy, with the exception of constitutional provision of the congress ratifying treaties and declaring war, America’s presidents generally act as the chief architects and executors of the nation foreign policies. Hert,Stern and Sundelius(1997, p.193)
Further the presidents determine which institutional actors to incorporate into the white house inner circle; where foreign policy is formulated and decision taken. They also determine whether National Security Council or white house’s ad hock advisors groups will be utilized. Therefore American presidents possess great deal of discretion over the shape of their advisory system as well as control over the internal dynamics within their advisory groups. However Presidential preeminence takes place within broader arena of interactions, between his advisory group and the surrounding policy environment. The policy environments involve both policy context and problem context. The policy context includes leaders’s relationship with advisors, the public as well as domestic and foreign policy actors while the problem context involves the substantive characteristic of the problem at hand such as the condition of economy or military on the ground. The direction of foreign policy varies across individual presidents in relations to their different leadership styles and also changes across time as the policy and problem context. At times the characteristics of the policy environment media and public opinion constrain the actions of presidential advisory groups, forcing them to adopt certain decision. What leaders are like in terms of their personalities, interpersonal and decision making styles, preferred mode of information processing styles and their past policy experience may affect both the structure and dynamics of advisory groups as well as their effectiveness.
In conclusion, the nature of US political system is such that Foreign policy result from an intricate inter relationship and policy procedure that lacks a systematic channels of inter branch corporation and relies instead on informal cooperation, compromise and choice. The direction of foreign policy varies across individual presidents in relations to their different leadership styles and also changes across time as the policy and problem context. However, the President does enjoy pre-eminence as far as foreign policy unlike the congress whose assertiveness is most strong on trade issues but may rise in times of divided party control of government.
Fred Greenstein 2000, The presidential difference: Leadership style from FDR to Clinton, Princeton: Princeton University Press. …
Sue Davis, J. W. Peltason 2007, the actions of Amer Corwin and Peltason Understanding the Constitution, Cengage Learning.
Paul ‘t Hart, Eric K. Stern and Bengt Sundelius 1997,Beyond groupthink: political group dynamics and foreign policy-making, University of Michigan Press,
Patrick, JH 2005. ‘Foreign-Policy Advising: Models and Mysteries from the Bush Administration’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 2, pp 289-302
Morton H. Halperin, Priscilla Clapp, Arnold Kanter1974,Bureaucratic politics and foreign policy, Brookings Institution Press
Karen O’Connor, Larry Sabato 2007, American Government: Continuity and Change, 8th end, Longman Publishing
Bruce Russett, Harvey Starr, David Kinsella 2009, World Politics: The Menu for Choice, 9th end ,Cengage Learning.
Keith Porter 2010, Who Makes Us Foreign Policy: the role of Congress, NYT, viewed 25 May 2010
Eric Schmitt and Joel Brinkley 2003, The Struggle for Iraq:Planninig: State Dept. Study Foresaw Trouble Now Plaguing Iraq, NYT, viewed 25 May 2010.