You are on page 1of 5


Sarah Colegrove POS 332 12/10/2012 Exam #2 Essay Aaron Wildavsky argues that in the United States, the president has an easier time accomplishing foreign policy goals than domestic policy. Why is that the case? There are several explanations for why this takes place but a greater question is asking whether this should be the case. Should Congress have a greater role in foreign policy decisions or is it better that in this modern age the president asserts more power? The president has significant power in foreign policy. One reason why the president is able to wield significant foreign policy power is because of American Exceptionalism that has been accepted by many in the U.S. American Exceptionalism is the idea that the United States is exceptional or great in a way that sets us apart from other nations (we are on a higher level). America is exceptionally free and democratic other countries should look to us to know how they should run their country. This idea, when taken to heart, can cause ethnocentrism to arise. Who cares about foreign policy when it does not affect me? Or at least, it doesnt affect me, so why should I care? We are the greatest nation ever, why should we involve ourselves in the affairs of others? This attitude can play a role in how willing Congress is to assert itself in foreign policy matters. If a significant number of citizens do not passionately care about the subject, then spending time on it has the potential to lessen their chances of being re-elected. In addition, according to Wildavsky, interest groups, that are ever-present in domestic policy, are not very prevalent in foreign policy. Interest groups help to rally people and resources to

influence the decisions that government makes. When they are not present in politics, some issues are skipped over. The lack of interests groups is a factor in why Congress is less involved in foreign policy and very involved in domestic policy. In foreign policy, oftentimes, there are no clear answers. Domestic policy is filled with two different parties having a clear (or at least a set) agenda and answer to the policy issue. The international arena is much more complicated. How does the president address the issue of Iran? They may or may not have nuclear weapons capabilities. If they do, what should we do (or should we even care)? In Equatorial Guinea, the government is very corrupt. The people are being brutalized and starved. American oil companies are providing the government of Equatorial Guinea with most of their wealth (through oil wells on the coast). How should the president respond to these brutalities? Most of his options would upset either the oil companies or Equatorial Guinea yet how can we let people be oppressed as a result of the influence of American companies in the country? There is no clear answer to any of this and as a result Congress is less likely to assert themselves into the issue. Domestic policy and the participation of the president and Congress are very different from foreign policy. Political parties have a strong foothold in domestic policy. Parties have a clear position and answer to issues that arise. This gives the president limited options on where he can stand without going against his party (which could be detrimental if he wanted to be reelected). Partisanship is very present. The president would more than likely need a Congress that was of his own party for his domestic policy to pass and even then it might not as there can be infighting, disagreements, and differences on their stance within a party on an issue. The citizens are also much more interested in domestic policy because it can often directly affect them. Interest groups are very involved in domestic policy and they can help to sway Congress

from one stance to another. Modernization and globalization have changed the way governments interact. As the instruments of war have become more modernized and the world has become closely connected, speed and efficiency in decisions is needed in foreign policy. There are times when letting Congress decide when and how the U.S. should respond or take initiative in foreign policy, can be too time consuming. If the U.S. were to be attacked by France quite suddenly and eminent threat of another attack hung over the government, waiting for Congress to debate and decide what to do can put the citizens of the U.S. at risk. Instead, by letting the President assert his powers as the commander-in-chief and giving the president some room for decision making can help to protect the nation. Congress is there, more in the background, to supervise the decisions that the president makes as well as to declare war (if they decide that is appropriate for the situation) and to appropriate funds for the military action. This allows for efficient and timeappropriate decisions to be made in a world when actions in one country can directly affect another area of the world in a very short amount of time. In foreign policy there are about 200 different countries and factions within these countries that have to be understood. The president has to stay updated on the actions of these groups and countries so that he is able to make foreign policy decisions that are wise for the U.S. If Congress tried to do this it would be very difficult. The president has a large staff as well as the military and the state department who are able to sort through reports and tell him of anything of significance. Congress members have small staff support and it would be overwhelming for them to stay abreast of current developments around the world. It is much easier for wise (or at least informed) decisions foreign policy decisions to be made by the president. In domestic policy, there are fewer actors to be concerned about and as a result, it is

easier for Congress members to stay informed on what is happening. This makes it more difficult for the president to get his goals accomplished. The growing international arena has made it more of a necessity for the president to stay informed of what is happening around the world and it also makes the president (as well as his staff and advisors) the logical decision in forming foreign policy. Congress does play a role in foreign policy. According to the constitution, Congress is given the powers to declare war, ratify treaties, and approve ambassadors as well as other foreign officers that the president appoints. In addition, Congress has the ability to impeach unfit presidents or a president who does not follow the Constitution. This allows for Congress to have some control over foreign policy. Through the above mentioned, Congress can temper the power of the presidency. If the president knows that he could be impeached if he suddenly decide to make a decision in foreign policy that was unconstitutional, or was deemed unfit or criminal, it has the potential to change his actions. Knowing that only Congress has the ability to declare war and ratify treaties can help to influence the decision that the president makes. Congress control over appropriations can also influence foreign policy decisions. If funding for the military was suddenly cut off by Congress, the president would have to act differently. He would have to be very careful that he did not upset anyone in the international community in a way that would provoke action. If the president were to get involved in a military action in Iran, he would need to get the approval of Congress to provide the budget of the action. If the military action were to dissolve into war, Congress is needed to declare war. Once this war is declared, fought, and a peace treaty is brought to the table, it is Congress and not the president who finally approves and ratifies the treaty for the U.S. If Congress did not give approval, the president would be unable to officially declare war, pay for the military action, and declare peace.

The role that Congress has in foreign policy, while seemingly small, appears to be a proper amount of power in this modern day. If congress were to become much more involved in foreign policy such as determining who should be invited to visit the White House, which conferences to attend, and the wording of the Presidents speeches to other countries where he gives support for an action or rebukes a country for their actions it has the potential to be a severe hindrance to efficiency and actually accomplishing any foreign policy goals. Political parties and partisanship would soon make its way into the long debates over what to do, there would be committees on what words to use in the speeches, and gridlock would soon occur. Having one person with their own view on foreign policy who is a member of one party and is in office for a limited time can be a good thing. While it would give that individual significant foreign policy power, it would also allow for the regular day to day international relations to commence and foreign policy goals to be achieved. Congress is there to temper and be a checkand-balance on what the president does in foreign policy. The president has a considered influence and power in foreign policy decisions that are made. This is caused by the general publics disinterest in foreign policy, Constitutional powers, the modernization of war, and the globalization that makes the world increasingly connected. This is not to say that Congress is without power in foreign policy rather that the president is the vocal and visual figure who makes the everyday foreign policy decisions with Congress there to provide a check-and-balance for the presidents decisions. Endnote Mouawad, J. (2009). Oil corruption in equatorial guinea. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from