American Presidency. Who Makes US Foreign Policy


A foreign policy is a set of political goals that outlines how a country will interact with the world and how it will conduct normal businesses with other countries and regions in the world. The main aim of foreign policies is to protect the interests of a country, maintain national security and outline ideological goals for economic prosperity of that country. They influences smooth cooperation of nations declare war or exploitation and others issues. Increased interaction of the world has seen the rise of diplomatic issue in the world which is purely matter of foreign policies. In manly countries in the world, the power to make or change foreign policies is vested in the head of state and the legislative arms of the country.

In the United States foreign policies are aimed at maintaining and promoting a favorable environment for the United States to relate with the rest of the world. As outlined in the foreign policy agenda of the US Department of State, the role of foreign policy is “ to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community”.

However in the recent past there have been heated debates about who is responsible for making of foreign policies in the US. After the start of war on terror, there has been heated debate about the role the president and the congress played in the start of the war.

Many people have viewed the president as the main actor in making of foreign polices. Many have argued that President Bush was the one who was responsible for start of the war in Iraq since it is viewed that the president has the discretion power to make foreign policies. This paper will look closely at the issue of making of foreign policy in the united state in order to understand the provisions that are there in the constitution and the frame work for making of foreign policy. It is from this review that where were clearly understand the who is really responsible of making foreign policies in the United States.

Making of foreign policies according to the constitution

In the United States, the constitution does not give very clear guidelines on the foreign policies of the country. Article II of the constitution gives the president the power to make treaties with other countries with the consent of the senate, appoint ambassadors with the consent of the senate, and receive ambassadors from other countries. It also gives the president power as the command-in-chief of the military which give the institution the degree of authority over on the relationship of the United States and the world. Let us look closely at these provisions of the constitutions as far as foreign policies are concerned.

The constitution divided the foreign policy powers between the president and the congress such that the power is divided between the two authoritative bodies. This means that the legislative and that authority both have powers to make the policy. The division is such that with the executive arm of the country, the Department of State is the leading foreign policy affairs agency while the secretary of state is the Presidents principal advisor on matters concerning foreign policies. The two arms are provided with continuous opportunities to initiate and change the existing foreign policies for the betterment of the country. Both branches are also supposed to interact in the process of making foreign policies. (Polsby and Wildavesky 2003, p. 87)

There have been many debates going on in the country about the power of the president to make foreign policies. According to the governing structure, the president can make foreign policy through various means and in light of many circumstances. The president can make foreign policy as a matter of responding to foreign events. This comes in time when the country considers itself as part of the international community and seems that obligation that it has in ensuring that it conforms to events and changes that are taking place in the international platform. An event may occur outside the country which may make the country change its foreign policy in order to conform to the event.

The executive branch can also make foreign policy as a proposal for legislation. In managing the country, there are instances where the executive will feel that certain changes needs to be made in the constitution to enable it to govern effectively. This has been the leading factor in changes that justifies the making of a foreign policy. This proposal for legislation is meant to enhance a cordial relationship of the country with other countries, as far as the foreign policy is concerned.

The president may also change or make foreign policy in the process of negotiation of international agreements. The foreign policy will help the country enter into a cordial relationship with the international community. The executive can also make foreign policy as part of policy statement. This is meant to make the policy more clear and meaningful to the country. The president can also make foreign policy as a part of policy implementation or as an independent action. (Michael and Lori 2006, p. 99)

In the above instances, there is always the input of the congress. From time to time the congress can either support the president’s approach to the foreign policy or it can seek to make some amendments or change the foreign policy. The congress holds the power to make some significant modification on the presidents’ initiative as a process of approving them. The power of congress to approve the foreign policies made by the president is vested in the “power of the purse” since the congress is the one which is purely responsible of funding the foreign operations of the country. The congress still retains the superior power in the process since it can decline to pass funds to support the policy if they feel that it is not for the benefit of the country. (Paul 2006, p. 1)

Let us not look at the power vested in the congress to make the foreign policy. The congress appears to be more a regulatory body for the executive. The congress can make foreign policy through many means and purposes. It can make foreign policies as resolutions and policy statements. This present a confliction part between congress and the executive since the executive has also been to make foreign policies as part of policy statements. The congress can also make foreign policy as legislative directives.

This means that the congress will make the policy as part of its legislative duty to be enacted in the constitution. The congress can also make foreign policy as part of legislative pressure. This means that it can make a foreign policy as of complementing the need in the legislation. In response to foreign policies made by the executive, the congress can make a foreign policy as measure of legislative restriction for denial of funds. This gives the congress the necessary power over to regulate the executive in matter of making and implementing the foreign policies. This power is necessary in order to regulate the excesses of the executive. The congress can also make foreign policy as an informal advice or due to an oversight of the future demands of the country. (Michael 2006, p.2)

In this process, the executive also have a say as far as the implementation of a foreign policy made by the congress in concerned. The executive can either support or seek to make amendments on congressional foreign policies as it is responsible for interpreting and carrying out legislative directives and restrictions. The executive has the power to decide when the whether to adopt proposals and advice given by the congress.

Hence there is an important role that is played by the senate foreign relations committee and the house international relations committed in regulating matters containing foreign policies. This shows that the senate plays an important role in the making of foreign policies. This power is exercise through their control on how the policy is conducted and on who represents the United States to the foreign countries. Although the use of committee has less authority on some of these matters, it has an influence on the budget which gives money for the implementation of these policies. Senate members also make several trips abroad on fact finding missions especially in areas which are deemed as important as far as American interest are concerned.

Historically there have been conflicts on the way the congress and the president conduct foreign policies. This is more so on the clause that gives the congress the power to declare war. This is some time contrasted by the role given to the president to be the commander of armed forces. Fore example, in 1973, the congress passed a controversial war powers act which clarifies the way the president is supposed to carry out military action while keeping the president in the loop. The congress holds the budget influence on foreign policies

The above process shows that both the president and the congress can make foreign policies and both have a say in the implementation of the foreign policy. There seems to be a necessary check and balance in the process since none of the two bodies can automatically come up with and implement the foreign policy without the involvement of other.

Events that have happened on the land leading to this debate have confirmed that the president and the congress make foreign policy but no one has resolved the question of which of the two arms of the country originates or which arm finally determines the foreign policy. The two arms seem to share the process each playing a different and important role in the process. Hence it is still difficult to come up with a comprehensive and provable answer of who makes foreign policy in America for many reasons. (Fred Greenstein 2000, p. 67)

Making of foreign policy is a complex process that requires many inputs and considerations. It is a very interactive process needing the approval of many arms in the country. The extent to which a foreign policy affects the country makes it a sensitive process which cannot be left in the hands of one branch of the country. Hence in the process it is difficult to clearly define who initiates or who concludes the complex process. The two branches interact from time to time and in one way or another in the process. Making of a foreign policy is a prolonged process which takes in the input of many actors. A foreign policy is usually comprised of dozens of other individual policies made toward a country, regions or made to address many issue.

Throughout the history of America and matters concerning making of foreign policies, it has been proved that there are a lot of ebbs and flows of presidential and congressional dominance in the process of making of foreign policies. It has been shown that the two branches have relatively influenced the process in different circumstances depending on various factors like the personality f the president and the congress members, the degree of consensus on the policy depending on its effects, and many other variable factors.

The other reason is that it appears like there are equal powers from both branches as far as factors that influence a foreign policy are concerned. For example, the President command the armed forces but the congress declares the war, the President makes treaties but the senate must give its consent and advice on the treaty, the president appoints the ambassadors but the appointment must be confirmed by the senate, and many other factors. But the congress also has several powers on foreign affairs like regulating foreign commerce and other all which the president does not have a say.

Outside the two branches, there are others which are given discretion in the process. The state and the local governments usually make their own foreign policies. This is usually made in areas of trade and agricultural interests and also in matters concerning the environment, immigration and other areas of interest to the local government. There are also think tanks and other non government organizations which are outside the two branches which play a major role in crafting foreign policies. These groups are often made of influential individual including former presidents who wields a lot of knowledge about the foreign relations and global affairs.

Hence it is clear that although the president is given the power by the constitution to make foreign policies, the congress is also given a degree of influence on the process. History may act as the best judge for this process. All Americans are always wary of the foreign policies of the land since it affects their life. This perhaps gives weigh to the argument that the president should not be left with the sole power to make the foreign policy. Many Americans are still crying for the loss of their loved one in Iraq. Many have presumed that President Bush made the wrong foreign policy. What they don’t understand is that there could be no war without budget approval from the congress. (Thomas and Michael 1997, p. 213)

It is time that we understood that we have a duty to care about the foreign policies that are made in our land. This is due to the extent to which these policies affect our lives. Foreign policies affect the prices, jobs, gasoline supply, taxes and most of all the life and death of our army personals. The way we interact with the rest of the world is also an important role that is played by our foreign policy and which we have to be wary of. The influence of the United States on the global arena requires that America make foreign policies which promote its responsiveness to the affairs of other parts of the world. It has failed our reasoning which President Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which acts on the environment and at the same time waged war on

Saddam Hussein. The effect of the environment is evident to use now, as evidenced by recent hurricanes like Katrina and others. Foreign policies are important to us and the rest of the world and we should get more involved on how they are made.


The President of the United States is given the constitutional authority to make foreign policies. At the same time the congress is given the same power but which is vested more as a regulatory power in the process. Although the constitution may have been intended to spread the across the jurisdiction of the two bodies, it is not clear on how this should be achieved.

As has been discussed foreign policies is an important determinant of how we relate with the rest of the world. They are too precious to be left in hands of one arm of the country. History has showed that the current constitution does not address the issue well since it does not give a clear guideline on who should be responsible for making, implementing and amending our foreign policies. The constitution has really failed us since it has left this duty to be determined by holders of the office.

There is need for collaboration of the two bodies in making foreign policies and at the same time there should be constitutional amendments to make the process clear.


Fred, G, 2000, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Clinton, Basic Books, New York.

Michael, N 2006, The Presidency and the Political System, Congressional Quarterly Press, Washington DC.

Michael, G. & Lori, C 2006, The Presidency and the Challenge of Democracy, Palgrave. New York.

Paul, R 2006, Who Makes Foreign Policy? Texas Straight Talk.

Polsby N.& Wildavesky, A 2003, Presidential Elections: Strategies and Structures of American Politics, Rowman and Littlefield.

Thomas, C. and Michael, G 1997, The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Oxford University Press, New York.

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