The Presidency and Foreign Policy
9 December 2010
• Essays will be available for pickup from the Politics office on
• Final exam; review sheet
Voters’ Focus on Presidents
• Prior to the Civil War presidents seldom acted on their own on
military matters; Following WW II,
• Voters now expect president to act in area of foreign affairs.
• Support the president in crisis situations.
– “Rally ‘round the flag” effect: The tendency for the public to
back presidents in moments of crisis.
– While voters are supportive initially, they tend to demand
quick results, and often forget foreign policy accomplishments,
particularly if domestic economic issues become concerns.
Approval of Bush/Blair (2001-2005)
Saddam Hussein captured 20
Net Satisfaction (Blair)
Net Approval (Bush)
George W. Bush
UK election 0
US election -10
The ‘Theory’ of the two presidencies
• Presidents have more constitutional discretion with respect to
foreign policy (aided by SC decisions such as Curtiss-Wright 1936
on arms sales). But, presidents may not act contrary to the
expressed will of Congress.
• Foreign policy requires fast action and focused responsibility and
neither interest groups nor members of Congress compete with
the president as much over foreign affairs as over domestic
• Members of congress may often acquiesce in foreign affairs.
• Interest groups are less focused on foreign affairs.
Presidents and Military Operations
– Abraham Lincoln first to action based on an expanded
interpretation of commander in chief.
– Theodore Roosevelt: sent ships to Japan without Congressional
approval of cost
– Not since WWII has Congress officially declared war.
– As part of the Cold War, the U.S. fought two conventional wars
in Korea and Vietnam
– Truman fought the Korean War without any congressional
declaration at all.
– The U.S. has also engaged in military operations (since WWII)
in Laos, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon,
Grenada, Panama, Libya, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan
• Focused attention on the issue of executive authority
• Eisenhower and Kennedy sent “advisors”
• Johnson asked for Tonkin Bay Resolution
– Congress overwhelmingly authorized response to attack with
armed force after North Vietnamese attacked several U.S.
– Gave president the authority “to take all necessary measures”
to repel any attacks and to “prevent further aggression.”
– Resolution was legal basis for a war that would last 8 more
years but based on misinformation from the Johnson
administration. In reality the destroyers had invaded N.
Vietnam’s territorial waters.
War Powers Resolution
• 1973 congressional resolution requiring the president to notify
Congress formally upon ordering U.S. troops into military action.
– Troops must be withdrawn unless Congress approves the
presidential decision within 60 days after notice of the military
action has been received.
War Powers Resolution & 9/11
• At Bush’s request, Congress passes war on terrorism resolution in
– One dissenting vote in the House.
– President authorized to “use all necessary and appropriate
force against those nations, organizations, or persons he
determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the
terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept 11, or harbored such
organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts
of international terrorism.”
– No limit placed on time period in which president may act.
– Second resolution focused continuing threat posed by Iraq.
But required Bush to exhaust “diplomatic or other peaceful
means” of resolving the conflict prior to resorting to force.
• Treaties are official agreements with foreign countries that are
ratified by the Senate (by 2/3rds).
• Because a small number of Senators can block a treaty,
Presidents opt instead for executive agreements
• These are agreements with foreign countries that require only a
presidential signature. Power not found explicitly in the
• Most executive agreements either are extensions of treaties
ratified by the Senate or involve routine presidential actions that
have been authorized by Congress.
Use of Executive Agreements
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (SALT)
• Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a
sweeping new arms reduction pact in April of 2010 that pledges to
reduce the stockpile of deployed, strategic nuclear weapons in
both countries and commits the old Cold War adversaries to new
procedures to verify which weapons each country possesses.
• The Treaty requires Senate ratification (2/3rds support needed)
which will require Republican support.