Congress and the Presidency

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The president is the foreign policy leader for the United States with an important political, military and economic role in the international arena. If there is collision between the president and congress, can congress restrain the president in foreign policy making?

The era of globalization has witnessed the growing influence of a number of unconventional international actors, from non-governmental organizations, to multi-national corporations, to global political movements. Traditional, state-centric definitions of foreign policy as "the policy of a sovereign state in its interaction with other sovereign states is no longer sufficient. Several alternative definitions are more helpful at highlighting aspects of foreign policy traditionally neglected. The first views foreign policy as "those external goals for which the nation is prepared to commit its resources". By focusing on what a country does rather than what it says, this pragmatic definition usefully separates a country's rhetoric from its true intent and its material capabilities. However, lack of action can also constitute a policy-the policy of an isolationist state is defined by its very unwillingness to commit resources. A second conceptualization of foreign policy is as "the range of actions taken by varying sections of the government of a state in its relations with other bodies similarly acting on the international stage...in order to advance the national interest". Notable here is the recognition that governments do not act as monolithic, static entities, and that non-state actors may at times be as influential as states. However, the assumption that governments always know what is in the "national interest" and always rationally work towards its realization is debatable. For the purposes of this analysis, foreign policy is taken to mean, "The goals that a nation's officials seek to attain abroad, the values that give rise to those objectives, and the means or instruments used to pursue them". This third and most helpful definition focuses not only on outcome, but also, crucially, on norms and process. Values are essential to the study of foreign policy, and explain why the policies of different states can vary so dramatically. Means are equally important: what a country does can be less significant than how it does it, as recent US actions illustrate. Central to pluralism is the notion that the three branches of government should be separate and distinct, with each acting to check and balance the others and thus preventing abuse of power. In the United States, the often-tumultuous relationship between especially the legislative and executive branches has been the subject of much scholarship and debate. The Presidency has seen a slow but constant expansion of power since the days of George Washington, culminating in what Schlesinger has called the "imperial presidencies" of Johnson and Nixon, and continuing today. The official rights and duties of the President as regards foreign policy-making are actually only briefly mentioned in the Constitution, and are rather limited. The President "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur". However, presidents have frequently bypassed the need for congressional approval by enacting executive agreements: oral or written understandings between heads of government that require authorization only when funding is required. Executive agreements that the United States is party to now vastly outnumber the amount of treaties to which it is party. This proliferation of executive agreements is worrying because treaties signify a broader consensus and a larger degree of national commitment. With this in mind, Congress adopted the Case Amendment in 1972, which requires the President to report the text of any agreements he enacts, but this has been honored more in the breach than in the observance. The President is also Commander in...
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