foreign policy:
domestic players

the president

The President is the face of most government decisions, including foreign policy. It makes sense - he or she is the final decision maker. Thee president has a large support network that helps him or her come to a decision, of course, but ultimately he or she needs to consider the facts and make a decision on how to act. There are some specific tools of foreign policy delegated expressly to the president in the constitution. Do you know what they are?

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The president is Commander-in-Chief of the American military, meaning that he can give them orders. While he can send troops into combat, he cannot declare war. He also cannot keep troops in a combat zone for more than 60 days without express approval of Congress, as required by the War Powers Resolution of 1973. He also has the power to make treaties with other countries, although treaties need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Sentate. To avoid needing to get a treaty ratified, the president can instead make an executive agreement with another nation. These are less enforceable, however, especially once the president has left office. Less directly, the president also has the power to appoint Ambassadors of his choice, who go to other countries and represent the United States. The appointments need to be confirmed by the Senate.

the other two branches

The Legislature and Judiciary also have some influence in the foreign policy formation process. Congressmen and Senators may have strong feelings about what direction the president should take foreign policy, and he or she would most likely express that viewpoint publicly to sway the president. There are also specific powers given to both Congress and the Judiciary to "check" the President's power. Do you know what they are?

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Congress has three major checks on presidential power: (1) the Senate must ratify treaties with a two-thirds vote before it becomes active, (2) the Senate must confirm ambassador appointments, with a simple majority, over 50%, and (3) Congress has the power to declare war and authorize the use of military force. In addition to these strong checks on presidential power, Congress can influence foreign policy in more nuanced ways. They have the power of the purse, meaning that they write the budget, including the military budget. A president can be the most hawkish in history, but if a dovish Congress has slashed the military budget, then the war-making power is severely limited. Additionally, Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. For example, when President Obama announced that he wanted to normalize relations with Cuba in late 2014, he could immediately start working towards opening an embassy in Cuba and a Cuban embassy in the U.S. because the State Department is part of the Executive branch, but he needed Congress to pass legislation authorizing the trade embargo to be lifted.

The Judiciary has one main power in regards to foreign policy: they have the power to interpret treaties made by the President. Like judicial review of domestic laws, a treaty can be found unconstitutional and thereby rendered void.

departments and agencies

Departments, such as the Department of State, and agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), play integral roles both at the beginning and end of the policy formation process. They provide intelligence, and are frequently used to carry out the ultimate decision. For example, the CIA might provide intelligence about increasing Russian military presence in Ukraine. Then, using that information, the President might decide that he wants the State Department to have their Ambassador to Russia speak with his Russian counterpart to try to persuade Russia to move their troops out of Ukraine.

There are lots of different departments and agencies, but not all of them pertain directly to foreign policy, and some have more major roles than others. Each of these departments and agencies are in charge of different zones of foreign policy. How many can you name and identify their role?

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Department of Defense
This is the executive branch department that coordinates and supervises government activities in relation to national security and the military. They house several foreign intelligence agencies, as well as the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Secretary of Defense is this department's head, and is a member of the President's Cabinet.

Department of State
This is the executive branch department that is in charge of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and foreign countries. They staff embassies all over the world and facilitate discussions between the U.S. and other countries. The head, the Secretary of State, is also a member of the President's Cabinet.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
The CIA is an independent agency that collects and analyzes foreign intelligence and conducts covert operations on foreign soil.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
The DIA reports to the Department of Defense. They collect foreign military intelligence.

National Security Agency (NSA)
The NSA also reports to the Department of Defense. They specialize in code breaking, code making, and electronic intelligence.

While these are the major departments and agencies that pertain to foreign policy, there are other smaller organizations that also focus on foreign policy, and even more that are mostly domestically-oriented. However, sometimes a department or agency that is mostly concerned with domestic matters will weigh in on a foreign policy decision if the topic falls into their area of expertise.

public opinion

As with any government policy, public opinion can influence foreign policy. Upon becoming aware of a policy or a potential future policy, citizens can speak to their congressional representatives or support a lobby firm, among other methods, to voice their opinions. Additionally, Gallup Polls, and similar organizations, measure the popularity of the president. While this gauges only general public opinion, if there is a major foreign policy decision being made, these polls can be a strong indication of public opinion specific to that policy change.

Conversely, some scholars believe that certain foreign policies can affect public opinion. Specifically, it has been shown that a war or other international crisis can increase the popularity of a president. This is called the rally around the flag effect. For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy's popularity rose from 61% to 75%, and then fell back down to 61%. More dramatically, the day before September 11, 2001, President Bush had a 51% approval rate. By the 15th, he had an approval rating of 85%. While the effect has been shown time and again to be real, the implication of this - that a president could potentially start an international crisis in order to make political gains, potentially even diverting negative attention on a domestic problem - is much more controversial. Do you think this would be acceptable? If not, can you think of a way to avoid it?

presidential seal
lady justice and congress
presidential cabinet
public opinion