Current foreign policy, at any point in history, has to do directly with two branches of government in particular–the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. There are both public policy reasons, as well as Constitutional reasons for this. The American system of checks and balances allows this to happen, in order to ensure they would never be stuck with the tyranny the colonies experienced under Great Britain.
The Constitution gives Congress, or the Legislative Branch of America’s three-tiered government, the power to influence many factors that directly impact foreign policy. Congress has the power to control all commerce between states, as well as between different countries. This power is far-reaching, and includes, and has included things like protective tariffs on imported goods, as well as the taxation of these goods in order to keep the United States’ economy stable.
These powers have also extended to include another foreign policy tactic Congress has used in the past, and is currently using, in order to put pressure on foreign governments that are not friendly. A contemporary example of this is the current embargo America has against the communist regime currently in power. In addition to outlawing trade with the nation, travel to Cuba is also nearly impossible. Though it is hard to say the actual impact this has had on foreign relations with Cuba, it is nevertheless an example of one way Congress can influence foreign policy.
Moving even more in depth into the Legislative Branch’s influence on foreign policy from a Constitutional standpoint is literally written into the document, as well as being perhaps the most important foreign policy tool of all–the power to declare War. This declaration, though written into the Constitution, has come under increased scrutiny, especially in the latter half of the 20th century.
This is one of the roles the executive branch plays in foreign policy. Though it is written in the Constitution that it is Congress’ job to declare war, past Presidents have made it abundantly clear that as “Commander-in-Chief” of the country’s armed forces that the executive branch can have just as large an impact on foreign policy with regards to war as Congress can. Through Executive Orders, Presidents have established precedence in leading the United States military without Congressional approval.
This is very problematic as the conflicting Constitutional ideologies are constantly at odds–best illustrated in the Iraq War that, according to the biggest offender of the circumventing of the balance of powers, President George W. Bush, was “accomplished”. In reality, American troops are still stationed in the country, and a War that his father won in days is now decades long, with countless American lives lost.
This is not to propose the Executive should not have any say in foreign policy at all, however. When elected, a President chooses people to form his Cabinet, which includes the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Treasury, and the Secretary of Defense. These are key figures in foreign policy whose effectiveness cannot be denied–Hilary Clinton has worked wonders in the last five or so years, and has won back the support of many opponents to the almost autocratic policies of the Bush Administration. It seems the length of these relations will truly depend on the length of an effective administration.
This whole scenario illustrates everything that is wrong with the foreign policy of the United States–the circumventing of the balance of powers for ideological, fiscal, or partisan reasons. For this reason, the United Nations is absolutely critical in regulating foreign policy throughout the world, though it does have inherent flaws. One of the flaws is the lack of oversight, or punishment, for Western nations that do the opposite of UN policy, while other nations are held to different standards.
The circumvention of Congress, who, by the way, only approved a 90-day airstrike on Iraq, by President George W Bush to invade Iraq is a perfect example of this. In spite of the fact that the UN did not authorize the War in Iraq, a British-backed United States invasion began, and dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime was removed. Although Hussein’s regime had violated many UN sanctions in the past, the United States made themselves no better than the dictator they had overthrown, simply by ignoring the UN as well.
This is not the way United States foreign policy should ever be run, nor is it the way it was intended to run. The President and his (or, probably soon, her) Cabinet are vital in negotiations with foreign leaders, diplomats, and the like. This is especially important in times of great strain–a well-established dialogue can in some instances prevent the necessity for lives being lost unnecessarily.
Compare this situation to the current one that has been evolving with North Korea. Under UN sanctions, they are not to detonate nuclear bombs. They are also not to invade the South. If this should happen, military action was threatened. The UN put their foot down, and told North Korea that should they invade a country unnecessarily, appropriate action will be taken.
Rewind to Bush’s unsanctioned invasion of Iraq that did not yield even one “weapon of mass destruction”. This seems like an unnecessary invasion, and yet the United States was not punished in any way by the United Nations as they threaten to do to North Korea, or actually did in the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Now this is the true problem with foreign relations in the broadest, but most applicable way possible. When some nations are held to standards that others are not, how is it possible to avoid conflict? Naturally these nations, perhaps not as developed, but no less of a nation, are going to feel slighted. Honestly, this is for good reason–they are slighted in the international community, and it comes down to an age-old problem of cultural synergy and the prejudices that come with it.
Whether it is the British colonization of India and South Africa, the long-lasting tradition of slavery in the United States, the Civil Rights Movement, or French colonization of Vietnam, all of these examples lead to the same place. Imperialism is ingrained into Western thought, a pseudo “white man’s burden” if you will, where less developed nations were exploited for resources and left poor. India has made a remarkable recovery from the shambles the British left it in, but is still a developing country. Poverty is widespread in Vietnam after the US/French coalition left the country. Unfortunately, Iraq is not faring much better, nor Afghanistan, where civil wars plague the region.
There is no way to fix the issue of foreign policy until the world becomes color-blind–a world where the international community does not look to exploit, but to redistribute and help others. Otherwise, the world is doomed to remain in a global battle of “keeping up with the Joneses'”–except the stakes are not a car or a television, but a missile coming right through the picture window that so accentuates both.
“The American Conservative.” The American Conservative. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2013. <http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/bush-and-the- bankruptcy-of-republican-foreign-policy-thinking/>.
“Lessons from the UN on the Iraq War.” UN Dispatch. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2013. <http://www.undispatch.com/lessons-from-the-un-on-the-iraq-war>.
“Summing up U.S. Foreign Policy in Four Sentences.” Washington Times Communities. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2013. <http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/what- world/2013/may/6/summing-us-foreign-policy-four-sentences/>.
“Transcript of the Constitution of the United States – Official Text.” Transcript of the Constitution of the United States – Official Text. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2013. <http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitutio