American Foreign Policy Research Paper

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I. Introduction

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II. Exogenous Influences: The Role of the United States in International Affairs

III. Endogenous Influences

A. The President and American Foreign Policy

B. Congress and American Foreign Policy

C. The Bureaucracy and American Foreign Policy

D. Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy

IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction

American foreign policy has fluctuated throughout the existence of the United States, stemming from the influence of exogenous dynamics and significant watersheds felt throughout the international system as well as endogenous changes and influences within the American government. Noteworthy declarations such as the Monroe Doctrine, international conflicts such as the Spanish-American War, World War II, and the cold war as well as regional conflicts such as the Vietnam War and the Korean War significantly influenced American foreign policy. Currently, the events of September 11, 2001, represent the major exogenous watershed that influenced the foreign policy decision-making of the U.S. government. In addition to the exogenous dynamics that have been decisive in American foreign policy, the endogenous aspects of the U.S. government such as the president, Congress, the bureaucracy, and American public opinion have considerable influence in foreign policy decision making.

This research paper reviews selected seminal literature regarding American foreign policy and its exogenous and endogenous influences. Although exogenous issues are highly significant to the various objectives of American foreign policy, this research paper only briefly highlights the major exogenous watersheds and focuses more substantially on four endogenous dynamics that impact American foreign policy and foreign policy decision making. The paper begins with a brief focus of the shift of American foreign policy from isolationism to internationalism and how the Spanish-American War, World War II, the cold war, and the events of September 11, 2001, influenced this shift of American foreign policy. The paper then concentrates on the endogenous dynamics, beginning with an analysis of the executive branch and its effects over the direction and decision making of American foreign policy as well as the effects of the controversial War Powers Act on the presidential role as a foreign policy decision maker. Second, the focus shifts to the legislative branch and its reactive role regarding American foreign policy as well as the possibility of congresspersons adopting a proactive role to influence the direction of foreign policy decision making concerning particular issues. Third, this research paper analyzes how bureaucratic politics affect American foreign policy by highlighting the three models introduced in Graham Allison’s (1971) classic work, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, regarding the effects of bureaucracy on foreign policy decision making. Finally, this research paper concludes with a concentration on the effects of public opinion on American foreign policy. This section briefly highlights the theories of classical realist and liberal political thinkers concerning the effects of public opinion on foreign policy as well as a focus on the variations of the effect of public opinion on foreign policy through a historical analysis.

II. Exogenous Influences: The Role of the United States in International Affairs

After the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States as a nation-state, the United States conducted itself in a fashion dissimilar to the countries in Europe regarding its role in international affairs. Whereas countries such as England, France, and Spain conducted an interventionist international foreign policy, the United States preferred an isolationist route concerning international affairs and focused primarily within its own borders. In 1823, this strategy expanded from the borders of the United States to incorporate the affairs of the entire Western hemisphere. President James Monroe announced a new shift in American foreign policy, namely the Monroe Doctrine, which established a separate sphere of influence for the United States and the Americas versus the European sphere of influence. Furthermore, the Monroe Doctrine stated that the United States would perceive any attempt by the European powers to exert their influence or establish a colonial presence into the Western sphere of influence as an act of aggression. Finally, the Monroe Doctrine stated that the United States would not interfere within European affairs within their sphere of influence and would not intervene within established European colonies within the Americas. Although the United States did not possess the military means to defend a declaration of this magnitude, the British accepted the assertion of U.S. power since they preferred to drive out the Spanish from the Western hemisphere and viewed this proclamation as a method of attaining this goal. More important, the Monroe Doctrine represents a major shift in American foreign policy, which continued to remain isolationist from the international scope but expanded its sphere of influence to all of the Western hemisphere (Kissinger, 1994; Papp, Johnson, & Endicott, 2005).

The Spanish-American War also represented an important stage in American foreign policy since the entry of the United States in the conflict signified a move of the United States becoming an emerging power in international affairs. Although the United States refrained from becoming an international power implicated in the alliance system and continued to adhere to isolationism and unilateralism after the Spanish-American War, the decision to declare war on Spain had two major implications. First, it denoted the initial entry of the United States into world affairs. Although the United States would continue to internally debate and argue over whether American foreign policy should remain isolationist or shift toward an internationalist foreign policy for many years, the United States entered into several international conflicts and diplomatic interactions with other countries after the Spanish-American War. Second, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, the United States seized possession over the former Spanish colonies of Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. Formerly, the United States was exclusively an isolationist country; however, now the United States became a colonial power and expanded its interests to other hemispheres (Papp et al., 2005).

Although the United States gained colonial territories in other hemispheres, most Americans did not agree with the idea of U.S. involvement in world affairs. This debate continued during World War I as well as during the interwar years as demonstrated in the aftermath of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson was one of the key figures in the formulation of the Treaty of Versailles and the establishment of the League of Nations; however, Americans, particularly the senators who voted against the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, still believed that the United States should adhere to a foreign policy devoted to isolationism and unilateralism whereas the Treaty of Versailles strongly espoused internationalism and collective security (Kissinger, 1994; Papp et al., 2005). The debate over the role of the United States in world affairs persisted into World War II until December 7, 1941, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. At this point, the United States entered into World War II, and American foreign policy would never be the same.

With the entry of the United States into World War II, the American foreign policy shifted to one of multilateralism and internationalist in scope. This particularly was demonstrated with the establishment of the United Nations and the passage of the Bretton Woods Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Furthermore, the United States signed the North Atlantic Treaty with several other countries, creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance, on April 4, 1949. The involvement of the United States in the establishment of these organizations and future participation within the organizations signified that American foreign policy had surpassed isolationism and was now firmly entrenched in internationalism and multilateralism (Ambrose & Brinkley, 1997).

After the end of World War II, world affairs had changed immensely as the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the world powers or superpowers in the international system.Although the countries had been tenuous allies during World War II, competing political ideological and national interest differences soon forced a wedge between the countries, and the international system was greatly affected by the bipolar world established during the cold war. During the cold war, American foreign policy continued to be focused on internationalism and multilateralism, but confronted with an enduring power struggle with the Soviet Union, American foreign policy focused on the policy of containment as well. Devised by George F. Kennan, the policy of containment sought to thwart the spread of Communism to non-Communist countries throughout the world. As the Soviet Union expanded its influence to satellite countries with the spread of Communism, the United States also increased its area of influence to various countries throughout the world in an effort to counter the Soviets (Ambrose&Brinkley, 1997; Kennan, 1984). By contributing military and economic support to so-called anti-Communist countries, the United States focused on preventing the spread of Communism to other countries throughout the world and averting a domino effect occurring where the loss of one country to Communism would lead to the further loss of neighboring countries to Communism. Although the United States and the Soviet Union did not engage in direct military warfare, the superpowers engaged indirectly through proxy wars in their support of satellite countries. In addition to the indirect interaction through proxy wars, nuclear deterrence became a significant aspect of the cold war as the United States and the Soviet Union accumulated substantial stockpiles of nuclear weapons as a method of ensuring their respective state security. Although both countries possessed the weapons, neither of the countries would employ the use of nuclear weapons because leaders understood the drastic effects to both countries if the weapons were deployed (Ambrose & Brinkley, 1997; Kissinger, 1994; Mingst, 2008).

Although American foreign policy changed to cope with new challenges arising from a post–cold war international environment, the next significant watershed in American foreign policy stemmed from the events of September 11, 2001. After the terrorist attack against the United States by members of al Qaeda under the direction of Osama bin Laden, President George W. Bush responded by shifting American foreign policy to a global war on terrorism, which commenced with the launching of an attack against Afghanistan for harboring bin Laden and al Qaeda. In 2003, the war on terrorism expanded to include the Republic of Iraq since the United States was convinced that Saddam Hussein presented a terrorist threat through the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and support of terrorist organizations (Mingst, 2008). Although Hussein was overthrown from power and no weapons of mass destruction were found, American foreign policy continues to be greatly affected by the war on terrorism since the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq continue into the second decade of the 21st century.

III. Endogenous Influences

A. The President and American Foreign Policy

The U.S. president and executive branch arguably wield the largest amount of power in regard to American foreign policy. Although Congress and the bureaucracy of the national government can certainly affect how foreign policy is conducted, the executive branch by far has the most control over foreign affairs (Peterson, 1994). Originally, this was not what the framers intended when designing the U.S. Constitution; however, the presidential powers regarding foreign policy have increased significantly since the founding of the United States. Specifically, the framers went to great lengths to ensure that Congress controlled the decision to go to war by conferring the power to declare war solely to Congress. On the other hand, the president exercises widespread authority in times of crisis, but the overall decision to initiate war was left in control of Congress (Edwards & Wayne, 2006; Pika & Maltese, 2008). Therefore, the U.S. Constitution established a shared power regarding issues of war between the executive and legislative branches. Although this shared power was established in the U.S. Constitution, historical precedent demonstrates that the power of the president has been advanced significantly, specifically during times of war and crisis, at the expense of congressional power. Furthermore, after the declaration of war has been made, the president, acting in his role as the commander in chief, is granted extensive power based on Article II of the U.S. Constitution and congressional delegations of authority (Pika & Maltese).

In addition to issues concerning war and crisis, the president has several other powers in regard to foreign policy, such as diplomatic treaties, presidential appointments, and executive agreements. According to the U.S. Constitution, the president may enter into international diplomatic treaties with other countries; however, the president must consult with the Senate concerning the treaty. In addition, the treaty must then be ratified by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. In general, international treaties have been approved without amendment by the Senate, with a few exceptions such as the Versailles Treaty after World War I. This may also be related to the fact that many have been withdrawn by presidents who anticipated defeat due to a lack of congressional support as displayed with President George W. Bush and the Kyoto Protocol.

On March 28, 2001, President Bush declared that the United States would not implement the Kyoto Protocol regarding combating global warming through a reduction of greenhouse gases. Although it appeared that Bush made a dramatic turn in U.S. policy decision making, Congress had not supported this direction for some time. This particularly began in July 1997, when the U.S. Senate unanimously approved Senate Resolution 98, stating that it would not sanction a global climate treaty that would damage the U.S. economy or that failed to compel the reduction of emissions within the same time period for both developing countries and developed countries. Furthermore, even when President Clinton agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, he did not present the treaty to the Senate for ratification because he was aware of the lack of support for the treaty (Fletcher, 2000).

The president may also appoint several key positions subject to Senate confirmation. According to Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Senate must confirm presidential diplomatic appointments such as ambassadors to foreign countries but more important the secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the director of central intelligence. This is significant to American foreign policy given that these three positions are highly influential to the course of the administration’s foreign policy (Edwards & Wayne, 2006; Pika & Maltese, 2008).

Presidents may also affect foreign policy through executive agreements, which allow them to forego the process of the congressional ratification process. Specifically, an executive agreement is a pact between the U.S. president and the head of state of the other country, which does not necessitate the ratification of the U.S. Senate. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the use of executive agreements has increased immensely, which may reflect an attempt to evade the congressional ratification process (Edwards & Wayne, 2006).

In 1973, Congress attempted to strike back at the rampant conduct of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration during the Vietnam War through the establishment of the War Powers Act. Although the passage of the War Powers Act was delayed until the term of President Richard Nixon, it symbolized an attempt of Congress to strengthen its powers in the realm of foreign policy decision making as well as to establish an effective restraint against the executive branch and its unbridled control in decision making regarding the American foreign policy and the deployment of American troops in a hostile environment. After its passage, President Nixon vetoed the War Powers Act; however, Congress was able to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority to override the veto. Although the necessary majority was achieved, the bill itself was weakened compared with its original overall objectives in the process of attaining a majority in the House of Representatives to override the veto (Fisher, 2006).

Specifically, according to the resolution, the president may deploy American military troops overseas for a 60-day period during peacetime prior to obtaining congressional approval for the action and may appeal to Congress for an extension period of up to 90 days. After the 60-day period, if Congress does not give approval for the deployment, the president has 30 days to extract the troops. It is debatable whether the War Powers Act indeed fulfills its original intentions. Louis Fisher (2006) argues that the 60-day period itself is a much larger expansion of power than the original framers of the bill intended to grant the president. In addition, the resolution requires the president at all possible times to confer with Congress regarding the action prior deployment of the American military into a hostile environment as well as to submit a report to Congress within 48 hours of the deployment. The 60-day window actually begins when the president reports to Congress concerning the deployment; however, it is typically reported in a general manner. This allows for the president to conduct foreign policy endeavors without the advice and consent of Congress, or what Fisher calls a “collective judgment of the branches” (pp. 279–280). Therefore, it is highly debatable whether the War Powers Act provides a restraint against presidential adventurism and actually satisfies the intentions of the original framers of the resolution. Furthermore, since the passage of the War Powers Act, previous presidents asserted that it unconstitutionally limits them from performing their duties as commander in chief to provide defense. To overcome this limitation, they have interpreted the Constitution in a flexible manner, specifically in regard to the requirements for reporting and consulting with Congress (Edwards & Wayne, 2006).

B. Congress and American Foreign Policy

Deemed the face of the nation for reasons of international visibility, it is commonly assumed that the majority of foreign policy making is conducted by the president and the executive branch; however, this view overlooks the significant influence and power that the legislative branch wields over American foreign policy. First, as stated in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the sole authority to declare war. Second, Congress also possesses the power of the purse, which may be used as a tool to influence the executive branch on how foreign policy is conducted. Third, according to Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the president may negotiate a diplomatic treaty only with the support of a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Fourth, Congress also advises and consents to presidential appointments such as ambassadors and consuls. Through these listed means as well as others, Congress has a significant influence over the direction of foreign policy decision making.

Although in each of these previously listed manners Congress acts in a reactive manner to the foreign policy endeavors of the president and the executive branch, Ralph Carter and James Scott (2009) suggest a theory of congressional foreign policy entrepreneurship in which congresspersons may be proactive in their foreign policy influence ventures; specifically, they may act as what are termed foreign policy entrepreneurs. In this manner, the congressperson chooses to lead the development of foreign policy by attempting to influence the foreign policy of a particular issue outside the desires of the current administration for a continuous period of time. Specifically, this means that the congressperson must engage in more than one attempt of foreign policy entrepreneurship.

A congressperson becomes a foreign policy entrepreneur when he or she engages in developing a new policy regarding a foreign policy issue. This decision may specifically occur during a policy vacuum, a period where there is no policy regarding the issue, or during a policy correction, when the congressperson feels that the current policy is flawed. Furthermore, in a proactive approach, the congressperson does not wait for the president to take action regarding a foreign policy matter or inform the party or country on his or her stance regarding the affair; rather, the congressperson acts on the matter proactively in an attempt to influence foreign policy decision making. Specifically, the congressperson can introduce new legislation regarding the foreign policy issue, offer amendments to existing legislation, conduct policy research, travel to determine the realities of the issue, or hold hearings to publicize the foreign policy issue that he or she is promoting (Carter & Scott, 2009).

Carter and Scott (2009) identify that a congressperson may decide to progress in this fashion for several reasons. First, this pursuit may not be completely influenced by a desire for reelection because foreign policy rarely directly affects the constituency of a congressperson. On the other hand, if a congressperson has a rather large presence of a particular ethnic group within his or her district, this may influence the decision to proceed with actions to influence the foreign policy regarding the respective country of the ethnicity of the constituency. Second, the congressperson may pursue this issue in order to gain respect and influence within Congress. He or she may gain a reputation for expertise in the subject, which may assist him or her in garnering influence in Congress. Third, the congressperson may have a personal policy position regarding the issue. This may stem from core values, personal experiences, and family experiences. The core values of a congressperson may come from his or her respective morality as well as the influence of particular issues that are important to the congressperson. The personal experiences of a congressperson may influence him or her to pursue a particular policy since he or she may have an expertise regarding the issue. Family experiences may also motivate a congressperson to pursue a policy since many have first- or second-generation family members.

To understand the theory of foreign policy entrepreneurship, Carter and Scott (2009) draw on John Kingdon (1995) and his ideas regarding foreign policy entrepreneurs in his work, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policy. According to Kingdon, a congressperson’s decision to engage in foreign policy entrepreneurship may shape policy windows. First, policy making is conducted in the middle of a “problem stream” where those within the government as well as the public recognize a particular problem. During a problem stream, the foreign policy entrepreneur must specifically define the problem in order to enhance the awareness of the policy problem to others. The term policy stream refers to potential solutions to the policy problem, which are developed by policy experts. Finally, the term political stream refers to a change in conditions or specifically to when key actors within the governments and institutions as well as society change in their disposition toward the issue. If the problem stream, policy stream, and political stream correspond at the same time, the policy window will open and the foreign policy entrepreneur will have the opportunity to construct changes regarding the particular policy (Kingdon, as cited in Carter & Scott).

When this process occurs and foreign policy entrepreneurs have an opportunity to create policy changes, the success of their endeavors is influenced by the structural features to include which house of Congress they serve in, if they hold a position on a policy-appropriate committee, which political party they are members of, whether they hold party leadership positions, and whether they are senior congresspersons. Once congresspersons decide to engage in foreign policy entrepreneurship, they will attempt to frame the policy issue to others in order to gain their support and ensure the success of their endeavor. Furthermore, they will make contact with a senior administration official to seek a change in the particular policy, to determine whether to go public with the issue, or possibly to conduct formal measures in order to seek to adopt legislation regarding the policy matter (Carter & Scott, 2009).

Through the theory of foreign policy entrepreneurs, Carter and Scott demonstrate how Congress can project influence on foreign policy creation in a proactive manner as opposed to a reactive manner as prescribed in the U.S. Constitution and by established precedents, where the executive branch essentially produces the foreign policy initiative. Although the constitutional powers established for the legislature are powerful and influential in American foreign policy, the process of foreign policy entrepreneurship allows the congressperson to endorse foreign policy issues and initiatives that are significant to him or her. Overall, foreign policy entrepreneurship is becoming a more common practice among congresspersons, which will undoubtedly affect the process of foreign policy creation in the future.

C. The Bureaucracy and American Foreign Policy

In Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, Graham Allison (1971) analyzes the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 and the consequent naval blockade of Cuba by developing three models or frames of reference in order to highlight the understanding of foreign policy decision making: the rational actor model (RAM), the organizational behavior model (OBM), and the governmental politics model (GPM). Although there is some overlap within the three models, each model represents a distinctive manner of the effect of the bureaucracy on foreign policy decision-making.

The first model is the RAM, where a researcher observes the situation as the state itself as a single entity thinking and acting in unison. In this manner, the state is the key actor and acts in a rational manner. Security is the highest priority of the state and influences various other objectives respective to the state. The state will then select the preference that coincides with the highest of its respective objectives. Therefore, the state is value maximizing in its actions. Allison states that this approach to understanding foreign policy decision making is the most common (Allison, 1969, 1971; Allison & Zelikow, 1999).

Furthermore, the state’s decision of proceeding with an action is determined by several factors: objectives, perceptions of other options, an assessment of the consequences of their actions, and an overall evaluation of each consequence. The culmination of these noted elements will amount to an increase or a decrease to the cost of an alternative option, which ultimately affects whether the decision maker uses the respective option, essentially a cost–benefit analysis. In the end, the decision of the state is viewed as a unified national government action where the state is acting as a single, rational actor in pursuit of the state’s national interest. In the RAM, the elaborate interworkings of government and various bureaucratic missions and goals are not stressed on since the state is viewed as the sole significant entity functioning to pursue a cohesive, uncontested national interest (Allison, 1969, 1971; Allison & Zelikow, 1999).

The second model is the OBM. Here, in contrast to the RAM, decisions are depicted as the product of the collaboration of large governmental organizations, which each tend to conduct themselves according to their own standard operating procedures (or SOPs), yielding standard behaviors. Within this model, the single-state decision maker is no longer the key decision-making actor; rather, the loosely associated governmental organizations themselves are the central actor(s) guided by permanent SOPs that are predetermined (Allison, 1969, 1971; Allison & Zelikow, 1999).

In the OBM, Allison highlights the effect of governmental organizations on foreign policy decision making whereby responsibility for various areas of government is divided among the large organizations. Thus, whereas the RAM depicts decision making conducted by the state as a single entity, the OBM displays decision making as an output of numerous relevant governmental organizations, which may be coordinated by government leaders. To organize this process, the governmental organizations developed SOPs, which are previously established for each organization. The organization, however, may evolve over time because of learning or radically change as a reaction to a major crisis facing the country. In other words, rather than a rational decision-making process, according to this model decisions are the consequence of various organizations within the government acting according to their SOPs, or slight modifications of these, in response to problems. Decisions are not depicted as rational, and therefore it is not assumed to be any effort to reach an optimal decision (as in the RAM), but instead decisions are determined by what an organization deems feasible and yet reasonably responsive to the problem (Allison, 1969, 1971; Allison & Zelikow, 1999).

The third model is the GPM, in which decisions are viewed as the outcome of the bargaining among the actors within government. In this model, the leaders and other individuals within the various governmental organizations are actors within the game of bureaucratic politics who seek to advance their objectives, which are formed by national, organizational, and personal goals (Allison, 1969, 1971). Such goals may include service to the nation but also personal objectives such as career advancement. The GPM depicts politics as a game in which individuals seek to steal the limelight from colleagues at other departments, where subordinates seek to either support or subvert the careers of their bosses, and so on. This model, then, suggests that political decisions are the outcome of complex bargaining games within and across the various organizations that together constitute the national government.

In other words, whereas the RAM viewed decision making as performed by the state and the OBM perceived decision making as the outputs of various governmental organizations, the GPM identifies decision making as a product of bureaucratic politics with the top central organizational leaders as the key players of the game. Within the game, the leaders undoubtedly engage in disagreement, compromise, and bargaining over what direction the government should proceed in regarding foreign policy decisions since each leader has his or her own personal ideas and goals as well as their respective organizational objectives to endorse. Furthermore, the personalities of the leaders become significant to the successfulness of the actor to project his or her position and compel the other actors to agree with his or her position. Allison also suggests that the actor’s ability to be successful in the game depends on his or her power, which is a combination of bargaining advantages, the skill and will of the actor in using bargaining advantages, and the opinions of other actors regarding the bargaining advantages and the skill and will of the actor to use them. In sum, as one moves from the RAM via the OBM to the GPM, the image of how decisions are made becomes increasingly more messy and less an orderly and rational process.

Allison’s seminal work has spawned subsequent generations of scholars who have produced various theories about foreign policy decision making (e.g., Garrison, 1999, 2001; George, 1980; George & George, 1998; Hart, Stern, & Sundelius, 1997; Janis, 1983; Kowert, 2002). What these theories have in common is a recognition that decision making rarely proceeds as orderly as the RAM would suggest. These theories and frameworks share in common an attempt to better understand how the perceptions and cognitions of decision makers, as well as the dynamics among small groups, among the various branches of government, and interactions with the wider domestic audience shape the decision-making process. Some of these theories are discussed in greater detail in Research Paper on Foreign Policy Analysis.

D. Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy

A discussion of American foreign policy cannot be entirely fulfilled without concentrating on the effect of public opinion on American foreign policy. Holsti (1992, 1996) identifies three watersheds that ultimately shaped the relationship between public opinion and American foreign policy: World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. The focus on the effect of public opinion truly commenced after World War I, when public opinion played a role in the decision making of how to create international order in the post–World War I period. The significance of World War II came as scientific polling of public opinion began, allowing for a much more advanced empirical investigation into the opinions of the American public. Finally, the Vietnam War as well as the outcomes after the Vietnam War initiated another focus on the public opinion and its effect on American foreign policy.

Public opinion has been viewed in a disparate manner by liberal and realist classical theorists. Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, and other theorists suggested that given the structure of a democracy, public opinion provides a safeguard on the foreign policy desires of a government. In this manner, the mystery of foreign affairs is revealed, governments are held accountable for their actions, and public opinion is viewed as the solution to some of the dilemmas of government. However, in a nondemocracy such as a monarchy or a totalitarian government, foreign policy may be conducted without regard to public opinion and in the direction to the whims of the monarch or tyrant. In this manner, there is a lack of constraints on the government, and no accountability is given to the public, allowing the leader to conduct foreign policy in a manner to his or her choosing (Holsti, 1992, 1996).

Conversely, realists perceived public opinion as a challenge to the foreign policy decision making of governments. Whereas the liberal school of thought viewed public opinion as an integral aspect of foreign policy, realists such as Hans Morgenthau and others questioned the ability of the public to contribute to foreign policy decision making. First, they considered the public as being too focused on their daily lives and too far removed from the issues concerning foreign policy. Essentially, the public could not understand the essential issues of foreign policy and consequently could not make an effectual contribution to foreign policy decision making. Second, the public was viewed as irrational, passionate, and emotional, which would lead to ineffective decision making and could possibly jeopardize the country if allowed to contribute to foreign policy. Finally, realists viewed the actual process of foreign policy decision making and diplomacy as one based on secrecy, accommodation, and speed. To have the public involved in the process of foreign policy decision making would be counter to the listed necessary traits and could endanger the state itself or the international system within which it resides (Holsti, 1992, 1996).

After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson hoped to develop a new world order centering on democracy and diplomacy among countries. In this vision, Wilson and his cabinet possessed a liberal outlook on the relationship between public opinion and American foreign policy. In holding this viewpoint, they anticipated a significant and increased role for the public in diplomacy and foreign affairs. On the other hand, other figures such as Walter Lippmann, a journalist, held an opposing view of public opinion and its relationship with foreign policy than Wilson and his cabinet. Espousing realist rhetoric, Lippmann wrote in his critiques of liberalism that the public was too interested in their daily lives and fulfilling their most pressing needs and desires to become informed about foreign policy affairs. Furthermore, the public was too far removed from the events of foreign affairs to develop an informed opinion of the issue, and the media was unable to provide for this gap of knowledge (Holsti, 1992, 1996).

The period of World War II and its aftermath produced an intensification of scientific public-opinion polling. During this period, polling organizations attempted to ascertain the opinion of the American public regarding a major concern of U.S. policymakers: Should the United States remain an isolationist from world affairs, or should it become an active player? From the information attained from public-opinion polling during the post–World War II period and prior to the VietnamWar, three main ideas were suggested. First, public opinion is highly volatile. In their writings, Lippmann (1925) and Gabriel Almond (1950) depicted the public as passion driven, moody, and volatile. In addition to this observation, polling data illustrated an American public that was surprisingly ignorant of facts and information essential to foreign affairs. Second, public opinion lacks structure and coherence. Early research and studies predicted that the American public would fluctuate between support for the internationalist viewpoint and support for the isolationist viewpoint regarding foreign affairs, similar to the liberal viewpoint versus the conservative viewpoint regarding domestic affairs. In 1964, however, Philip Converse published a study that suggested a different finding. Contrary to the previous belief that a political spectrum of foreign policy support existed, Converse stated that theAmerican public lacked a coherent structure in their political beliefs and typically, their beliefs held a brief impact on their views regarding foreign affairs. Third, public opinion has limited impact on foreign policy. In the immediate post–World War II period, policymakers were split on the liberal–realist divide concerning the effectiveness of the American public opinion on foreign policy. However, in the 1960s, policymakers now viewed public opinion as having little to no impact on foreign policy decision making. In fact, studies during this period displayed that the opinion of constituencies regarding foreign affairs had little influence over their congresspersons, and other studies proposed that the president had an unbridled impact on foreign policy decision making (Holsti, 1992, 1996).

The Vietnam War provided the third watershed regarding public opinion and American foreign policy. Within this period, the relationship between public opinion andAmerican foreign policy gained a renewed significance as many realists including Lippmann questioned the belief of an imperial presidency and a limited impact of public opinion on foreign policy. Furthermore, more polling organizations with a narrower focus in contrast to the general surveys of Gallup were created and devised their surveys in a simpler yet more extensive and in depth manner. Specifically, these surveys focused on public opinion regarding foreign policy in Vietnam, which revealed support for the administration’s foreign policy endeavors yet also supported an end to the Vietnam War (Holsti, 1992, 1996).

Through the findings of the new public opinion information, the three main ideas criticizing the American public were challenged. First, regarding the idea that the American public opinion is volatile, new studies found that the preceding research and surveys were conducted in a flawed manner that may have been the source of the earlier propositions. By modifying their methodology and research approaches, the new studies found that the American public was remarkably stable in their opinions regarding foreign policy yet remained poorly informed concerning facts, geography, politics, and foreign policy. Second, the claim that the American public lacks structure and coherence also suffered from similar methodological issues, and once researchers modified their methodological approaches, this created a split in support for and challenges against Philip Converse’s (1964) work on mass belief systems. Furthermore, several studies have questioned Converse’s results and found that public opinion does not adhere to an internationalist-isolationist dimension. Since this point, numerous studies have suggested various types of foreign policy attitudes rather than the earlier internationalist–isolationist dimension. Current research has also found that although the American public typically lacks complete information concerning foreign policy, they use simple heuristics in order to compensate for the incomplete knowledge (Holsti, 1992, 1996).

Regarding the claim that public opinion has limited impact on foreign policy, when evidence arose of a relationship between public opinion and American foreign policy, many scholars and analysts continued to disagree that there was a connection between the two. They continued to remain steadfast to the argument that public opinion has no impact on foreign policy, and if any relationship existed, it could be explained as an attempt by the executive to direct public opinion in support of their foreign policy aspirations. To an extent, this was true; however, there were numerous cases of unsuccessful bids for public support. Furthermore, this did not explain the converse relationship. Several studies suggested that in the midst of foreign policy decision making, presidents often considered the postaction response of the American public, which influenced their decisions. This has also been a factor in foreign policy decision making since the public may vote retroactively, and a foreign policy failure may doom the incumbent candidate’s bid for reelection. In addition, according to many public opinion officials for the U.S. government, the public has not been viewed as an entity that may be influenced; rather, public opinion has been a significant explanatory variable in presidential decision making regarding foreign policy. Although the causal linkage between public opinion and American foreign policy has yet to be conclusively established, it has been demonstrated that public opinion has an impact on foreign policy decision making (Holsti, 1992, 1996).

Robert Entman (2004) also advocates a noteworthy relationship between public opinion and American foreign policy. Where earlier models suggested that either public opinion has no effect on American foreign policy or a national government holds influence over public opinion and Holsti (1992, 1996) suggested that the American public has an influence over foreign policy decision making, Entman proposes a dual relationship between the concepts. Specifically, he implies that there is a simultaneous interaction between the concepts since the president attempts to sway the public to agree with his foreign policy endeavors while the public also interacts with the president as they inform the executive branch what they are prepared to tolerate regarding the American foreign policy endeavors. In this model, the interaction between the national government and theAmerican public is not a top-down or bottom-up relationship; rather, it is flowing in both directions in a manner that both levels provide information to the other.

IV. Conclusion

As demonstrated in this research paper, American foreign policy is not characterized by the direction of a single leader or a cohesive, uncontested national interest but rather a complex web of interactions among numerous actors pursuing the various missions and goals of their respective agencies. It is shaped and determined by several facets to include endogenous factors such as the presidency, Congress, the bureaucracy, and American public opinion as well as significant exogenous factors such as the Spanish-American War, World War II, the cold war, and the events on September 11, 2001. Although many have argued that the executive branch has carte blanche in the realm of foreign affairs, there are several constraints on its power through the delegation of powers in the U.S. Constitution as well as the numerous checks on presidential power by Congress. Furthermore, this research paper has displayed that there are other actors who have considerable influence and power in American foreign policy, such as Congress, the bureaucracy, and the American public. Overall, this research paper has demonstrated that American foreign policy has transformed over time through several influences and arguably will continue to evolve based on endogenous factors within the United States as well as exogenous influences in the international system.


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