Chapter Summary

This chapter focuses primarily on presidential power and decision-making in U.S. foreign policy. Based on provisions in the Constitution and historical precedents, the president has become the focus of foreign policy agenda setting and implementation. The Constitution gives the president strong formal powers, such as commanding the nation’s armed forces, signing treaties, recognizing foreign ministers and governments, and appointing ambassadors. The president also has inherent advantages and informal powers--he (and eventually she) is the only elected official with a national constituency who acts as a political party leader, serves as the bureaucracy’s CEO, and always remains in session. Still, despite these advantages and resources, the president is hardly free from constraints and influences in foreign policy decision-making. The president is surrounded by an inner circle of advisers, staff members, and cabinet secretaries, all of whom have interests and opinions in the foreign policy process as well. 

This chapter also discusses how the role of the vice president may vary in foreign policy decision-making. The president also has executive councils that operate to inform and advise the White House and yet are separate from the bureaucracy. Presidents, however, use and manage their advisory networks differently. Various models of foreign policy management style exist, ranging from less organized competitive models to more orderly and hierarchal formalistic models. The president also faces constraints outside the executive branch. The international system often determines the global environment in which states operate, and the president is not free from issues that arise from the balance of power among countries and military rivalries. The president is also not removed from the domestic political environment. The Supreme Court, though it often refrains from addressing foreign policy issues, can restrict the president’s ability to act. This has been especially evident in the war on terror. Finally, foreign policy issues that are not anticipated or among the president’s priorities are often brought to the agenda by international crises, Congress, or the media.