Foreign Policy: Whose Ball Is It Anyway?

Article excerpt

Presidents long have sparred with Congress about who Has greater say in the foreign affairs of the United States. Maybe the Founding Fathers wanted it that way.

When House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia visited Jerusalem last month, he told members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, that "We in Congress ... stand with you today in recognizing Jerusalem as the united and eternal capital of Israel."

Indeed, Gingrich safely could make that statement because he is a cosponsor, along with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota, of legislation calling upon President Clinton and the secretary of state to affirm publicly as a matter of U.S. policy that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the state of Israel.

Of course, this is exactly the opposite of the policy espoused by the president and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "I think it's unfortunate that the speaker, in a range of matters related to foreign policy, has injected a high degree of partisanship into his comments," said White House spokesman Michael McCurry. Other comments from supporters of the president resurrected complaints that partisanship should stop at the water's edge.

Yet what was at issue was not so much partisanship -- a significant majority of both parties supports the Jerusalem bill -- but the ongoing struggle between Congress and the White House for control of foreign policy. President after president boldly has asserted that Congress has no business getting involved in foreign relations at all, while nearly every Congress has believed the Constitution gives the legislative branch broad reach into nearly every aspect of policymaking.

Surprisingly, the Constitution itself says very little about which branch has responsibility for foreign policy. In Article II, Section 1, the executive power is vested in the president, without further explanation. Section 2 makes him "Commander in Chief" of the military forces, and gives him power "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate" to make treaties and to appoint ambassadors. The only other power clearly touching on foreign affairs is the authority to "receive ambassadors and other public ministers." By contrast the Congress is given much more specific authority in Article 1, Section 8: "Congress shall have power ... to provide for the common defense ... to regulate commerce with foreign nations ... to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas and offenses against the Law of nations, to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water, to raise and support armies . …