ON Jan. 20, for the first time in 12 years, both the White House
and Congress will be under the control of the same party. The new
president has promised to focus his attention on solving America's
domestic problems. Yet the world will not stand still. It is clear
that the next administration will need to devote considerable
attention to foreign policy.
The foreign-policy roles of Congress and the president are not
abstract issues for legal scholars. They are practical
considerations essential to the making of good foreign policy and
the effective function of government. The foreign policy of the
United States clearly works best when the president and Congress
The president is the chief architect of American foreign policy.
Under the Constitution, he is the commander-in-chief. He has
considerable authority to pursue the policies he chooses. The unity
of the executive branch, its control of information, and the
national security demands of the cold war gave - and still give -
the president an unassailable preeminence in the making of foreign
policy. Nevertheless, there are two important limits on a
president's ability to act in foreign affairs - his time and the
With respect to time, the president can only focus on a few
foreign-policy issues. The decision as to which issues to focus
upon is perhaps the president's most important one. That decision
will determine his foreign-policy priorities and agenda.
With respect to Congress, the Constitution enumerates several
powers. Congress is instructed to provide for the common defense,
and it has the power to declare war. Congress has great influence
over foreign policy because of its vast - but not total - control
over the purse.
There are certain things Congress cannot do. It cannot conduct
diplomacy. Diplomacy requires speed, flexibility, tact, secrecy,
expertise, sustained interest, and strong leadership.
Congress brings other strengths to the making of foreign policy.
It is a deliberative body. It is more accessible and serves several
functions: It can help prevent error, provide new proposals, give
all parties a voice, educate public opinion, and win public support
for US foreign policy. A foreign policy cannot be sustained for the
long haul without the support of the American people, and
congressional backing is perhaps the most important test of that
Consultation is the key to the president's relations with
Congress. It has often been too little, too late. It has often
meant notification of an action taken or about to be taken.
Consultation over the last 12 years has rarely meant a genuine
dialogue of seeking the views of Congress prior to the president
making a decision or taking an action.
Inadequate consultation frustrates members of Congress because
it reduces their opportunity to influence policymaking. It can lead
to unnecessary conflict, additional congressional foreign-policy
initiatives at variance with the executive branch, and attempts by
the Congress to micro-manage programs and control policy