Long Views and Short Goals
Popularity and American Foreign Policy
PERHAPS the chief worry about a public-relations presidency has to do with the nation's foreign affairs. A president too concerned with public standing might make decisions for the wrong reasons, taking actions likely to win support and hiding those, beneath the claims of "national security," expected to be unpopular or, in extreme cases, unconstitutional. Consequently, in critical matters of war and peace, personal interest could conflict with the public interest, and immediate political goals with a longer view of national needs and obligations. It is all very well to ask for public involvement in these critical decisions, to hope that people will hold their elected officials accountable for the decisions they take. Such accountability requires information and some vigorous debate. It is quite another matter to turn things around so that the public's name is used, as in a president's high popularity ratings, to justify decisions that same public knows nothing about.
Part of the reason for the diversion of funds in the Iran-Contra scandal was the White House's perception that the Contra cause had not gained public support. 1 Hence, secret sources of funding were pursued until President Reagan could persuade the public and Congress for legitimate funding. It was not only the Iranian arms dealers and Israelis who were solicited but also the Saudis, the Taiwanese, and the South African government. 2 All knew that