Contemporary Cases in U.S. Foreign Policy: From Terrorism to Trade


Ralph G. Carter

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    The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and events thereafter demonstrate that post–Cold War expectations of a more peaceful world built on a foundation of liberal democracies are, at the very best, premature. Military conflicts and national security issues continue to occupy the spotlight, while less traditional foreign policy concerns have also emerged. Human rights, trade matters, and the U.S. role in the international community have moved to the forefront, as foreign policy making has become a much more complex and crowded affair than it was during the Cold War.

    Just as the types of foreign policy issues that seem important have changed, the relative roles played by different policymakers have been in flux as well. Although presidents still act unilaterally when possible—as in decisions to use military force—presidential preeminence in overall foreign policy making has generally diminished. Domestic and international groups, nongovernmental organizations, and members of Congress now actively challenge the executive branch's ability to direct foreign policy. In the post–Cold War period, public opinion also seems to play a greater role in policymakers’ decisions.

    This historic shift in the policy process raises a number of questions: Can international institutions contain terrorism or ethnic and religious violence? How can the United States protect its citizens and interests from global terrorist threats? Are unilateral U.S. responses to global threats appropriate, or do they just compound the problem? Will disgruntled domestic actors define new enemies or foreign policy challenges? After the Great Recession, will the international economy be marked by trade wars between regions and free trade within them? What is more important to U.S. foreign policy: human rights or corporate profits and market share? These questions and similar concerns prompted the conception of this book.

    Each of the fifteen case studies included here speaks to a foreign policy process that has become more open, pluralistic, and partisan. With the dramatic increase in the number of congressional subcommittees in the 1970s, followed by the explosive growth of the electronic media in the 1980s and 1990s and the social media of the twenty-first century, individuals and groups now have more points of access through which to participate in policy making. These new actors have their own needs, interests, and agendas. They are generally more partisan in their behavior as well, with Democrats and Republicans vying to put their own foreign policy agendas or policy alternatives forward. In short, U.S. foreign policy making now resembles U.S. domestic policy making: It is overtly political.

    Most of the cases in this volume reflect the reality of jurisdictional competition between the president and Congress (and, at times, the courts) over the control and direction of foreign policy in the contemporary era. Not only do members of the president's opposition party often challenge his foreign policy initiatives, but even members of his own party resist executive leadership when they think that the White House tramples on legitimate congressional responsibilities or that the public overwhelmingly opposes administrative policies. Such circumstances have often led to “bad blood” between the branches, a situation that cannot help but strain the policymaking process. White House controversies—or fundamental changes in governmental direction, such as the 2008–2009 bailouts of banks and financial institutions—can further open presidents up to challenge by other policy-making actors. These themes combine to reveal the chinks in the armor of the presidential preeminence model of foreign policy making.

    Using Case Studies in the Classroom

    Although many excellent U.S. foreign policy texts exist, most fall short in their coverage of recent events and debates. This book aims to cover contemporary events, so that instructors can raise issues confronting today's policymakers. Each case study is written expressly for this volume and is organized in a format that emphasizes the substance of events. A textbook's general description of foreign policy making simply cannot capture all of the intricacies, nuances, and subtleties involved in the events chronicled here. The cases starkly reveal the human dimension of policy making and also help instructors show how administrations often take pains to attempt to do things differently than their predecessors. In addition to showing students the human, political, and organizational faces of policy making, these case studies also introduce them to the wide variety of issues and actors found in the post–Cold War, post–September 11, and now post–Great Recession periods. Students are presented with a “good story,” full of compelling characters and daunting challenges, and information on the relevance of issues and why particular policy choices were made.

    The pedagogical benefits of the case study approach have spurred its use within the international studies community, joining military, business, public policy, and public administration schools that have long used this approach. For college graduates to compete and perform effectively in the real world, they must first see the world as it is. Simplified models of reality may be necessary at times, but they are rarely sufficient in and of themselves. Theoretical models alone do not capture the messy nature of foreign policy making. If instructors are to facilitate an understanding of the political arena, in which everything seemingly affects everything else, they must confront students with the policy-making dynamics that real-world cases illustrate. Were policymakers trying to make rational choices? Were they trying to balance power concerns on a regional or global basis? Were they more responsive to external threats or opportunities, or to internal political pressures at home? Were they reacting to widely shared perceptions of reality? Did analogies mold their decisions, or were they merely used to convey or defend decisions to the public? These and other theoretical concerns are addressed through the case study method.

    Case studies also promote critical thinking and encourage active intellectual engagement. None of their recognized advantages can be realized unless students ask themselves why things occurred as they did. Reasoning, considering alternatives, deciding on one alternative rather than another, and communicating the reasoning behind a choice are skills that are integral to lifelong learning and success in any professional career.

    Because different educational environments—for example, seminars versus large lecture courses, upper-level courses versus introductory classes—require different teaching approaches, this collection includes a number of aids to help students and instructors get the most out of each case study. “Before You Begin”—a series of critical questions at the beginning of each case—serves as a touchstone, giving students ideas to consider and later review. Each case includes a brief chronology noting the important events covered and a list of key figures in the case. Our shared goal here is to walk a fine line: to encourage students to think without telling them what to think. To provide instructors with guidance in using the studies, the online, password-protected instructor's manual ( includes a section on the nuts and bolts of case-based teaching as well as separate entries for analyzing and discussing each case study.

    The Cases

    The case studies in this book were selected to illustrate two important realities of the post–Cold War, post–September 11, and now post–Great Recession era: (1) the range and diversity of the old and new issues facing U.S. foreign policymakers and (2) the variety of the participants in the current policy-making process. The first set of cases concerns the ongoing questions of when and how the United States should intervene militarily and how terrorist threats should be confronted. Military interventions have always been considered “high politics”—decisions typically made in the White House. As the “war on terrorism,” assassinating bin Laden, and Iraq intervention cases show, presidents still largely dominate these issues. However, as always, domestic criticism arises swiftly if presidential policies are not seen as successful or raise other troubling issues—like the use of unmanned drones and targeted killings.

    Changing nuclear security situations prompt another set of cases. How to deal with nuclear weapons proliferation in North Korea, and potentially Iran, has bedeviled policymakers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. Then there's the Bush administration's nuclear agreement with India, which did not generate that much controversy despite reversing three decades of U.S. nonproliferation policy.

    Diplomacy continues to be integral to the implementation, and at times the formation, of U.S. foreign policy. Three cases reach into this arena. After a series of contentious issues marked US-Russian relations during the Clinton and Bush administrations, President Barack Obama sought a highly publicized “reset” of those relations, beginning with a New START Treaty. Multiple challenges frustrated that effort. Also during his presidency, Obama and other policymakers were largely blindsided by the Arab Spring, and its spread to Egypt suddenly pitted U.S. promotion of democracy and support for a longtime ally against each other. Finally, sometimes stuff just happens. In 2012, routine diplomatic relations with China were upset as a blind Chinese dissident sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing just before a long-planned visit to China by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    Another set of cases deals with issues involving economic and trade matters. The financial crisis that caused the Great Recession challenged global policymakers, particularly those in the US, where many of the problems began. Trade with China can be routinely contentious, as it involves complex U.S. relations with the world's second-largest economy and often runs the risk of being sidetracked by diverging political agendas on each side. Finally, the increasingly high-profile issue of global climate change cannot be divorced from its economic aspects, as U.S. federal, state, and local policymakers seek to address global climate change without sacrificing U.S. jobs or productivity in the process.

    The last set of cases focuses on difficult legal issues that have emerged in recent years. The war on terrorism renewed an old debate: What's more important? Personal security or personal liberties? The case in point involved electronic surveillance of potential terrorism suspects and the need for court warrants to engage in eavesdropping. The global effort against terrorism after September 11 also created another challenge: What legal rights to due process of law did detainees have—whether in the United States, on foreign soil, or on U.S. bases abroad? This case thrust the nation's highest courts into a political battle involving both the administration and Congress. Finally, is the United States a “nation of laws” as U.S. political culture suggests? If so, why did the United States choose not to join the newly created International Criminal Court in the late 1990s and why does it continue to oppose U.S. membership? Why would three U.S. presidents—two of them lawyers—resist cooperating with the world's foremost court for trying individuals accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, or aggression?


    As is usually the case in publishing, this book benefits from the efforts of many individuals. First, my thanks go to the authors of the case studies. Not only were they willing to write the studies requested, but they also graciously agreed to make the changes that the CQ Press editors and I suggested. Much appreciated is the timeliness with which they produced their chapters, particularly as the situations covered in some cases continued to evolve as they wrote. Second, a number of colleagues and friends provided valuable assistance at various stages of this process. This collection also benefits from the helpful feedback over the years from many members of the Active Learning in International Affairs Section of the International Studies Association. Having good help when you need it is a treasure, and this volume is better as a result of their respective contributions.

    Luckily for me, the professionals at CQ Press have also been great partners. We began this edition with Elise Frasier's guidance, but she has since moved on to other professional opportunities. Luckily, Charisse Kiino picked up the baton without a hitch, not surprising since Charisse guided the first edition of this volume. Careful copyediting by Diana Breti further improved the writing. Stephanie Palermini took great care in shepherding the book through the production process and into print.

    Finally, I must thank those closest to me. First, Nita has been wonderful throughout the long life of this project. Her advice, understanding, and encouragement, particularly on the many nights and weekends when I had to work, helped me keep my focus on the job at hand. Her consistent support has been instrumental to the successful completion of this project. Second, I also need to thank my extended family and friends. They, too, have been supportive and understanding when my work pulled me away at times. I am truly fortunate to be surrounded by such caring individuals.


    RALPH G. CARTER is professor and former chair of the Political Science Department at Texas Christian University. His research interests center on the domestic sources of U.S. foreign policy. He is the coauthor of IR (2013), Choosing to Lead: Understanding Congressional Foreign Policy Entrepreneurs (2009), and Making American Foreign Policy (1994, 1996), and he served as an associate section editor for the foreign policy entries of The International Studies Encyclopedia (2010). Carter is a past president of both the International Studies Association's Foreign Policy Analysis Section and ISA's Midwest Region. He served as one of the inaugural editors of Foreign Policy Analysis and was the 2006 recipient of the ISA's Quincy Wright Distinguished Scholar Award. In 2012, he was named one of The Best 300 Professors in the United States by Princeton Review. He holds a PhD from Ohio State University.

    LINDA CORNETT is associate professor and chair of political science at the University of North Carolina Asheville, where her classes include international organization, international political economy, and the political economy of development. She earned her BA from Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky, and a MA and PhD in political science from the University of Washington, Seattle.

    PRIYA DIXIT is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech. Her research interests focus on the study of war, especially terrorism and counterterrorism. She is the coauthor of the book Critical Terrorism Studies: An Introduction to Research (2013) and of various journal articles in International Studies Perspectives, International Relations, and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. She is currently working on theorizing a critical approach to terrorism, as well as studying the role of “local troops” from small states in global conflicts. She has a PhD from the School of International Service, American University.

    LOUIS FISHER is Scholar in Residence at the Constitution Project. Previously he worked for four decades at the Library of Congress as senior specialist in separation of powers at Congressional Research Service and specialist in constitutional law at the Library of Congress. He retired in August 2010 after testifying more than fifty times before congressional committees on a range of constitutional issues. He received his doctorate at the New School for Social Research in 1967 and has taught at a number of universities and law schools. Currently he is adjunct professor at the William and Mary Law School. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Presidential War Power, 2nd ed. (2004), Constitutional Conflicts between Congress and the President, 5th ed. (2007), coauthor with Katy Harriger of American Constitutional Law, 10th ed. (2013), and author of a forthcoming treatise on The Law of the Executive Branch: Presidential Power, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

    FRÉDÉRICK GAGNON is a professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the Centre for United States Studies of the Raoul Dandurand Chair at the University of Quebec at Montreal. He was visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington, DC) and at the Center for American Politics and Citizenship (University of Maryland) and visiting professor at the Center for Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University. His research and teaching interests focus on the U.S. Congress, American foreign policy, legislative-executive relations, congressional and presidential elections, U.S. culture wars, U.S. popular culture, and Quebec-US relations. He is the author of a French-language textbook on the U.S. Congress (Le Congrès des États-Unis, 2006), and coauthor of another textbook on U.S. Government (Les États-Unis d'Amérique: Les Institutions Politiques, 2011). He is currently preparing a book on the influence of the chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 1945.

    MARK GIBNEY is the Belk Distinguished Professor at UNC Asheville. His most recent book projects include The Handbook of Human Rights (co-edited with Anja Mihr; forthcoming); Watching Human Rights: The 101 Best Films (forthcoming); Litigating Transnational Human Rights Obligations: Alternative Judgments (co-edited with Wouter Vandenhole; forthcoming); The Politics of Human Rights: The Quest for Dignity (with Sabine Carey and Steven Poe; 2010); Universal Human Rights and Extraterritorial Obligations (co-edited with Sigrun Skogly; 2010); and The Global Refugee Crisis (2010). Since 1984, Gibney has directed the Political Terror Scale (PTS), which measures levels of physical integrity violations in more than 185 countries (

    RYAN C. HENDRICKSON is professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. His research and teaching interests focus on American military action abroad and leadership at NATO. He is the author of The Clinton Wars: The Constitution, Congress, and War Powers (2002) and Diplomacy and War at NATO: The Secretary General and Military Action after the Cold War (2006). He received his PhD from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

    STEVEN W. HOOK is professor and former chair of the Political Science Department at Kent State University. He is co-author of American Foreign Policy Since World War II, 19th ed. (2013) and author of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Paradox of Power, 4th ed. (2013) and National Interest and Foreign Aid (1995). His edited books include U.S. Foreign Policy Today: American Renewal? (2012), RoutledgeHandbook of American Foreign Policy (2012), and Democratic Peace in Theory and Practice (2010), and he has published in the leading journals of the field. He received a BA degree in journalism and political science at the University of Michigan and an MA and PhD in international studies at the University of South Carolina. At Kent State, he received the university's Distinguished Teaching Award in 2007. He is a past president of the Foreign Policy Analysis sections of the American Political Science Association and the International Studies Association.

    DONALD W. JACKSON recently retired as the Herman Brown Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University but returned as the Green Distinguished Emeritus Tutor teaching classes on American constitutional law and international human rights law. His recent research has focused on transnational dimensions of the rule of law, especially on the protection of human rights. He was an observer at the UN conference leading to the adoption of the Rome Statute and the creation of the International Criminal Court. He is the author of several books, including Even the Children of Strangers: Equality under the U.S. Constitution (1992) and The United Kingdom Confronts the European Convention on Human Rights (1997). He was the lead editor of Globalizing Justice: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Law and the Cross-Border Migration of Legal Norms (2010). His PhD is from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his JD is from SMU School of Law.

    PATRICK JAMES is Dornsife Dean's Professor of International Relations and Director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California. He is the author of 22 books and more than 120 articles and book chapters. Among his honors and awards are the Louise Dyer Peace Fellowship from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Lady Davis Professorship of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Quincy Wright Scholar Award from the International Studies Association, and the Eccles Professorship of the British Library. He has been Distinguished Scholar in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration and in Foreign Policy Analysis for the International Studies Association. He has been president (2007–2009) of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, president of the International Council for Canadian Studies (2011–2013), and vice president (2008–2009) of the ISA. He served a five-year term as editor of International Studies Quarterly.

    JOYCE P. KAUFMAN is professor of political science and director of the Center for Engagement with Communities at Whittier College. She is the author of Introduction to International Relations (2013); A Concise History of U.S. Foreign Policy, 2nd ed. (2010); and NATO and the Former Yugoslavia: Crisis, Conflict and the Atlantic Alliance (2002); and co-editor (with Andrew M. Dorman) of The Future of Transatlantic Relations: Perceptions, Policy and Practice (2011). She is also the author of numerous articles and papers on U.S. foreign and security policy. With Kristen Williams, she is co-author of Challenging Gender Norms: Women and Political Activism in Times of Crisis (2013); Women and War: Gender Identity and Activism in Times of Conflict (2010); and Women, the State, and War: A Comparative Perspectiveon Citizenship and Nationalism (2007). She holds a BA and MA in political science from New York University and a PhD from the University of Maryland.

    THOMAS D. LAIRSON is Gelbman Professor of International Business and professor of political science at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. His courses focus on the political economy and business systems of East Asia, and he has published books and articles on international political economy, Chinese business, Asian economic growth, and technology and economy. He served as the first Ford Foundation Professor of International Relations in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1994; was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2011 for Singapore; and has taught and lectured at Fudan University, Jiaotong University, and Wuhan University in China and at Jindal Global University in India. Lairson earned his PhD from the University of Kentucky.

    JEFFREY S. LANTIS is professor of political science and international relations at The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio. His teaching and research interests include foreign policy analysis, nuclear nonproliferation, and international cooperation and conflict. A past president of the Active Learning in International Affairs Section of the International Studies Association, he is the author or co-editor of seven books, including most recently U.S. Foreign Policy in Action: An Innovative Teaching Text (2013) and Foreign Policy in Comparative Perspective (2012), as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters. He has served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar at The Australian National University and the University of New South Wales and a visiting scholar at other universities. He earned his PhD from The Ohio State University.

    FRANKLIN BARR LEBO recently earned a PhD in transnational and comparative politics and policy from Kent State University. His dissertation is titled “Between Bureaucracy and Democracy: Regulating Administrative Discretion in Japan.” His research and teaching interests center on East Asia and environmental policy. Lebo received a BA in political science and East Asian studies at Brandeis University and a JD with an International Law concentration from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He is also an adjunct instructor in the Political Science Department at Baldwin Wallace University, teaching environmental policy and sustainability courses. Lebo is the author of “The Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo)” in the Northeast Ohio Sustainability Case Studies Project (2013) and is the co-author (with Steven W. Hook) of “Development/Poverty Issues and Foreign Policy Analysis” in The International Studies Encyclopedia (2010).

    ERIC MOSKOWITZ is associate professor of political science and urban studies at The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio. His research interests center on presidential decision making, the public policy-making process, and racial politics. He has also published on housing and neighborhood policy and contemporary U.S. decision making on foreign policy. He received his PhD from Indiana University.

    ÖZGÜR ÖZDAMAR is deputy chairperson and director of graduate studies at Bilkent University's Department of International Relations. He has taught at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Stephens College, Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, TOBB-ETÜ, the Turkish Military Academy, and the National Security College. Dr. Özdamar's research focuses on foreign policy analysis, international relations theories, and security studies. Specifically, he has written articles on Turkish, American, Syrian, and Iranian foreign policies; Black Sea regional security; EU energy security; and ethno-religious conflicts and religion in world politics. Dr. Özdamar's articles have been published in academic journals such as Foreign Policy Analysis, Social Science Quarterly, Terrorism and Political Violence, Middle East Policy, Uluslararası İlişkiler, and International Studies Review. He currently serves as executive officer at the International Studies Association-ENMISA, on the editorial board of Foreign Policy Analysis, and as editor of All Azimuth: Journal of Foreign Policy and Peace.

    RODGER A. PAYNE is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He is the coauthor of Democratizing Global Politics (2004) and The Power of Ideas (2008) and author of forty journal articles or book chapters, focusing primarily on security politics. From 1994–2011, Payne directed the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He previously taught at Northwestern University and was a visiting research fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation; and the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security at the University of Chicago. Payne's awards include an International Peace and Security Studies Fellowship cosponsored by the Social Science Research Council and MacArthur Foundation. He was a member of the two-person 1983 National Debate Tournament championship team from the University of Kansas. He holds a PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park.

    SEAN PAYNE is a doctoral candidate in the School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Louisville. His research interests include environmental politics, international development, and urban policy.

    THOMAS PRESTON is the C. O. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of The School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs at Washington State University. A specialist in security policy, foreign affairs, and political psychology, he is the author of The President and His Inner Circle: Leadership Style and the Advisory Process in Foreign Affairs (2001), From Lambs to Lions: Future Security Relationships in a World of Biological and Nuclear Weapons (2007, 2009), Pandora's Trap: Presidential Decision Making and Blame Avoidance in Vietnam and Iraq (2011), and co-author of Introduction to Political Psychology (2004, 2010). He frequently serves as an independent consultant for various U.S. government departments and agencies.

    JAMES M. SCOTT is the Herman Brown Chair and professor of political science at Texas Christian University. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of seven books and more than fifty articles, chapters, and other publications. A former president of both the International Studies Association's Midwest Region (2000) and its Foreign Policy Analysis Section (2001), he is currently a coeditor of Foreign Policy Analysis. He is the recipient of the 2012 Quincy Wright Distinguished Scholar Award from the International Studies Association and he has directed the annual NSF-funded Democracy, Interdependence, and World Politics Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates Program since 2004.

    GERALD FELIX WARBURG is professor of public policy and assistant dean for external affairs at the University of Virginia's Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. His research interests center on the U.S. national security policy-making process and best practices for NGO leaders. As legislative assistant to members of the U.S. House and Senate leadership, he played a lead staff role in drafting such public laws as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Sanctions Act, and the Bingham Amendment, leading to the abolition of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. He is author of Conflict and Consensus: The Struggle Between Congress and the President Over Foreign Policymaking (1990), The Mandarin Club (2006), chapters on Congress and lobbying in The National Security Enterprise: Navigating the Labyrinth (2011), and Dispatches from the Eastern Front: A Political Education from the Nixon Years to the Age of Obama (2014). He holds degrees from Hampshire College and Stanford University.

    STEPHEN ZUNES is professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco. His research interests focus on U.S. Middle East policy, human rights, and nonviolent civil insurrections. He is the principal editor of Nonviolent Social Movements (1999), the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (2003), and co-author (with Jacob Mundy) of Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution (2010). He serves as a senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies, an associate editor of Peace Review, a contributing editor of Tikkun, and chair of the academic advisory committee for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. He received his PhD from Cornell University.

  • Conclusion

    Ralph G.Carter

    Change we can believe in? Despite the rhetoric of Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008, the foreign policy actions of President Obama's first term seemed more a difference of style than a sharp change in substance. Although Obama reached out in new ways to diverse international audiences and was generally perceived abroad as more willing to listen to others than was President George W. Bush, his policies proved to be largely centrist and pragmatic in nature. With some exceptions, most Republicans in Congress found they could usually support the president's requests—at times more easily than could members of the more liberal wing of his own party. Thus the sharp partisan differences found in domestic policy making (see, e.g., health care reform or the fiscal cliff debates) were not generally found in foreign policy making. Time will tell whether that pattern remains in place for his second term, as he said very little about looming foreign policy issues—outside of perhaps energy policy noted in the context of global climate change—in his second inaugural address.

    As in the previous editions of this volume, these case studies illustrate the array of external challenges and opportunities, substantive issues, internal political situations, and policy-making dynamics likely to confront U.S. foreign policy makers well into the twenty-first century. Although each of these fifteen cases offers a unique perspective on policy making, patterns can be discerned in the internal and external policy-making environments.

    On the Outside: Shifts in External Challenges

    Foreign policy is made by those who act in the name of the state, and they do so in relation to the external and internal environments. Although the concept of viewing “the state as an actor in a situation” is not new, it continues to be helpful.1 The external environment presents either opportunities to embrace or problems to solve. How foreign policy makers react to such external situations often depends on the internal environment. Why they get involved in a situation makes a difference, and how their preferences correspond to those of the people, opinion makers, and the media plays a major role in decision making.

    The Cold War era was dominated by the politics of national security. To U.S. foreign policy makers, the Soviet threat overrode all other foreign policy issues. Persistent images of a relentless enemy and the potentially catastrophic costs of a policy mistake typically led administration officials to neither seek nor encourage input from others who might know less about the external situation.2 Although some observers perceived that presidential policy-making preeminence ended with the Vietnam War,3 most would agree that such presidential preeminence ended along with the Cold War. Without the threat of nuclear annihilation looming over policy discussions, reasonable people could disagree about what the United States should do in foreign affairs.4 So in the post–Cold War, post–September 11, and post–Great Recession era, the external situation neither stifles foreign policy debate nor deters the participation of potential policy-making actors. Although during the Cold War many “realists” seemed to think that only the external environment mattered, there now seems little question that both the external and internal political situations significantly influence U.S. foreign policy makers.

    In the present era, fewer traditional external challenges and opportunities confront U.S. foreign policy makers, but new ones have arisen. Financial crises can threaten the viability of even mature states—like Greece and others—and require new responses from international actors like the European Union and the G-20. The global terrorist threat has concentrated itself in a front line called “AfPak” while at the same time fragmenting globally into diverse al Qaeda franchises that operate on their own. Regime change and nation building, rogue regimes, nuclear proliferation, genocidal civil wars, drug smuggling, and global environmental degradation are but a few examples of the challenges policy makers face. Other examples are more positive, such as structuring beneficial trade relations; helping people and states through multilateral assistance; and creating new, cooperative international institutions to handle complex problems. For U.S. policy makers, the difficult questions are whether the United States should respond to a given situation and, if so, how?

    On the Inside: The New Foreign Policy Challenges

    The answers to whether and how the United States should respond are usually found in the internal political situations facing foreign policy makers. As James Scott sums it up, “A changing agenda and increasing interdependence and transnational ties make foreign policy making more like domestic policy making: subject to conflict, bargaining, and persuasion among competing groups within and outside the government.”5 This statement echoes a remark made by President Bill Clinton: “The more time I spend on foreign policy … the more I become convinced that there is no longer a clear distinction between what is foreign and domestic.”6 During the Cold War, the president and his advisers directed foreign policy, but in the present era members of Congress and other powerful groups have become highly visible participants in the process. There are now numerous actors clamoring to act in the name and best interest of the United States.

    Interbranch Leadership: Presidential-Congressional Interactions

    In the present period, some actions remain clearly presidential, such as decisions to go to war, to deploy or remove troops from a combat zone, or to assassinate terrorist leaders. In other instances, Congress seems to be calling the tune, such as in limiting what the president can promise in global climate change talks, setting the parameters of acceptable terms in financial bailouts and stimulus packages, or telling the president the United States will not participate in the International Criminal Court.

    Today presidents and members of Congress openly vie for influence over many policy issues, with each branch doing its best to shape the outcome. The possible results of this pattern of interbranch leadership include cooperation, constructive compromise, institutional competition, or confrontation and stalemate.7 The cases in this volume illustrate all four of these variants. For example, the Indian nuclear accord case reflects institutional cooperation, the China trade case reveals constructive compromise, institutional competition is at the heart of the climate change case, and confrontation and stalemate mark the ICC case. The judicial branch also occasionally becomes a major player in these policy disputes, as the National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping and the detainees cases demonstrate.

    Each branch of government uses direct and indirect tactics to accomplish its goals. Direct tactics reflected here include members of Congress introducing legislation to change U.S. policy (as in the NSA eavesdropping, China trade, global financial crisis, ICC, and detainees cases), presidents using the military (as in the terrorism, targeted assassinations, and Iraq cases), and promoting diplomatic negotiations (as in the Iranian, North Korean, Chinese defector, Indian nuclear, and ICC cases). Sometimes, when both branches want to “frame” issues in a favorable way, indirect tactics are chosen. Thus, from Sen. Jesse Helms's perspective, the ICC was not about the United States being a law-abiding member of the international community (as the administration suggested), but about threats to U.S. sovereignty. Once issues are successfully framed in the negative, no one wants to be depicted as supporting them. On the other hand, sometimes negative frames fail to take hold, as the appeal of embracing the world's largest democracy (India) overrode concerns about reversing long-standing nonproliferation policy. The executive and legislative branches also try to anticipate the reaction of the other, whether it is an administration trying to gauge congressional reactions in cases like ICC participation or a Democratically controlled Congress testing how much it can press the Obama administration, as in the global financial crisis case.

    The actions of other administration officials, and occasionally the courts, also complicate interbranch leadership. Senior administrative officials played pivotal roles in the decisions to pursue war with Iraq, eavesdrop without warrants, and detain enemy combatants. The courts were pivotal in deciding the ability of the administration to pursue warrantless wiretaps or to detain enemy combatants and U.S. citizens and immigrants in the war on terrorism.

    New Influences: The Societal Actors

    Government officials do not act in a political vacuum. They are often the targets of interest group representatives, who usually believe that their concerns are identical to those of the collective nation (as in the Indian nuclear, Chinese trade, and detainees cases). The news media report on politics, and how the news is reported can sway public opinion (e.g., in the cases of NSA eavesdropping and the detainees). The public's opinion is then used to impress a policy preference on policy makers (as in the Egyptian Revolution and financial crisis cases). In most of these cases, experts who serve as opinion leaders line up on one or both sides of an issue, trying to get their preferred policies enacted. The question becomes, “Who has the ear of policy makers?”

    Stimuli: Underlying Factors

    Governmental and nongovernmental actors often disagree on foreign policy issues because they respond to different stimuli and thus frame issues differently.8 To one person, the China trade issue is a human rights problem, while to another it is a jobs issue. At other times agreement can be reached on the definition of an issue but not on the policy solution. For instance, nuclear proliferation concerns virtually everyone, but should Iran and North Korea be the targets of “hard”’ or “soft” power responses? Why should India (or Israel, for that matter) be treated differently? As the product of a political process, foreign policy is influenced by what government officials think they should do—enact good policy or garner institutional prestige and stature—and what they think they must do—address the potential preferences of citizens and voters.9

    Sometimes these differences are simply the products of partisanship and ideology. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, politics seemed to stop “at the water's edge.”10 The last two decades, however, have brought increasingly ideological partisanship to foreign affairs.11 Cases such as warrantless eavesdropping and how to get out of Iraq pitted more liberal Democrats against the more conservative Republican administration. Now, at times, they pit congressional Democrats against their copartisans in the White House. Although Obama's preference for centrist foreign policy has dampened this ideological divide in a Democratically controlled Congress, it has not ended it.

    Looking to the Future

    Each case in this collection touches on the unifying theme that U.S. foreign policy making is becoming more open, pluralistic, and partisan. Responding to increasingly diverse motivations, more and more governmental and nongovernmental actors are getting involved. As foreign policy becomes increasingly intermestic and more like domestic policy, reasonable people can be expected to disagree and try to shape policy based on their own values and attitudes. Such behavior has long been commonplace for “low politics,” that is, such intermestic issues as immigration, weapons procurement, and foreign trade. Without the overriding fear of global annihilation, there seem to be few reasons for congressional and societal actors to defer to the president or other officials of the executive branch for many “high politics” issues involving core national interests. These other actors bring their ideas, attitudes, passions, ideological beliefs, and partisanship with them as they try to affect policy making. In terms of any search for consensus, the short-term trends do not look promising as the foreign policy process continues to become more political.

    With more open and pluralistic foreign policy making, those who oppose the president's policy preferences will seek to exploit any internal divisions within an administration. Members of Congress, interest groups, nongovernmental organizations, and media pundits will seek policy allies in the administration. It is interesting to observe to what degree officials’ loyalties to the president outweigh their occasional differences with his policy preferences. Future presidents will have to find policy positions that feel right to them, keep their administration's officials “on message,” and convince the country that their policy prescriptions are the best for the nation.

    The 2008 elections paired a Democratically controlled Congress with a Democratic president. Quickly, all concerned realized that this situation did not represent a free pass to create whatever policies they desired. Despite the common partisan tie, the structural differences remained. Even when from the same party, presidents and members of Congress respond to different cues and motivations. Thus, even under the best of circumstances, presidents can be expected to have difficulties with Congress regarding foreign policy. As a noted congressional scholar argues,

    The Constitution establishes a fluid decision process that cannot ensure a creative governmental response to issues that confront the country. The system of separation of powers, with its checks and balances, works to constrain the enactment of public programs. Partisanship (embodied in divided or unified government), the responsiveness of government to electoral considerations, the character of congressional organization, and the quality and commitment of presidential leadership conspire in distinctive ways to create a policy process prone to delay and deadlock.12

    In such an environment, anything controversial will further complicate policy making. After September 11, 2001, George W. Bush bet his presidency on his war on terrorism. While it began with great domestic and international support, that support began to wane after the invasion of Iraq. For his part, it appears Obama has bet his presidency on recovery from the global financial crisis and some measure of success regarding the defense challenges present in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office showed how much the international arena welcomed his presence in the White House, but many policies remain largely unchanged since the George W. Bush presidency. Again, navigating the difficult issues intertwined in the global climate change debate was the sole major foreign policy issue highlighted in Obama's second inaugural speech.

    Thus some things have not changed in this post–Cold War, post– September 11, and now post–Great Recession era. U.S. foreign policy making continues to grow more pluralistic, partisan, and political in the twenty-first century. The good news is that U.S. foreign policy is becoming representative of more organized interests and points of view, more democratic in nature, and somewhat more transparent in process. The bad news for policy makers is that the road to foreign policy enactment and successful implementation shows all the signs of being an increasingly bumpy ride. To paraphrase Winston Churchill's seafaring analogy, democracies are like rafts—they are virtually unsinkable, but they proceed slowly and one's feet always get wet. In this more open process, foreign policy making will almost always be slower, but one hopes that it will be surer in its outcomes.


    1. See Richard C. Snyder, H. W. Bruck, Burton M. Sapin, Valerie M. Hudson, Derek H. Chollet, and James M. Goldgeier, Foreign Policy Decision Making (Revisited) (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).

    2. See Richard Melanson, American Foreign Policy since the Vietnam War, 2nd ed. (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1996).

    3. See Thomas Franck and Edward Weisband, Foreign Policy by Congress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); James M. Scott and Ralph G. Carter, “Acting on the Hill: Congressional Assertiveness in U.S. Foreign Policy,” Congress and the Presidency, no. 2 (Autumn 2002): 151–169; and Ralph G. Carter, “Congressional Foreign Policy Behavior: Persistent Patterns of the Postwar Period,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 16, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 329–359.

    4. For a good discussion of these themes, see James M. Scott and A. Lane Crothers, “Out of the Cold: The Post–Cold War Context of U.S. Foreign Policy,” in After the End: Making U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post–Cold War World, ed. James M. Scott (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 1–25.

    5. James M. Scott, “Interbranch Policy Making after the End,” in Scott, After the End, 401.

    6. Quoted in Ralph G. Carter, “Congress and Post–Cold War U.S. Foreign Policy,” in Scott, After the End, 129–130.

    7. Scott and Crothers, “Out of the Cold,” 11.

    8. James M. Lindsay, Congress and the Politics of U.S. Foreign Policy (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

    9. For more on congressional policy motivations, see R. Douglas Arnold, The Logic of Congressional Action (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990); Aage Clausen, How Congressmen Decide (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973); Richard F. Fenno, Congressmen in Committees (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973); or John W. Kingdon, Congressmen's Voting Decisions, 3rd ed. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989).

    10. See Carter, “Congressional Foreign Policy Behavior.”

    11. Carter, “Congress and Post–Cold War U.S. Foreign Policy,” 128.

    12. Leroy N. Rieselbach, “It's the Constitution, Stupid! Congress, the President, Divided Government, and Policymaking,” in Divided Government: Change, Uncertainty, and the Constitutional Order, ed. Peter F. Galderisi (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), 129.

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