Reinventing What for Whom? President and Congress in the Making of Foreign Policy



    1. The university professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh and is also coeditor of the journal, Governance. Most recently, he has authored (with Joel D. Aberbach) In the Web of Politics: Three Decades of the U.S. Federal Executive (Brookings 2000) and edited (with Colin Campbell), The Clinton Legacy (Chatham House 2000).
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  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a revised article originally prepared for presentation at the Conference on Reinventing the Presidency, sponsored by the Program in American Politics of the Center for Presidential Studies, Texas A&M University, October 1-2, 1999. The author is thankful to Louis Fisher and Charles Hermann for their wise, if not always heeded, comments on an earlier draft of this article.


Strengthening the presidency in foreign policy usually means weakening others who may be a president's competitors. Before pursuing such a path it is important to know what problems are present and whether we wish to invest more power in the president to deal with them. An inventory of these problems suggests the following: (1) Congress traditionally has had and continues to exercise influence over the financing of international commitments, (2) the Senate recently has been more actively resisting presidential nominees for extraneous reasons and typically doing so through dilatory and minority obstructing tactics rather than through floor votes, yet (3) presidential willingness to embark unilaterally on foreign policy and defense commitments is rarely successfully resisted. It is dubious that structural reinvention will resolve matters that arise from strong political difference, nor is it the case that presidents, under the present system, find themselves paralyzed from acting.