Fred Henneke, Attorney & Counselor-At-Law
With the exception of Dwight Eisenhower and George H. W. Bush,every president since World War II has taken office without significant foreign policy experience. Every one has taken office, at least initially, after a campaign that focused on domestic issues. Yet every one has ended up spending a lot of time and effort on foreign policy. Why, you ask?
- Under our Constitution, bolstered by relevant Supreme Court Cases, the President is the sole arbiter of the Nation’s foreign policy. Congress’ role is limited to approving treating, confirming appointees and appropriating funds. Presidents quickly discover that they alone can withdraw from international agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord and NAFTA, establish diplomatic relations with other nations a la Cuba, and make grand trips abroad, usually to throngs of cheering crowds.
- Most of the time, Congress is not a player. There is no need to negotiate with the various factions of either party or with the leaders of the House or Senate. A simple pronouncement gets the ball rolling. He, or she, leads the parade.
- Ego. Travel abroad and you are lionized. The heads of other nations jockey to be close to you. Your every word creates headlines all around the world.
- Significant foreign issues require attention NOW. The president is called upon to provide instant (relatively) responses to crises from around the globe. He, or she, can follow their instincts, hopefully after input and deliberation with their chosen advisers.
Remembering that most presidents come into office without real foreign policy experience, the down side of having all the authority centered in one person is that the decisions will be made hastily without due deliberation and consideration. Announcing tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum to protect our steel and aluminum puts at serious risk our farmers who rely upon exports to China for a lot of their profits. Pulling our troops out of Iraq precipitously allows ISIS to take up residence in Iraq. Withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Agreement puts us at odds with our European allies. The question becomes whether or not these easily predictable consequences were anticipated; if so, do the positive results of such actions outweigh the blow backs?
Up until now, President Trump has not had a cohesive foreign policy team to assist him in these decisions, one with which he was comfortable. It remains to be seen what real influence or impact Messrs. Pompeo, Bolton, Haspel and Mattis will have. Time will tell. Without a doubt, there are serious issues with potentially dire consequences ahead.