Global Order, Presidential Power, and U.S. Foreign Policy


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

The global environment shapes foreign policy by introducing a broad range of international affairs into the political spectrum. As Rosati pointed out, various other factors such as “general patterns that prevail throughout the globe” and “world events and relationships” have to be considered at the domestic level (2011, 26). For instance, globalization allowed Europe to grow in power, which in turn, shifted the balance of power in favor of Great Britain and France. As others competed against such dominance, World War II allowed the United States to emerge as a global power. The Vietnam War proved the domination of smaller powers was no longer a simple task. Moreover, the failure in Vietnam and the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system presented the need to counterweigh national security containment strategies against policies promoting economic stability.

Since the onset of the Cold War, policy has been shaped around the “need to restore economic stability and prosperity” and “construct a new international political order” (Rosati 2011, 28). The political logic behind the first goal derived from the undeniable characteristic of the interconnected global economy, one that appeared to demand multilateral efforts. Therefore, three multilateral international organizations (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Monetary Fund, and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) were created. This multilateral approach was intended to minimize threats in the global system. The second goal was intended to enhance national security, which again, appeared to demand multilateral efforts. Thus, the United Nations were constructed to encourage cooperation and diplomacy amongst “The United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China” (Rosati, 2011, 28).

In regard to foreign policy, the president exercises the power of the commander in chief, chief diplomat, and chief of state (Rosati 2011, 65). This means the president has ultimate authority to direct military force abroad, is capable of strengthening or weakening diplomatic relations with foreign leaders, and represents the United States. The role of the president in foreign policy are more pronounced and influential in times of national emergencies. The Cold War period was considered a constant state of emergency, and therefore, presidents enjoyed greater influence. Afterwards, however, intermestic issues became more prevalent minimizing presidential power (Rosati 2011).

The president’s role in foreign policy is constrained by what Rosati referred to as the “paradox of presidential power” (2011, 60). The president only has four years to accomplish a seemingly unsurmountable list of responsibilities and goals. Some of this time is exhausted by managing the scarcity or overabundance of pertinent information. This information can be intentionally manipulated by conflicting and autonomous organizations that make up the bureaucracy. These conflicts can stem from dependent networks inclined toward Congress. More, Congress can be obstructionist while competitively sharing power. State and local governments enjoy sovereign power that allows them the privilege of non-compliance. Subsequently, members of the president’s own political party are not obligated to offer their support and interests groups and social movements pursue goals that are contrary (Rosati 2011).

President Nixon, for example, was faced with an antiwar movement and a growing number of the public who no longer supported America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Nixon responded by publicly announcing a “secret plan” to end the war while privately initiating domestic warfare against the political opposition. He attempted to contain the opposition to his Vietnamization policy by engaging in illegal and unconstitutional behavior toward the bureaucracy, social movements, and media, while devising a cover-up.  Public confidence was destroyed and non-support for the war became more unyielding (Rosati 2011).


Rosati, Jerel A. and James M. Scott.  2011.  The Politics of United States  Foreign Policy.  5th ed. Independence, KY:  Wadsworth Publishing. (accessed March 22, 2014).



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