Presidential power in a constitutional republic
The president of the United States, by the nature of his/her office, derives power from a variety of sources and through a number of methods. These can be through statute, popularity, necessity, personal persona and appeal. As such, his/her influence can be vast, long-term and deep concerning how our government functions and the direction of the United States foreign policy.
The United States Constitution lays the framework for the power the chief executive has and how he/she will function in the office and as a part of a representative democracy. Article II of the Constitution defines the duties of the office and provides a layout as to how the president will conduct the business of the country and also transact the business of the countrys foreign policy.
The Constitution provides a wide latitude concerning how the president chooses to conduct American foreign policy by the nature of a lack of candid detail. As noted, the president has statutory authority for legal relationships with other states within the international system, but the Constitution does not speak directly or indirectly to what the presidents foreign policy should or should not entail nor does it comment on its effectiveness or ineffectiveness as a requirement for continued practice or sustainment. Hence he/she has a considerable degree of power and influence over the foreign policy goals and objectives during his/her tenure in office.
People within the country generally look to the president for leadership and to generate solutions to problems throughout the country, even if they are beyond the grasp of the president or even if they relate to state or local issues.
This is the paradox of presidential power and presidential leadership. The presidents power to effect change is not unlimited nor is it all encompassing. The president cannot solve every problem nor can the federal executive effectively deal with every issue that confronts the nation. Oftentimes the private sector has to deal with matters and can deal with them more efficiently. Sometimes state and local governments have to provide solutions to problems.
Person of many hats
This part of the position of being president illustrates that the president must wear many hats and that these hats change regularly and frequently. If one wants to bolster and retain power, and to lesser degrees have an effective foreign policy, he or she must not only wear them well but also transition from one to another fast and easily.
For example, the president serves many functions not only in government but to the electorate. He is a leader, diplomat, ambassador, manager, chief executive officer, legislator and commander-in-chief of the United States military. He is also a functioning judiciary officer in the sense that he can issue pardons; and unlike many other forms of a representative democracy, he is the head of government and the head of state.
The numerous roles and responsibilities that must be fulfilled by the president serve to expand his/her derivative authority to create, modify, amend, implement and influence United States foreign policy. Of these roles, the most crucial to the countrys foreign policy are commander-in-chief, chief diplomat and the head of state. The responsibility of developing a comprehensive and applicable foreign policy rests with the office of the president, meaning he or she must guide the nations foreign policy and is ultimately responsible for what it does or fails to do with regards to advancing U.S. interests abroad and maintaining U.S. national security.
A central component in U.S. foreign policy is the use of the United States armed forces. Military intervention has been paramount to U.S. foreign policy since the inception of the nation. The threat of military force or the actual use of military force has long served as a key factor to U.S. foreign policy. Many presidents have exercised their authority as commander-in-chief to aid U.S. foreign policy goals,
Also of relevant importance to the presidents role as leader of foreign policy is the role of chief diplomat. Enter the personal qualities and characteristics of charm, charisma, appeal, allure, personality and candor. The president has to see and interact with numerous people on a daily basis, oftentimes with people who are representing another country or the leader of another country.
The president cannot expect to get much accomplished or advance his own foreign policy agenda if he cant get along with other leaders or if he is not liked or seen as an ill-advised administrator of his country or of his government.
Recent presidents have personally led negotiations with other countries or served as the mediator in resolving on-going international issues. For example, President Richard Nixon led U.S. talks with the Soviet Union to accomplish the SALT Treaty. President Ronald Reagan met four separate times with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachav while in office to cool the heated tensions of the Cold War and establish a working dialogue between the two countries; and President Jimmy Carter served as the arbitration entity between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during the Camp David talks that would eventually become the Camp David Peace Accords.
While many things fell into place during each of these respective negotiations, the appeal of the president in each circumstance and his ability to establish rapport with foreign leaders and compromise on various issues while maintaining U.S. security, demonstrate the importance of the role of the president as the chief diplomat and chief ambassador for the United States and his essential participation for successful U.S. foreign policy.
Of key importance in the 21st century and in a day of globalization and an ever-advancing technology sector used by numerous media outlets is the presidents ability or lack thereof to conduct successful foreign policy being tied in large measure and to a specific degree: public opinion and how the media frames the success or failure of the presidents agenda and initiatives. It is easy to note the large numbers of domestic enactments and foreign policy accomplishments of both President Reagan and President Bill Clinton. These presidents were from different political parties but both enjoyed a relatively high degree of favorable public opinion and job approval ratings while in office, and in the time since leaving office both were also popular with the electorate and the media.
The institution of president
The presidency of the United States is not one man. It is a branch of government, and moreover, it is an institution. The federal executive was established to work in concert with the other branches of government.
Given the myriad of problems, endless amounts of information and constantly changing variables to these problems, the president alone cannot be expected to manage, stratify and rank each problem and generate a solution solely. Hence the Executive Office of the President and the Cabinet secretaries designated by statute to work on behalf of the president within government and carry out his agenda while satisfying the legal and regulatory requirements of each unique function in government.
Personal leadership attributes, public persona and appeal, the strength and quality of key advisers and the relationship one has with Congress all play a major role in the presidents ability to conduct foreign policy.
These elements must exist in harmony and work efficiently and collectively in order for the president to advance, conduct and implement the United States foreign policy.
Douglas Harden is a graduate of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia and currently enrolled in the Master of Arts Program in International Affairs at the University of North Georgia. He was recently inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. He is a resident of Kathleen.