POTUS, Congress, and Foreign Policy: Should President Obama End the ISIS Fight if Congress is Not On Board?

POTUS Congress Foreign Policy

As Ryan Barilleaux and Jewerl Maxwell stated in Tough Times for the President, “half a century ago, Aaron Wildavsky noted in “The Two Presidencies” that presidents are more likely to get their way from Congress in foreign affairs than in domestic policy, and that deference continues to apply and appeared throughout our case studies. Even in the midst of tough times, Congress tended to defer to the chief executive on international issues, even controversial wars. … This has been the situation in the Cold War crises, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and in the 2008 financial crisis” (p. 274).

But what happens if Congress won’t defer?

The Hill reported last week that “Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Tuesday urged the White House to seek congressional authorization to conduct airstrikes on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or call off the military campaign against the terrorist group.”

Can President Obama take unilateral action? He can and will, if needed, like President Clinton did.

Barilleaux and Maxwell reminds us that “Clinton sought to maintain presidential dominance of foreign policy by taking unilateral actions as much as possible. … Clinton had failed to persuade NATO leaders to intervene in defense of the Muslims and Croats in 1994, and he also encountered public and congressional resistance to American involvement there. … Clinton approved an escalation of military force against the Bosnian Serbs … [Later] Clinton sent 20,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia as peacekeepers. Conflict in other parts of the Balkans would flare up in Clinton’s second term, but by the end of 1995, the problem of Bosnia had been addressed. … [and] As shown in his signing statements, he also continued to assert broad presidential autonomy over foreign policy as a matter of constitutional principle” (pp. 60-63).

The Economist (Sept 27, 2014) also points out that “[t]he disastrous mismanagement of post-invasion Iraq has tended to eclipse the overwhelming potency of American firepower at the beginning. In six short weeks in the spring of 2003 America and its allies defeated the 375,000 troops of Saddam Hussein with the loss of only 138 American lives. Never in history has a single country had such military dominance. It has not suddenly evaporated. … Although the mission to stop IS will be long and hard, it is one that no other nation could even contemplate. Mr Obama is right to relaunch it.

Which other presidents would back this up and employ “situational leverage” times of adversity?

Insights can be found in Tough Times for the President, which has been declared the perfect book for our times.” It revisits Neustadt’s famous book:“Now that Presidential Power is fifty years old, a range of admirers and critics have focused their attention on the book’s central claim—that the presidency is a weak office and that its power is but the “power to persuade”—as well as on Neustadt’s evidence and other aspects of his argument. The analysis of Presidential Power has been challenged on a variety of fronts—it is overstated, it is time-bound to the late 1950s, it focuses too much on personal power, it is Machiavellian in its outlook—but certain problems in Neustadt’s presentation are most relevant to our consideration of presidents acting in adverse circumstances” (p. 8).

Praised by noted political scientists, Tough Times for the President is also commended for being a “fascinating, challenging, and important book” in Presidential Studies Quarterly. The review adds that “given the frequency of tough times, it behooves a president to explore the alternative approaches to governing outlined in this book.” This book is part of the PIPPA series by Scott Frisch and Sean Kelly.

Order this book and any title in political science by October 15 to receive a 40% discount.

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