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The Battle for the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy Has Begun

March 12, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

There are signs of growing congressional inconsistency, if not
incoherence, regarding the authority of the president in foreign
affairs. The legislature seeks to interfere on issues that are the
president’s responsibility while still failing to fulfill its own
constitutionally mandated responsibility regarding the war

An incident of misplaced assertiveness took place in January
when the House of Representatives passed the NATO Support Act prohibiting the executive
branch from using any funds to facilitate U.S. withdrawal from the
Alliance in any way. The legislation appears to bar a drawdown of
U.S. troop levels in Europe and any effort to terminate U.S.
membership in NATO.

Enacting the legislation seemed weirdly premature. President
Donald Trump has not even taken any substantive actions that might
diminish U.S. participation in NATO affairs. He has merely
criticized the allies for their lack of burden-sharing in the
collective defense effort and (correctly) suggested that NATO
itself might be “obsolete” given how much the European
and global security environments have changed since the
Alliance’s birth at the dawn of the Cold War against the
Soviet Union.

The constitutionality of such restrictions also is highly
suspect. The Constitution makes the president the steward of
foreign affairs. Presidents historically have enjoyed wide latitude
regarding the interpretation, execution, and even termination of
U.S. treaties. Chief executives have enjoyed even greater latitude
regarding troop deployments, especially in noncombat situations,
and the nature, extent, and duration of military commitments to
implement treaties or other agreements. Congressional interference
in the form of the NATO Support Act would be truly
revolutionary-and not in a good way. It is a transparent
congressional attempt to usurp the president’s rightful
constitutional authority and seek to micromanage U.S. foreign

The NATO issue is not the only case in which congressional
efforts are underway to seize control of foreign-policy decisions
from the executive. A faction in both houses is now pushing a
measure that would prevent the White House from failing to honor
U.S. obligations under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
until it expires in February 2021. Unlike in the case of NATO, the
president has taken tangible steps against the INF. After accusing
Russia of violating its obligations under the treaty, Trump
announced that the United States intended to withdraw from the INF. It should be stressed
that the issue is not whether the president’s policies on NATO or
the INF are wise or misguided; the relevant issue is whether the
Constitution invests the executive or Congress with the authority
to make those decisions.

Greater congressional assertiveness on such issues is especially
odd given how readily Congress has abandoned its own explicit
constitutional authority to control the war power. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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