Why Do Some U.S. Foreign Policy Decisions Receive High-Level Bipartisan Support While Others Do Not?

The Question

Why do some U.S. foreign policy decisions receive high level bipartisan support while others do not?


Perhaps the most important factors that a foreign policy maker or a politician may face when making foreign policy decisions are those pertaining to local politics and policies. This is because all politics and policies operate on a local level and are driven by bipartisan domestic political demands. As professor Tama alludes to in his work, the United States Congress is widely considered to be in the grips of severepartisan and ideological polarization, but it is remarkable when legislation opposed by the presidentgains broad bipartisan support and is ratified into law. With this finding, a cross examination to determine why some US foreign policy decisions are partisan while others are bipartisan may be necessary. This leads to the pressing question of why do some U.S. foreign policy decisions receive high level bipartisan support while others do not?

Why is this question important?

This question offers the right direction for all the processes involved in this research. It is from the research question that we shall be able to obtain the relevant information on the US foreign policy. The question also brings to our attention the aspect that not all foreign policies get the bipartisan support. This question can therefore guide us to some of the theoretical arguments concerning the United States foreign policy decisions. An appropriate response to the research question will reveal a deeper understanding of the current state of the US in terms of its foreign policies.

Existing Literature

First, Leep Mathews looks at the productivity of a bilateral connection as one of the factors that influences the foreign policies. According to the author, The US-Israel relations have been based on strong productive ties hence its consistency. This explains why the foreign policies with respect to Israel have always received such immense support.

Secondly, Morgenthau, Kenneth& David Clinton highlight the domestic political climate as one of the factors that influence whether or not a foreign policy would receive bipartisan support. According to the authors, a stable political environment may not necessarily be a guarantee for bipartisan support for foreign policies. However, the nature of a country’s politics plays a crucial role in influencing the outcomes of Congressional processes.

Lastly, Rhodes suggests polarization as one of the main challenges to bipartisanship. As noted by the author, foreign policy decisions are highly unlikely to receive much bipartisan support in a highly polarized environment. The discussions by each of the authors in the works above attempt to answer the research question. By going through the various researches by other individuals, it is possible to deduce why some US foreign policy decisions receive the kind of bipartisan support that they do.

Dependent Variable

Bipartisanship it is a two party system where opposing political parties compromise in order to find the common ground for securing permanent national interests. Examining the current situation in the United States foreign policymaking is the most pressing issue. It shows the impact that foreign policy decisions have on national interests in a heavily ideological polarized country. In order to secure foreign policy goals, its support has to come from bipartisanship rather than partisanship. Partisan support does not work like bipartisanship, in partisanship, a political party only follows theirs interests without any compromise. As Rhodes writes, “there is also considerable agreement that partisan polarization is spearheaded by ideological activists with extreme views on divisive policy issues.” The issues that divide party activists vary over time; for instance, in the 1960s and 1970s, activists divided on explosive issues such as race, abortion, and the United States’ role in world affairs, according to Adams.

Another factor argued to influence the level of bipartisanship exhibited by presidents can be divided into two categories. First, “foreign policy scholars have long highlighted the role of internationalcircumstances.” Not only that, many scholars have pointed to major events such as WWII, the Vietnam War, and the end of the Cold War in affecting bipartisanship across all areas of American political life. As a result, bipartisanship is mainly the product of international pressures that allow for more or less “latitude in the degree” to which partisan preferences influence foreign policy.

Secondly, the president’s decision to make bipartisan “appointments can also be viewed as a strategic choice, intended to maximize the president’s political leverage vis-à-vis Congressional opposition,” for example.  In contrast to the foreign policy literature, these incentives are the product of local political demands, because there are several major domestic determinants of a state’s foreign policy, specifically, domestic political demands, electoral time, local populations and their opinions, and economic interests.

Most scholars who have written about bipartisan politics include the bipartisan support for Israel in their research. Because the relationshipbetween the US and Israel, one of the most solid and stable bilateral relationships in modern international affairs, is supported by overwhelming American politicians. A study by Amnon Cavari and Elan Nyer showed that “Members of Congress have consistently debated and passed resolutions in support of Israel and in repudiation of its foes, showing strong bipartisan support for Israel.” They further operationalize “congressional involvement by identifying trends in congressional actions concerning Israel since 1973. The data includes all bills and resolutions that deal specifically with Israel.” The relationship between Israel and the United States of America remains an important factor in the overall policy of the US government.  The foreign policy of the US government has shown immense support to Israel as a nation a trend which can be traced back to 1953. The congress over this period has remained consistent with its support ensuring that the US government and Israel maintain only a supportive but a close relationship with one another.

Baylis and Patricia highlight that the main indication of congressional support for Israel is eminent on the aspect of foreign aid. The US government through the support of the congress has offered approximately $3 billion in grants to Israel. The report further indicates that Israel has been the largest recipient of the grants offered by the US government between 1976 -2004. From the most current trend, we deduce that the government of the United States offered about $3.9 billion in form of assistance foreign military to Israel. This is in addition to the huge amounts of loan guarantees that the country also benefits from.

According to the scholars, the congress has had a close eye on the issue of assistance to Israel together with other issues connected to bilateral relations. The concerns of the congress have led to impacts on the policies of the administration. It is noted that all the aid to Israel from the US government is in form of military help although the past trends also indicate considerable economic assistance. As a result of the firm congressional support for Israel, the latter has been able to enjoy benefits that are not available to other countries.

In addition to the military and financial help, the US government through the support of the congress also offers political assistance to Israel. Out of the total number of times in which the US has used its UNSC veto power, 42 times has involved the veto power used in connection to resolutions that concern Israel. The report further indicates that between 1991 and 2011 a total of 15 out of the 24 vetos were used in protection of Israel.As indicated by Tamar, the bipartisan relation between the United States and Israel therefore indicate the existence of a strong political bond between the two nations. It is because of this that we interact with a number of political ideologies implemented in Israel with their roots strongly traceable back to the United States. Furthermore, the political influence that the US has on Israel eventually play a crucial role in manipulating the Congressional processes especially when the floor discusses matters concerning Israel. Such political ties in turn influence the types of foreign policies put in place in order to govern these relations.The nature of the relationship between a country and its international allies therefore serves as a key function of whether or not the foreign policies concerning these countries would be supported.

As discussed by Morgan, over the past decades, the bilateral relations have shown tremendous transition. It started as a simple US policy to sympathize and support the Jews. It has since developed into a rare partnership which has since left Israel dependent on the US for military and economic forte. This policy receives such a strong bipartisan support, perhaps, because the US too deduces her fair share of benefits from this relationship. Research indicates that this connection is a strategic plan by the US government to establish its presence especially in the Middle East. This is because Israel is one of US’s two major supporters from this region among the countries that are non-NATO. This argument can be emphasized by the Late Jesse Helm’s remarks that Israel acts as the carrier of America’s aircraft in the Middle East. Israel has enabled the US government to establish a military foothold in the Middle East and this perhaps justifies the extent of military aid that the country gets from the US. The strong military presence of the United States especially in the Middle East can be attributed to the strong ties between the US and Israel. This has established Israel as an appropriate landing ground for the military missions of the United States specifically in the Middle East. The US military forms a focal point in most Congressional discussions. The foreign policies discussed and implemented by the government with respect to the US’s military strategies are always treated with the desired sensitivity. Consequently, the military relations between the US and Israel play a pivotal role in influencing the kind of foreign policies that touch on Israel. For instance, a foreign policy meant to control the military activity of the United States in the Middle East is most likely to receive an overwhelming bipartisan support owing to the strong bilateral relations between Israel and the US.Morgan.

A study by Michael E. Flynn has emphasized bipartisanship in foreign policymaking. Namely in the context of presidential appointments to the foreign policy bureaucracy, he emphasized the role of international security conflicts and national security in affecting bipartisanship. As most previous studies of bipartisanship have focused on “Congressional voting patterns,” but in his case, he collected new data on appointments to the foreign policy bureaucracy. The data used herein consist of 2,430 office-year observations, running from 1948 to 2011. Another study by Michael Fynn indicates that there is no enough evidence to enhance the argument that bipartisanship in the presidential appointments to foreign bureaucracy has undergone any shift in its structure. Since the end of cold war and Vietnam wars, domestic politics has been characterized by partisan political conflicts. This form of instability has extended its impacts on foreign policy making hence hindering the effectiveness of the government on this area.  According to Fynn, the conditions that surround and govern domestic politics play a crucial role in encouraging bipartisanship. This reveals the correlation that bipartisan appointments to the foreign policy bureaucracy become increasingly scarce as the congress becomes more polarized. The scholar projects that we shouldn’t expect to see much of bipartisan cooperation especially through the appointments of the president in future.

A study by Mearsheimer indicates that while qualitative research reflects on the role of elite bureaucratic policy makers, the quantitative findings lay more emphasis on both public opinion as well as the voting patterns of the congress. His research on foreign policy therefore fronts such issues as national security and foreign threats as the main factors that influence bipartisanship. These studies concentrate more on crises and external pressures as the main factors that drive bipartisanship. The approaches ignore the aspects of domestic political pressures which equally play an important role in shaping bipartisanship. Michael therefore suggests a balanced view by pointing out that both the international pressures and domestic factors have a relative importance. This therefore implies that bipartisan cooperation as dictated by the presidential appointments may not necessarily emanate from the external factors but also involves the domestic elements. The stability of a political environment in a given nation does not only impact activities within the nation but also influences the international connections between the country and the outside world. A stable political environment is more likely to attract long lasting bilateral relations while a society whose politics is characterized by crises may not adequately enhance strong bilateral ties. The scholar concludes by noting that the implementation of foreign policies is not only subject to the impacts of external pressures. According to the research, the internal environment plays an equally important role in determining the types of foreign policies supported and implemented by the government.

According to Bass, the data on over 2,000 individuals appointed to the foreign policy bureaucracy between 1948 and 2012 indicate no specific shift in the structure of the bipartisan appointments. The trend remains almost the same despite the fact that the circumstance and environments surrounding leadership have not remained static. Historically, the world was characterized by wars and conflicts hence political instability in most states. The data indicates that the president appointed few bipartisan supporters to the foreign policy bureaucracy as a strategy to regain political stability. The domestic political environment especially during the early period of the cold war could have led to the scarcity of the bipartisan appointments during this period.

The findings as highlighted by Michael indicate that the involvement of the United States in conflicts has a negative effect on bipartisanship contrary to the popular belief that the two are directly proportional. The graphical projections predict the probability of bipartisanship decreasing with increase in the duration of America’s involvement in conflicts. These results match the outcomes of previous data as presented by Peter Trubowitz which highlight a negative correlation between insecurity, international conflicts and bipartisanship cooperation in the moments of Congressional voting. This negative correlation may arise as a result of nature in which the country’s military involvements are becoming increasingly politicized. The influence of politics on the country’s military strategies is becoming so immense that researchers project a situation in which the actions of the military will be entirely controlled by a country’s politics.

The domestic political conditions also play a crucial role in enhancing bipartisanship. From the researcher’s arguments, these appointments can help by compensating presidents especially in cases of low partisan support in the Congress. This strategy can therefore help the president to construct moderate conditions although this would only if the parties are close.The scholarly findings above match the portions highlighted earlier hence indicating a consistency in the arguments. The weakness evident in the approaches above is the fact that each scholar seems inclined on either the domestic or the international pressures as the core drivers of bipartisan appointments. It would be prudent to know that neither the internal nor the external factors are more crucial, both other these aspects have a role in shaping bipartisanship.

A study by Professor Jordan Tama argues that “foreign policy bipartisanship still occurs with some frequency because many foreign policy issues do not break down along partisan ideological lines, and lawmakers of both parties tend to see the world differently than the president.” He showed that the issue of foreign policy sanctions, an issue on which Congress has often favored highly “punitive measures” is resisted by the president. The author concludes that “foreign policy bipartisanship remains alive; that Congress remains capable of challenging the president successfully on important foreign policy issues; and that congressional activism on sanctions issues is motivated not only by interest group pressure, but also by ideational differences in the foreign policy approaches of lawmakers and the president.” Research by Leep Mathews reveals that the conflict between the Congress and the presidential ideologies continues to characterize the American government. The congress proposes certain standards on foreign policy sanctions. Some are so adverse that the president actually turns them down. The outcome of his research however outlines the fact that the president and the congress in some occasions have managed to find a common ground of operations. The rare collaboration between the bipartisan approaches and the president are not necessarily meant to achieve individual interests but are geared towards achieving the collective leadership goals as stated by the US government.

Leep further argues that the unanimous agreement to give the Congress a key role in the ultimate stages of nuclear negotiations with Iran was a rare indication of bipartisan unity. According to the scholar, such developments are a clear indication that the leadership is committed to the principle of bipartisanship in foreign policy. The author further highlights the fact that such a show of bipartisan support even in the presence of a highly polarized partisan circumstance is an indication that the leadership is moving in the right direction. He alludes to the fortunate fact that individual have ceased to cling onto their selfish desires and since throwing away their political differences in a bid to embrace the country’s interest.

The scholar further explains that the core principal of congressional accountability is not only seeing to it that the president’s powers are kept under check but also ensuring that their actions are alongside the government’s goals to protect the interests of the citizens. He is however quick to point out that the rare show of bipartisan unity is not a guarantee that the government is finding a solution to the political conflicts any soon.

As highlighted by Hurrell, the US Congress has both a direct and indirect influence on US foreign policy. This aspect is largely enhanced by the domestic political priorities enjoyed by the congress. As such, the Congress plays a crucial part in the process of decision making in matters related to the US foreign policy. The researcher points out the sanctions passed by the Congress as a good example of the way in which bipartisanship is influenced by domestic actors. His argument also reveals the aspect that the Congress, despite the domestic political priorities, still have an important role to play in shaping the foreign policies of the United States. For instance, the recent sanctions on countries such as Iran are a clear result of the influence of the Congress in shaping the foreign policies of the United States.

The scholar further emphasizes the fact that the Congress still has the power to influence the decisions of the president despite the fact that the constitutional framework gives the president powers. For instance, the US congress has the power to be part of the decision making process that would commit the military to hostilities. He notes that the US Congress has a multidimensional role in the making of US foreign policies. These roles are based on the constitutional powers as well as the political ideologies in the United States. The scholar concludes by noting that the Congress has the ability through direct or indirect approaches, to exert an impact on the procedures of the government on policies. The Congress equally has the powers to influence the ability of the President to act in certain circumstances. This explains why some of the ideologies as presented by the president may receive varied responses from the members of the Congress. While some of the proposed policies by the president receive enough support, others face outright opposition from the Congress. In circumstances where the President and the Congress fail to strike a common ground, there is always the need to adjust the policies appropriately. This happens so that they can remain in sync with the country’s resolutions on foreign relations. The partisan polarization and the domestic politics therefore play the key role of shaping the relationship between the President and the Congress.

The findings by the scholars indicate consistency in the arguments. From their explanations, we can deduce that the President despite the constitutional powers still has his ability to exercise these powers put on check by the Congress. The consistency in the data as posted by the scholars serves as the core strength in this case. I therefore operationalize the establishment of US foreign policies in terms of the Congress’s ability to manipulate the decision of the President.

Another study by Mark Souva and David Rohde argues that an electoral connection drives partisanship in congressional foreign policy voting.  They showed that “members of Congress depend on core supporters for mobilization and money, and primary voters are likely to follow the opinion cues of partisan elites.” Consequently, when Republican and Democratic  “opinion elites hold more distinct views on an issue, one may expect to observe more partisan behavior in Congress on both low- and high-politics foreign policy issues.”  For these reasons, the authors concluded that “elite opinion cleavage argument provides a richer understanding of partisan conflict on foreign and defense policy.”

A study by Roth Ariel shows that the opinion of the public has a key role to play in the democracy, accountability and decision making. The voter therefore has a voice, first of all in determining the people who eventually ascend to power. In addition to exercising their democratic rights during voting, the voters equally have the right to ensure that those elected into the office remain accountable at all times. The aspect of voting does not only end at this point but extends right into the Congress. It is during these charged political atmospheres that the divide between partisanship and bipartisanship becomes eminent. As highlighted by the scholar, for a bill to be passed, there has to be show of immense support for this bill. The same strategy applies to circumstances which involve proposals on foreign policies. The voting is such that the proponents must reach a particular threshold for their bill to pass. He therefore concludes that there is a direct correlation between the support obtained by the Congress and the probability of a foreign policy going through.

A study by Gilboa reveals that the voting process that eventually takes place within the Congress can have its roots traced back to the primary voter. According to the scholar, it is the primary voting that remains crucial in shaping the side of the political divide that will have a majority representation. For instance, the establishment and implementation of foreign policies in set up with more Republicans than Democrats would be different if the scenario was reversed. The scholar therefore deduces the argument that the primary voter determines the side of the divide that makes the majority. As such, if a foreign policy gains the support of the majority then the voting process is likely to be manipulated by this circumstance. On the other hand, if the tabled bill is done by the minority representatives then it is highly unlikely to get the needed support to go through.

There is therefore a clear relationship between cleaved support and the passing of bills touching on foreign policies. The existent trend in this case is the fact that members of Congress tend to support ideologies depending on the political sides that they are in. The scholar identifies the aspect of Congressional voting and electoral connections as one of the greatest challenges to bipartisanship. In any natural set up, the members of the Congress would take sides. It however becomes a major challenge to governance when the leaders are keener on preserving the values of their political sides at the expense of attending to the interests of the citizens. The latter forms part of the key mandates of a Congress.

The data as deduced from the sources above indicate a clear relationship between the primary voter and the dominant behavior within the congress. If the Congress is dominated by a partisan then we are bound to experience more of partisan ideologies dominating the government. The sources give consistent data and the arguments by the scholar bring out a clear and common correlation between the electoral connections and the eventual trends within the Congress. These trends in turn affect influence the implementation of the foreign policies due to the fact that only the idea that receives immense support is likely to go through. I therefore operationalize bipartisan support on foreign policies in terms of the primary and electoral connections and their influence on the voting trends within the Congress

Independent variable

First of all, I treat the nature of a bilateral relation as one of the core determinants of bipartisan reactions to the foreign policies. As such, I concentrate on the bilateral relation between Israel and the United States as my first case.The congressional action as highlighted by other scholars shows a definite trend. The sources connect with each other and all arguments are unidirectional. The positions by each of the scholars above indicate a growing strength in the relationship between the two countries. The research analysis further outlines that the bilateral relations is further strengthened by the mutual benefits emanating from this relations. Since all the sources are backed by clear historical and visible facts, the approaches highlighted above are adequate. From their contributions, I can deduce a consistency in their arguments hence the data can be considered not only measurable but also reliable. By analyzing the variables highlighted by the scholars above, we deduce a relationship between bipartisan support and the nature of the existing bilateral relationships. With increase in the strength of these relations, there is the probability of a corresponding increase in bipartisan support to the foreign policies governing the two entities in question. I therefore operationalize the support for bipartisan polices using the benefits that accrue from the bilateral relations and the impacts of foreign policies on these relations. The second case is on presidential appointments to foreign bureaucracy. In this case I operationalize the support for bipartisan policies using both the external pressures and the domestic political environment as equal parameters that both impact the presidential appointments to the foreign policy bureaucracy. The third case is on the effects of the Congressional processes on foreign policies. The operationalization here was the establishment of US foreign policies in terms of the Congress’s ability to manipulate the decision of the President. Lastly, we look at the relationship between voting, electoral connections and the nature of bipartisan response.

For the purpose of my study, I will operationalize bipartisanship under the guidelines established by the scholars above mentioned. I used these guidelines to establish why some U.S. foreign policy decisions receive high level bipartisan support while others do not. For my analysis, I will also define congressional bipartisan support for foreign policymaking under the research guidelines establish by the same scholars above mentioned.

The testing procedure shall begin with the formulation of a hypothesis where the null and the alternative hypotheses shall be stated. I shall then determine the sampling distribution of the proportion before specifying the level of significance. Based on the sampling distribution, the significance levels and the hypotheses, the region of acceptance shall be defined. The null hypothesis will eventually be tested with respect to the region of acceptance. The hypothesis shall be accepted if it falls within the region of acceptance, otherwise it will be rejected.

In terms of reliability and validity my data is accepted in academic circles as most of the scholars I have mentioned are notable academics and they are experts in their fields. Finally, I will also examine and analyze to see how these scholars guidelines change in accordance with variations in my independent variables.

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