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Effects of U.S. Domestic Politics on U.S. Foreign Policy Paul Birdwell POL 581a – Domestic Politics Influence on U.S. Foreign Policy Spring I - 2018 Professor Barbara Norrander University of Arizona March 2, 2018


Domestic politics has always played an important role in shaping U.S. foreign policy precisely because the ultimate makers of U.S. foreign policy are often elected officials that are answerable to the American people at the ballot box. It is entirely natural and expected that the wishes of the American people as expressed through public opinion polls and elections would have a major influence on U.S. foreign policy and since the founding of the American Republic that has been the case. Politicians are “servants of the people” who are the owners of a democratic republic like the United States of America, and the founders of America would fully expect domestic politics to play a major role in helping to shape U.S. foreign policy. That’s not to say that politicians haven’t used all manner of lies and deception to fool and deceive the American people over the years to move the body politic towards “X” foreign policy, and certainly a keen observer of America in H. L. Mencken understood the folly of politics in his country when writing (Teachout, 2013): “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Just in the last two decades a serious long-term menace to America, the Soviet Union, was quickly replaced with a new bogeyman in Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organization Al Qaeda which did prove capable of directly striking the American homeland with the bumbling FBI, NSA, CIA and entire U.S. Government asleep at the switch in the run-up to September 11, 2001 (Wright, 2017). The 2003 Iraq War and U.S. relations with Russia have been two major issues that have received a lot of media coverage in the post-9/11 period, with domestic U.S. politics playing major roles in


shaping U.S. foreign policy on both Iraq and Russia. The relationships between the U.S. and the Middle East and Russia have been major parts of American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and often the relative standing of each U.S. President vis-Ă -vis his own and the other political party shaped what his Administration was able to do in those two areas of the world. In the aftermath of World War II and defeat of Germany and Japan, the world was left with two superpowers in the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Over the next five decades between 1945 and 1991, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were in a nuclear weapons standoff that had consequences for many parts of the globe where proxy countries were often used to wage the Cold War. For the most part, both the Democratic and Republican political parties were in lockstep agreement that the Soviet Union was the main foe of the United States of America and supported the actions of U.S. Presidents to counter the Soviets around the world. The end of the Cold War in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw the U.S.S.R. transition back to being Russia with a much smaller footprint and with little to no influence over Eastern European countries that it had dominated for decades. It has only been in the last two decades since the fall of the Soviet Union that American foreign policy has fractured with members of both the Democratic and Republican parties finding themselves often on the same or opposite sides of the fence when it comes to what approach to take with Russia. Since the ascension of Vladimir Putin to the Russian Presidency in 1999 replacing Boris Yeltsin American Presidents and both American political parties have mainly been supportive or neutral on Putin, until the 2016 U.S. Presidential election that saw Russia weigh-in on the side of Republican candidate Donald Trump and against Democratic


candidate Hillary Clinton (Muyskens, Granados, & Vitkovskaya, 2017). In the wake of Russia’s offensive intelligence operations to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election which all the U.S. intelligence agencies agree was a complex undertaking by the Russians the Democratic and Republican parties have been split on how serious to take the Russian threat. With a special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller underway looking into Russia’s actions in the 2016 election and to see if there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the Democrats are doing all they can to draw attention to Russia’s actions while the Republican Party doesn’t seem that concerned that a foreign power conducted an attack on America’s political system. The current Director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, said recently in appearing before Congress that the Trump Administration has issued no specific direction to disrupt continued Russian cyberattacks (Chalfant, 2018), which is a far cry from the Republican Party led by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s which led an aggressive fight against Russian influence in the world. In many ways the Democratic and Republican parties have exchanged places from where they were relative to foreign policy towards Russia in the 1980s and even where the Democrats were under Barack Obama in 2012 when President Obama made fun of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a debate for claiming that, “Moscow was the greatest geopolitical foe,” of the United States (Drucker, 2017). Mitt Romney was right about Russia in 2012, and he is still right about Russia today being the main threat to the U.S. in the world (MacFarquhar, N., & Sanger, 2017), with the Democratic Party coming around to that realization way too late.


The Soviet Union and now Russia have always played some role in domestic politics, and both the Democratic and Republican parties have used the menace or weakness of Russia to try an influence Americans when campaigning in elections. The tables have been turned though in recent years by an aggressive Vladimir Putin inserting Russia’s intelligence operations directly into America’s 2016 elections which all U.S. intelligence agencies believe will continue until a President of the United States orders offensive operations to counter Russia’s attacks. Vladimir Putin has skillfully used American domestic politics to further divide the two political parties along long-known fault lines of gun control, abortion, and immigration, which has put the U.S. on the defensive. Putting the U.S. back on its heels has been the main goal of Putin who saw the walls closing in on him in Russia as dictators around the world fell in the last decade, which had a major personal impact on Putin who escalated offensive attacks against America to counter the rise of people in other countries pushing for democracy and toppling long-seated dictators (Ioffe, 2018). The U.S. and Russia have been since the mid-2000s trending towards a new Cold War of sorts that was accelerated by Putin in 2016 who was desperate to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House who would have had a much aggressive policy against Russia than President Obama and certainly Donald Trump (Sataline, 2017). In the wake of that successful Russian election interference operation in the U.S. in 2016 Russia continues to press forward with President Trump allowing Putin to do whatever he wants and for the most part having the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies stand down in the face of continued Russian attacks on the American Republic and its people (Collins, Resnick, Ackerman, 2018).


With the Soviet Union and Russia being front-and-center in the U.S. on foreign policy issues since the end of the World War II and taking an even larger role in domestic politics in the last couple of years with a Russian attack on the 2016 American election, the interest in the country of Iraq in by the America people has ebbed and flowed over the years. Iraq for the most part under Saddam Hussein since the 1960s was a nominal ally of the United States acting as a wedge of sorts between Shia Muslim Iran and Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, and it was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 that led to America confronting Iraq and Saddam Hussein directly for the first time with Operation Desert Storm (Wikipedia, 2018) . Between the successful ousting of Iraqi military forces from Kuwait in 1991 and the 2003 Iraq War Saddam Hussein and Iraq were often in the news out of the Middle East, but it was the attack on America on September 11, 2001 by Al Qaeda that opened the door to the U.S. removing Saddam Hussein from power. In the 1990s when President Bill Clinton was in the White House domestic politics played a major role in U.S. foreign policy towards Iraq with a group of conservative Americans forming the Project for the New American Century that had as one of its main goals overthrowing Saddam Hussein (Wikipedia, 2018). The Project for the New American Century sent an open letter to President Bill Clinton calling for Saddam Hussein to be overthrow in Iraq in 1998 which many believe was a major influence in the passing of the Congressional Iraq Liberation Act the same year that called for the removal of Hussein and which was signed into law by Bill Clinton. Both Democrats and Republicans were generally in agreement on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to peace in the Middle East and terrorism in the world in general in the 1990s, but the attack on America on 9/11 led the George W. Bush Administration to wage the


2003 Iraq War which indeed did remove Hussein from power. The 2003 Iraq War did receive a majority vote for approval in the U.S. Congress, but many saw going after Saddam Hussein as a fool’s errand, and ten years after the Iraq war was begun the Middle East was in shambles and the world was perhaps in a more dangerous place than it had been decade earlier with Saddam Hussein still in power in Iraq (Katel, 2013). In the end Iraq has proved to be a domestic political loser for both the Democratic and Republican parties with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s allowing the problems of Saddam Hussein to fester to such a point that in the wake of 9/11 it almost seemed rational to many Americans to remove Hussein who had no direct involvement in the 9/11 attack (Fallows, 2015). The Republican Party to some extent was hurt at the polls in the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections because of how badly the war in Iraq had gone for the U.S. as not only did Iraq fall into chaos, but much of the Middle East did as well (Katel, 2013). U.S. foreign policy in Iraq has been heavily influenced by domestic politics, but its influence was seen mainly at the polls over the years because Presidents pretty much did what they wanted to do in Iraq with or without Congressional support and left the fallout for Americans voters to sort out. Perhaps the biggest mistake made by President Obama was not totally ending the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan during his eight years in the White House, but a good argument can be made that Obama worried about another terrorist attack emanating from Afghanistan that would negatively affect his Administration domestically thus again the influence of domestic politics on U.S. foreign policy (Sink & Olorunnipa, 2016). Author Kendrick Smith in his quintessential look at how the political game in Washington DC is played, The Power Game: How Washington Works, details how


floating power centers that flow back and forth between the White House, Capitol Hill, and various U.S. Government agencies shape both U.S. domestic and foreign policy (Smith, 1988). In the cases of both Russia and Iraq, it has been the White House, the Congress, and agencies like the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA playing large roles in influencing U.S. foreign policy towards both countries with often Presidents trying to get ahead of others in Washington D.C. that are also interested in shaping the future. This has been especially true in Washington D.C. since the rise of Vladimir Putin to the Russian Presidency in 1999 and making Russia into a resurgent country that is challenging the U.S. and trying to undermine freedom, liberty, and democracy around the world (Beary, 2014). At the moment domestic politics in America is playing a major role in hindering the U.S. from responding to Russia’s continued direct attacks on the U.S. as Republicans on Capitol Hill work to keep relations between them and President Trump cordial even as it is clear that Putin is determined to again influence another U.S. election (Collins, Resnick, & Ackerman, 2018). Likewise domestic politics still plays a major role in U.S. foreign policy in Iraq as the conflict rolls on fifteen years after it was first launched by President George W. Bush whose Administration made promises that it would be over in months and cost the U.S. less than $300 billion with the cost of the Iraq War now exceeding $3 trillion (Katel, 2008). American humorist Will Rogers once noted, “America has the best politicians money can buy,� (Sterling, 1995) and ultimately what influences domestic U.S. politics are the positions of people that give money to American politicians who understand that a large amount of money is needed to win elections. Domestic political influence over U.S. foreign policy is thus now heavily influenced by the positions of the donors to


political campaigns, and in the last couple of decades foreign policy issues have increasingly been front-and-center among the concerns of people that donate to politicians. The Power Game of 1980s Washington D.C. as detailed by Hendrick Smith has a new set of actors in the early twenty-first century that includes donors to politicians that want a say and influence over U.S. foreign policy, and politicians know they must listen closely to their donors positions. Washington D.C. is now a toxic brew of many different constituencies that have a role in shaping U.S. foreign policy who have lots of influence with and over the President and members of Congress which is a reality that is largely unknown to the American people. Domestic politics will always play a role in U.S. foreign policy because ultimately politicians have to answer to the voters to remain in power. Presidents that can campaign on a set of coherent issues that can receive a majority of support of both political parties, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, will have a lot better chance in implementing their foreign policy goals and having a successful Presidency. Presidents that campaign outside the mainstream of American political life, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, and Presidents who hide their true beliefs when running for President, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, will have a harder time receiving a large majority of support from both political parties for their policies. In the end, every President and member of Congress must take into consideration domestic politics when formulating and acting on their foreign policy positions, and the smartest politicians think ahead and see where the voters will be in future and tailor their foreign policy goals towards that future point staying within their overall general beliefs. America was at its founding and still is today a democratic republic that derives its power from the people, and that is


something that is not going to change for the foreseeable future. American politicians will continue to weigh the effects of domestic politics on their foreign policy positions which is only natural since it is the American people from whom they are granted the power they hold. U.S. domestic and foreign policy will be forever intertwined and will continue to influence each other as long as the America Republic exists on the Earth.


Works Cited Beary, B. (2014). Resurgent Russia. CQ Researcher, 24(6). Retrieved February 26, 2018. Chalfant, M. (2018, February 28). Cyber chief says he hasn't received orders from Trump to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting elections. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from Collins, B., Resnick, G., & Ackerman, S. (2018, March 1). Leaked: Secret Documents From Russia’s Election Trolls. The Daily Beast. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from Drucker, D. M. (2017, July 31). Romney was right about Russia. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from Fallows, J. (2015, May 19). The Right and Wrong Questions About the Iraq War. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from Ioffe, J. (2018, January 1). What Putin Really Wants. The Atlantic. Katel, P. (2008). Cost of the Iraq War. CQ Researcher, 18(16). Retrieved February 26, 2018. Katel, P. (2013). The Iraq War: 10 Years Later. CQ Researcher, 23(9). Retrieved February 26, 2018


MacFarquhar, N., & Sanger, D. E. (2018, March 1). Putin’s ‘Invincible’ Missile Is Aimed at U.S. Vulnerabilities. New York Times. Retrieved March 1, 2018, from Muyskens, J., Granados, S., & Vitkovskaya, J. (2017, July 11). The Post’s new findings in Russia’s bold campaign to influence the U.S. election. Washington Post. Retrieved February 25, 2018, from Sink, J., & Olorunnipa, T. (2016, July 06). Obama Finds He Can't Escape Afghan War He Once Vowed to End. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from Smith, H. (1988). The Power Game: How Washington works. New York: Random House. Sterling, F. (1995). Will Rogers Speaks: Over 1000 Timeless Quotations for Public Speakers And Writers, Politicians, Comedians, Browsers.., New York, NY: M. Evans & Company. Teachout, T. (2003). The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken. New York: Perennial. Wikipedia. (2018, February 28). Project for the New American Century. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from Wikipedia. (2018, March 01). Gulf War. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from


Wright, L. (2017). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York, NY: Vintage.

Profile for The Jefferson Century

Effects of U.S. Domestic Politics on U.S. Foreign Policy  

Effects of U.S. Domestic Politics on U.S. Foreign Policy