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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

09-13-06

Contacts:

James McCormick, Political Science, 515-294-8682, 515-294-7256, jmmcc@iastate.edu

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986, ferlazzo@iastate.edu

ISU political science chair sees little change in Bush administration foreign policy

AMES, Iowa -- Political pundits have theorized that since the Bush administration has lost support for its foreign policy -- both internationally and domestically -- a change in strategy is in order. That is, it needs to move away from its unilateral and ideological foreign policy approach to one that embraces a more multilateral and realist approach.

But that's not happening yet, according to Iowa State University Professor and Chair of Political Science James McCormick, who has been studying the administration's foreign policy decisions for a related presentation during the U.S. Foreign Policy Conference at the University of Leicester in England on Thursday, Sept. 21. His trip was arranged through his participation in the U.S. Speakers' and Specialists' Program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

"The degree of policy change has been halting at best, and the clear impression left is that the Bush administration has a 'tin ear' on policy change," said McCormick.

Author of the book "American Foreign Policy and Process," McCormick's Bush foreign policy assessment is based on the following:

1.) Policy on Iraq has not changed.

2.) The administration's rhetoric has largely remained combative.

3.) Iraq policy continues to be the summation of American foreign policy for many observers.

"Furthermore," said McCormick, "the 2006 National Security Strategy Statement or President Bush's recent pronouncements retain the earlier tone of unilateralism -- including reserving the right of preemptive war -- and continue to emphasize the transformative nature of his foreign policy approach, especially in pursuing democratic change in the Middle East."

Mounting domestic critism with few constraints

Although international criticism of administration policy has long been prevalent, McCormick agrees that domestic criticism of foreign policy has grown in recent months -- in terms of public opinion, congressional opposition, and two important court losses. Yet little has changed in terms of the administration's foreign policy actions.

"Part of the explanation is the lack of effective domestic constraints," he said. "That is, policy constraints begin at home, especially for a nation that has substantial global power and for a leader who is determined to pursue his global vision. Without sustained and coherent domestic constraints, the administration has little incentive for real policy change."

According to McCormick, research on foreign policy opinion suggests that the public's view must reach about 60 percent before impacting policy. Currently, he reports that only about 20 percent want an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

"The majority favors a withdrawal but favor withdrawing anywhere from a 12-month period to withdrawing only when the Iraqis are prepared to take control," he said. "This public indecision allows the administration some leeway. By way of comparison, a majority of the public viewed Vietnam as a mistake as early as 1968 and early 1969, but it took considerably longer before that view had a policy effect."

He also reports that congressional response to the administration's foreign policy has been tepid, at best.

"More often than not, Congress largely upheld the administration's position, whether voting on an Iraq withdrawal deadline or addressing foreign policy legislation where the president has taken a position," McCormick said. "Over the first five years of his administration, President Bush has had a 78 percent success rate with Congress, one of the highest among recent presidents. Presidents Johnson and Kennedy are his nearest competitors, and both of those presidents had larger Democratic majorities in Congress than Bush's Republican majorities in the House and Senate."

Superficial judicial defeats

The Bush administration recently suffered two judicial defeats to its foreign policy in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in late June that struck down militant tribunals to try suspected members of al-Qaida, and in the warrant-less wiretapping case in a federal district court decision in early August. Such foreign policy defeats for the president from the judicial system are virtually unheard of, according to McCormick.

"One has to look pretty far and wide to find presidential losses in the courts on foreign policy questions," he said. "In all, the number of defeats on national security issues for the president by the courts can probably be counted on a hand or two throughout the history of the Republic. In other words, the courts have largely honored the decision of the president on foreign policy matters or failed to decide foreign policy cases by invoking the so-called 'political question' doctrine."

But despite their historic ramifications, McCormick reports that these defeats are, at best, superficial because one will likely be overturned by appeal, and Congress has already initiated legislation to deal with the other.

He sees the midterm congressional election being the ultimate domestic constraint to affect change to the Bush foreign policy. "Frankly," said McCormick, "it's an unusual way to address foreign policy in the American experience. Yet, if we think about this prospect in the current global context, it is one that is highly consistent with the promotion of democratic governance, either at home or abroad."

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Jim McCormick

James McCormick

Quick look

Iowa State University Professor and Chair of Political Science James McCormick has been studying the Bush administration's foreign policy decisions for a related presentation during the U.S. Foreign Policy Conference at the University of Leicester in England on Thursday, Sept. 21. He found that in spite of mounting opposition, the administration continues to practice its unilateral and ideological foreign policy approach. His trip was arranged through his participation in the U.S. Speakers' and Specialists' Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Quote

"The degree of policy change has been halting at best, and the clear impression left is that the Bush administration has a 'tin ear' on policy change."

James McCormick