National Review, June 1, 1984 v36 p41(1)

The foreign-policy soap. Scully, Michael A.


FROM OUR Philippine military bases to ballistic-missile defenses, from NATO to manpower to the defense budget process, recent issues of prominent quarterlies have flooded the newsstands with commentaries on our military readiness. The Spring 1984 issue of the Washington Quarterly, the journal of the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown, devotes four articles to America's changing relations with its European allies. Meanwhile, with its Spring issue, The Public Interest begins a twoissue, eight-article series titled "America's Defense Dilemmas.' A recent issue of the Foreign Policy Research Institute's Orbis (Winter 1984) included a symposium on military and political "gaming,' while the Winter issue of the Journal of Contemporary Studies offered articles on ballistic missiles, intelligence betrayals, and the "dubious promise' of big-power summitry.

If the need for such reminders and reassessments is unfortunate, the climate in which they occur is downright scary. Never in recent history have so many chefs sought to stir the foreign-policy soup. And it is that issue--Congress's now-considerable involvement in the making of foreign policy--which draws the fire, albeit from different angles, of Representative Richard Cheney and Senator Charles Mathias in the current issue of SAIS Review, the journal of Johns Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies (Winter/ Spring 1984).

Cheney recites the familiar history of bipartisanship in foreign policy, from the aftermath of World War II through the mid-1960s. (He does not specifically mention that this period coincides with the submersion of Republican isolationism and the re-emergence of isolationism two decades later, this time as a Democratic phenomenon.) By the 1970s, as a result of Vietnam and Watergate, bipartisanship could no longer be counted on, nor could Congress's acquiescence in presidential decisions. Yet Congress was at the same time itself being transformed. There were more young and inexperienced members. They demanded more power and disdained the seniority system.

"What happened during the 1970s, then,' says Cheney, "is that the ability of Congress to contribute efficiently and substantively to the foreign-policy process was being diminished at the very time the conventional wisdom held that Congress should have a greater role in the process.' Remarkably, at one time in the mid-1970s the Director of Central Intelligence was required to brief eight congressional committees about covert operations.

Cheney contends that "power is currently so diffuse in the Congress that the Oval Office is probably not big enough to hold all the people the President normally needs to check with' about the prognosis for a piece of legislation. Senator Mathias draws the conclusion: "In the long run, it is mischievous for the 535 members of the Senate and House of Representatives, separately or collectively, to play at being Secretary of State. . . . the plethora of restrictions . . . grossly impedes the flexibility a great nation must have to make headway over shifting ground.'

This is a sufficiently serious illness that the reader is left wondering about the adequacy of the prescription. Mathias suggests that "Around a core of shared principles and goals, we should be able to maintain a stable structure of shared responsibility,' of "comity.' He makes four suggestions. First, the executive branch should refrain from establishing commissions, except in the case of emergencies. Second, the President should rely more on foreign-service professionals. Congress, says Mathias, should keep its confidences, thus to win the trust of the executive branch. Finally, Congress should erect fewer barriers to presidential initiative in foreign policy.

Representative Cheney's conclusion in respect of the War Powers Act, which passed in 1973 over the veto of then-President Nixon, bears repeating. "It might be worth considering a revision of the War Powers Act that would remove any specific limits on presidential authority,' but in any event, "If the War Powers Act is left as is, it will merely continue to serve as an irritant to the President and as an impediment to effective consultation, thus negating the very purpose for which it was passed in the first place.'

Will these prescriptions work? It seems unlikely that the War Powers Act will be altered without prodding from the judiciary. One would expect a case sometime in Reagan's second term, probably after the retirement of a Supreme Court Justice or two.

SENATOR MATHIAS's recommendations seem fairly mild, except for the suggestion that Administrations treat the views of professional diplomats with greater respect. This would be a surefire way to make foreign policy agreeable to the senator. Unfortunately, the foreign service is itself in sufficiently sorry shape that the benefits would be doubtful.

Senator Mathias is correct when he argues that "an effort to build harmony in the practice of foreign policy . . . can also hasten accord on the substance of policy.' Yet he appears to fail to see what restrains presidential appointees from making leaps of faith toward greater accord with Congress. Frankly, he should cast his eyes about the dais of the Foreign Relations Committee. For one perennial impediment to comity seems to have been growing lately. Namely, the inclination to doubt that Congress is a serious place.