Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 19

JUNE 2013
are mainly responsive to “special interests,” especially cam-
paign contributors, and put parochial interests ahead of the
national interest, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.
Congress was designed to be responsive to the vot-
ers, and voters who organize around particular issues are more
influential than those who don’t.
The fact is that we, the people, have a First Amendment right
to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Every
lawmaker is bombarded with appeals and threats from numer-
ous interest groups, some of which are especially large, well-
organized and effective. Pro-Israel groups like the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, for example, have grassroots
strength, a large Washington, D.C., staff and a clear agenda.
They and many other groups have the power they’ve earned by
playing by the rules.
Moreover, while outsiders may disagree, each group can
usually make a case that its “special” interest also serves the
national interest. Wise diplomats will discover that at least
some of these groups can be valuable allies of U.S. policymak-
ers, both in providing information and insights and offering
political support.
Instead of bemoaning the effectiveness of citizen groups,
FSOs need to analyze U.S. politics the way they would poli-
tics abroad: Who has power? What do they really want? What
goals and concerns are shared by policymakers? How free and
fair are the elections? How well informed are the voters? How
much corruption is there compared to other places I’ve served?
After such analysis, the FSO is likely to see the U.S. system in a
more favorable light.
Myth 2: Congress ties our hands.
Although the executive
branch makes foreign policy, over the years lawmakers have
enacted a large and often confusing array of statutes governing
various countries and issues. They also insist on procedures
such as advance notification of policy changes and the right of
particular committees to delay or even veto such actions. Such
congressional restrictions keep America from having a clear,
consistent, agile foreign policy.
While Congress does impose many requirements
and constraints on U.S. foreign policy, it does so because it
writes the laws and approves the money that constitute the
foundation for all policy. The president can make speeches and
deal with foreign officials without congressional involvement,
but if he wants to spend money or take actions not already
authorized by law, he needs legislative support.
AFSA held an educational session on Foreign Service life and work on Capitol Hill on April 26. AFSA State Representative Ken Kero-Mentz, AFSA President Susan
R. Johnson, and retired Ambassador Charles A. Ray were among the distinguished Foreign Service officers who described their careers and the challenges of
diplomacy in the 21st century.
Anne Wenikoff
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