Presidency, Bureaucracy, and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy is a priority area of policymaking, as well as how it allows for protecting the interests of the state in the international arena. However, the policymaking process is extremely complex due to the influence of many factors and the presence of various actors. While the main actors are the President and Congress, representing the two branches of government, executive agencies and advisory bodies also make an impact. The bureaucratic structure assists the President in implementing policies and restricts the executive power. Thus, the main task of the President is the effective integration of various bureaucratic actors for the implementation of foreign policy.

The President, while having limited power, plays an important role in managing the conduct of foreign policy from conception to implementation. First of all, the President is “really the point person for the agenda he wishes to set with his administration” (The Presidency & the Bureaucracy, n.d, 00:34-00:39). In this situation, one can talk about actor indispensability when the successful resolution of the situation directly depends on the participant’s personality (Hastedt, 2020). In foreign policy, the President can initiate important decisions that Congress may not support. However, this is possible only in the presence of certain factors that significantly impact the actions of one person on the issue. The issue must be new to the political agenda, addressed early in the administration, the President must be actively involved to resolve it, and the outcome of the situation can vary (Hastedt, 2020). Thus, the President directly has the power to address acute foreign policy issues that require immediate action.

In the process of developing and implementing a policy, the personality and managerial style of the President is of decisive importance since it is the President who determines the course. These indicators determine what problems the leader focuses on and what decision-making process will be chosen. Thus, which issues are put forward by the President on the agenda, and which are considered with less attention depends on the goals of a particular leader and the ability to convince other actors. It is also important that the President is the executive branch of government, while Congress represents the legislature, which imposes restrictions (How Congress and President, 2017). Thus, Congress has the ability to approve or reject the foreign policy of the President.

However, the President also has several tools that allow pursuing certain agendas more effectively. This set includes executive agreements, which, unlike treaties, do not need to be ratified by Congress. A signing statement allows the President to modify the meaning of bills and laws. Executive orders provide the ability to give direct instructions to executive agencies. The President can appoint ambassadors who will act as personal negotiators, which does not require Senate confirmation. Finally, how the Commander-in-Chief can declare war requires congressional approval, but it is agreed that “the President has the authority to respond to attacks against the US, and to lead the armed forces” (How Congress and President, 2017, p. 2). The National Security Council (NSC) also influences the President’s conduct of foreign policy. In particular, it is necessary to initiate actions and organize their implementation by various executive bodies. In this case, the NSC advises the President on existing foreign policy issues and coordinates actions.

NSC is the President’s main ally in pursuing a specific foreign policy agenda. The National Security Advisor, Secretary of State, Vice President, White House Chief of Staff, and First Lady also have a significant impact on the policymaking process, as they can point out important issues to the President (The Presidency & the Bureaucracy, n.d). However, there are also executive bodies such as the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA, which, although involved in the implementation of the President’s foreign policy, have independent cultures. They can present a bureaucratic resistance to the President’s foreign policy initiatives. For the President, in conceptualizing and implementing foreign policy, it is important to integrate all executive bodies and resolve disagreements (The National Security Council, n.d). Thus, the President’s management of the conduct of foreign policy can be influenced by many factors, including various actors, the legislature, as well as the executive, but the President has the tools to overcome bureaucratic delays effectively.

Foreign policymaking is a process involving many different actors and agencies. In particular, executive bureaucracies such as the State Department, Defense Department, and the CIA play a significant role in policy implementation. The State Department is the President’s foreign policy adviser and the United States’s direct representative in the international arena. The responsibilities of this executive body include, in particular, the management of diplomatic missions, negotiations with foreign representatives, and work with organizations that assist other countries (How US foreign policy is made, n.d). The State Department is the main tool used to create and maintain diplomatic relations. This entity is of an advisory nature and acts rather as a spoken person both within the US government and in the international arena, articulating points of foreign policy and international interests.

However, the state does not always manage to resolve conflicts or defend its interests peacefully, for which military force is necessary. The Defense Department acts as an adviser to the President in the field of military issues and the implementation of policies aimed at protecting the interests and security of the United States (How US foreign policy is made, n.d). This entity does not decide whether it is necessary to use military force but has the “ability to set the context of a decision through the presentation of information, capabilities, and tactics” (Hastedt, 2020, p. 203). Although The Defense Department is a tool for conducting military operations, it does not always have military decision-making power since the actions of this executive entity are completely directed by foreign policy.

Another important executive body that participates in policymaking is the intelligence community. It includes “the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency” (How US foreign policy is made, n.d). These executive entities are involved in collecting and providing information, which later becomes the basis for decision-making. The CIA also has the role of conducting clandestine operations by order of the President. The main task of the intelligence forces is to provide complete information on the existing problem and clarify all the details (Hastedt, 2020). Thus, the influence of this entity on foreign policy is not always direct since they provide data but do not determine the meaning. In the decision-making process, the President can rely on the opinions of many actors, including lobbyists, the media, the public, and others, which makes the intelligence community a non-exclusive source of data for determining the course of politics.

However, it is not only the executive entities that influence the policymaking process. Bojang (2018) emphasizes that both international and domestic politics determine the formation of foreign policy. In particular, domestic bureaucracies, including the Department of the Treasury, The Department of Commerce, The Department of Agricultural, and The Department of Homeland Security, play an important role in shaping foreign policy (Hastedt, 2020). These entities also participate in foreign policy through the management of the country’s internal resources, so they are more involved in the administration of the economy and operational processes than in policymaking. The involvement of many actors who pursue different goals creates complexity of modern foreign policy.

The President and other policymaking bodies possess a number of tools that enable them to overcome difficulties in interacting with different parts of the system. The President has the capacity “to exert significant influence over bureaucratic management, both through the appointment power and their ability to affect incentives for careerists by shaping agency priorities and agendas” (Rogowski, 2020, p. 1). The President occupies the position of the creator of the bureaucratic structure and has the ultimate decision-making power (Norcross, 2019). The President can appoint or dismiss individuals to head certain departments, reorganize them, and create internal bodies that can provide policy guidance (Hastedt, 2020). These strategies make it possible to eliminate conflicts that inevitably arise between different actors and create favorable conditions for addressing the necessary agenda. However, these approaches can also create difficulties and a more complicated bureaucratic structure.

Foreign policy is associated not only with policymaking but also with executive activities. This aspect is associated with a complex bureaucratic structure that influences the process of implementation of the adopted decisions. The President is limited by the legislature and various executive agencies, which can both help and hinder the pursuit of the agenda. The President possesses various tools to overcome conflicts and find the most effective way to implement foreign policy initiatives.


Bojang, A. S. (2018). The study of foreign policy in international relations. Journal of Political Sciences & Public Affairs, 6(4), 1-9.

Hastedt, G. P. (2020). American foreign policy: Past, present, and future (12th ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

How Congress and President shape US foreign policy. (2017). Europian Parliament.

How US Policy is made. (n.d). Foreign Policy Association.

Norcross, L. (2019). ‘Almost perfect’: The Bureaucratic politics model and U.S. foreign policy

Rogowski, J. C. (2020). The administrative Presidency and public trust in Bureaucracy. Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, 1(1), 27-51.

The National Security Council Interagency Process. (n.d). [Video file].

The Presidency & the Bureaucracy. (n.d). [Video file].

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DemoEssays. "Presidency, Bureaucracy, and Foreign Policy." January 21, 2023.