Factors Influencing American Foreign Policy

Impact of presidents on American foreign policy and Obama’s influence and change in the international agenda

Presidents in the United States often affect foreign policy by deciding whether the country will employ diplomatic means to deal with an international relations issue or whether they will use war.

History shows that through approval of congress, American foreign policy was redefined by presidents (Bumiller, 1996) when they opted to engage in the Mexican American war, the first and second world wars and even the US 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Good decisions by American presidents in the past have led to critical successes in international relations and examples here include avoidance of a possible third world war after the cold war agreement and the Cuban missile issue of 1962.

However, Presidents have also placed the country in serious problems as well due to their decisions and these have included militarization of international relations by President Bush, alienation of allies in the 2003 Iraq invasion, the support of undemocratic leaders such as the Pakistani president Musharas and also strategies on dealing with nuclear armament amongst possible invaders. There is no doubt that politics does play a critical role in US foreign policy and this has been seen through preferences and choices made by certain presidents. (Couch, 2009)

President Obama has not had much of a tremendous influence on American foreign policy even though his tenure is not overdue. The nature of governmental appointments made by Obama signify adherence to the old guard because militarists who deeply supported the 2003 Iraq war were still chosen as key people in his administration; an example in this area is secretary of defense General Jones who was vey active in the Bush era.

The president has also contributed towards increased militarization of international relations by choosing strategies that symbolize continuation of values from the previous regime (Paramra, 2010) For instance, currently, the Afghanistan crisis has worsened with an increase of sixty six thousand army men in the latter territory. Obama has also not yet closed Guantanamo bay.

His endorsement of controversial presidents has also shown that his thinking is still the same. President Karzai of Afghanistan was unconstitutional in his re-election yet Obama still endorsed him. Obama is still led by ideologies from the Bush era owing to the pattern of heightening American power through promotion of democracy on other countries.

These decisions symbolize a Universalist/ hegemonic attitude inherent in Obama. In fact part of the reason why he was elected into power was that he reflected deep American foreign policy assumptions which unfortunately led to the problems in the Bush era. (Zaharna, 2009)

Role of mass media in American foreign policy

During news breaking events in foreign policy especially concerning wars, foreign policy decisions are often led by American policy determinants rather than the mass media. This is because such conflict zones often prohibit the presence of international journalists in their territory (Fitzsimmons, 2006).

In this regard, the mass media is prevented from getting the other side of the story from non Americans and this gives them some appearance of bias owing to the fact that they can only release information or analyze government policy.

Furthermore, US media are often restricted from taking part or reporting from certain war zones because those places are just too dangerous for them. Cases in point include the Rwanda genocide of the nineties, the Kosovo crisis of 1999 and Somali conflicts.

Journalists could not get into these nations for fear of their lives and this prevented them from presenting a two sided argument that leveled the playing field. (Fitzsimmons, 2006)

In such moments the media appears to be better able to merely explain what the government is doing internationally than to set the agenda. Presidents with certain motives may find that they can take advantage of such weaknesses by disseminating information that makes them gain favor in the eyes of the public. (Porter & Baum, 2007)

Nonetheless, this matter is never replicated in all scenarios. In situations where the media has relatively fair access to material, then the opposite can occur. The media can set the agenda for a foreign policy issue. In fact adverse attention has been given on the concept of the CNN effect (Schudson, 2002).

Citizens contribute greatly towards foreign policy based on their opinions and one of the most crucial sources of these opinions is the mass media. The American public’s school of thought highly affects election or reelections of Presidents. Consequently, such leaders must act in tandem with these thoughts. (Graber, 2003)

Since the American public overly relies on information obtained from mass media as their information sources, then this causes presidents to alter foreign policy decisions based on its popularity. Cases include the Vietnam war and media coverage therein. Open criticisms of this war caused waning popularity and disregard of the war at home to the point of prompting a settlement.

Furthermore, the media frequently exposes blunders on foreign policy such that changes can be made by respective presidents. For example, the Watergate scandal was thoroughly analyzed and exposed through mass media and it eventually led to the removal of the concerned president from office. In other words, the media can be watchdogs in international relations and have tremendously affected foreign policy in this regard. (Ruckman & Chong, 2007)

Impact of global financial crisis on US foreign policy

The global financial crisis has necessitated greater coordination amongst various states concerning economic stimulation. In other words, bodies such as the G-20 are gaining increased relevance as countries need to come together and work out a viable plan of the way forward concerning this crisis.

Matters concerning trade barriers have had to be revisited as more countries tend to go for protectionist policies. Therefore, the US has had to reach out to such nations in order to talk them out of pursuing such strategies.

Currency issues have been discussed and even led to elements of friction between these individuals. In such regard, it has become necessary to forge relations and discuss ways in which exports can be enhanced in US partner states. (Johnson, 2009)

The crisis has left the country with minimal resources. In other words, president Obama does not have billions of dollars worth of revenue to spend on foreign relations issues. In fact, this could be the reason why so many Americans wanted to root for change in the latest election. They knew that domestic issues like the economy were so pressing that they needed to be given priority.

In other words, concentration of resources on the global crisis of the economy has left minimal finances available for wars and this has prompted the increased need for pull out in current wars such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The country has been forced to pick its battles very carefully because there are serious problems at home that are yet to be tackled.

In other words, the influence of the global financial crisis on foreign policy is two pronged because it has necessitated removal of the US from involvement in certain wars. Conversely, it has left minimal resources to be able to achieve these withdrawals adequately.

Perhaps one of the reasons why withdrawal plans in the Middle East have not worked very well could be that the country has not been able to make adequate plans for doing so. Decision making has therefore been affected positively and negatively by the crisis partly due to public support and partly due to lack of resources.


Couch, E. (1996). Presidential trivia NY: Routledge

Bumiller, E. (2009). Inside the Presidency. National geographic 215(1), 130-150

Zaharna, R. (2009). Improving the Muslim-US relations – Obama’s other audience. Washington; Foreign policy in focus, 5 June

Paramra, I. (2010). American foreign policy under Obama. Political insight magazine, April 14

Fitzsimmons, D. (2006). Mass media on American foreign policy in Somali, Kosovo and Rwanda. International studies association report

Potter. P. & Baum, M. (2007). Relationship of mass media, foreign policy and public opinion. Journal of international organization 63(4), 733

Schudson, M. (2002). News media as political institutions. Political science review, 5(4), 249

Ruckman, J. & Chong, D. (2007). Framing theory. Political science journal, 10(4), 103

Graber, D. (2003). Media and democracy – going beyond stereotypes and myths. Annual political review 6(4), 139

Johnson, S. (2009). US policy in the global crisis. Perterson institute of International economics, 4(3), 34

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