A CULTURE OF DEFERENCE: Congress's Failure of Leadership in Foreign Policy by Stephen R. Weissman

A CULTURE OF DEFERENCE: Congress's Failure of Leadership in Foreign Policy

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An ex-insider's thoughtful case for the proposition that since the end of WW II the US Congress has effectively abdicated its responsibility to play an active, vital role in the nation's foreign affairs. While some observers believe that the executive branch has usurped the prerogatives of the legislature, Weissman (who spent 12 years on the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) attributes Capitol Hill's lack of assertiveness to institutional deficiencies that he expansively categorizes as a culture of deference. Thanks in large measure to Cold War exigencies, the author argues, the Congress developed a tradition of acquiescence with respect to State Department and White House initiatives. In the meantime, he notes, it became increasingly vulnerable to lobbyists, the intelligence community, and other petitioners with special-interest agendas. In documenting a consistent lack of will on the part of federal lawmakers, Weissman focuses on their generally passive reaction to presidential policy in such trouble spots as Angola, Nicaragua, and Zaire. He also affords almost equal time to instances in which the Congress transcended its diffidence to participate on a high-profile, bipartisan basis in the promotion of human rights and political freedoms in El Salvador, the Philippines, and South Africa. Throughout, however, the author stresses that the de facto retreat of the House and Senate from the international arena is something more than an arcane constitutional controversy. Without a defining East/West deadlock, he points out, events almost anywhere in the world could have a direct effect on America's security and socioeconomic welfare. In closing, Weissman offers down-to-earth proposals on how the Congress might launch internal reforms and create broader-based constituencies for foreign affairs. An estimable contribution to the quiet debate on an issue of genuine, if unappreciated, consequence for the electorate.

Pub Date: July 19th, 1995
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Basic