Randall Woods

In the United States, foreign and domestic affairs are inextricably intertwined. Because they are responsible to the electorate, presidents and secretaries of state must take into account public opinion when they shape foreign policy. Under the Constitution, the legislative branch is a partner, albeit a junior one, with the executive in the conduct of foreign affairs. Treaties may not become law without the two-thirds approval of the Senate, the Senate must confirm the president's top foreign policymakers, only Congress can declare war, and only Congress can fund both the diplomatic and military establishments. Throughout their history, the American people have been represented in Congress and the White House primarily by two major parties. There have been a multitude of third parties, a few of them with the power to determine the outcome of national elections, but national and international policymaking has been dominated by the two-party system. Hence, the term "bipartisanship" to denote periods of inter-party cooperation on foreign and domestic affairs.

Not even advocates of a foreign policy based on inter-party and executive-congressional cooperation have been able to agree on a name for this phenomenon, however. Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of state, Cordell Hull, wanted to classify close executive-congressional cooperation as "nonpartisan," because he was determined not to share credit with the Republicans. Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenberg sought acceptance of the term "unpartisan," by which he meant policy developed above partisan purposes and for the national interest. Political scientist H. Bradford Westerfield prefers the term "extrapartisanship," which he defines as a presidential resolution "to associate in active collaboration with his Administration's conduct of foreign relations enough influential members of the opposition party to prevent its lines from solidifying against basic administrative foreign policies." Significantly, only Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Foster Dulles preferred the term "bipartisanship," which has become the most widely accepted and used term.

Bipartisanship is a process of foreign policy formulation that presupposes presidential leadership in the establishment of the overall parameters defining the national interest. The chief executive, his advisers, and the State Department develop policy, working together closely and providing complete information to leaders in the Senate and House, especially to the chairman and members of both parties who serve on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The president must be willing to consult with leaders of both parties, especially those senators who can assist the administration in gaining broad-based support. He must appoint members of both parties to serve on U.S. delegations to important international conferences. He must be amenable to modifications, amendments, revisions, and changes in treaties or legislation and administer those policies in such a way as to help win the widest support in Congress and in the body politic. Bipartisanship does not preclude differences and partisan advantage but should, as much as possible, secure general agreement on a course of action before it becomes the victim of partisan squabbling. Underlying bipartisanship is the hope that the United States can present a unified voice in international relations. Obviously, bipartisanship is especially critical to a president when he is confronted with domination of both houses of Congress by the opposite party. Close staff work among the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the State Department, and presidential advisers must accompany changes in policy. The cooperation between the administration and Congress must also withstand the strains of political campaigns, which recur every two years.

At its best, bipartisan foreign policy functions as part of the American democratic process. Through their representatives in Congress, both parties freely debate, and in the process issues receive the fullest possible airing. In addition, that policy must be based on generally agreed-upon principles and assumptions that are shared by the president and congressional leaders, including those of the opposition party.

Bipartisanship is usually associated with an activist, interventionist foreign policy such as that seen during World War II and the period of the Cold War through Vietnam. But throughout much of its history the dominant theme in America's approach to the world was isolationism, and it was around this theme that the first bipartisan consensus emerged. America was created out of a desire by certain Europeans to escape political and religious persecution. The wave of immigrants that began flooding across the Atlantic in the seventeenth century were hoping to escape the evils of monarchism and religious intolerance. They were fleeing a hierarchical system that denied them the opportunity for economic advancement, political power, and free religious expression. Even those who continued to regard themselves as loyal subjects of the British crown deeply appreciated the three thousand miles that separated them from the motherland.


Ambrosius, Lloyd E. Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition: The Treaty Fight in Perspective. New York and Cambridge, Mass., 1987. The best study of the conflict between Wilson and opponents of the treaty.

Atkinson, Rick. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Boston, 1993. A balanced, accurate, if necessarily incomplete account.

Beale, Howard K. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power. Baltimore, 1956. Still a masterpiece, surveying Roosevelt's internal and external world.

Beisner, Robert L. From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 1865–1900. 2d ed. Arlington Heights, Ill., 1986. A survey of the new imperialism by a leading authority on the period.

Bemis, Samuel Flagg. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy. New York, 1949. Still a must-read for students of American Foreign Policy.

Berman, Larry. Lyndon Johnson's War: The Road to Stalemate in Vietnam. New York, 1989. A concise analysis of Johnson's decisions to escalate the war.

Beschloss, Michael R. The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960–1963. New York, 1991.

Brown, Roger Hamilton. The Republic in Peril: 1812. New York, 1964. A classic analysis of politics and public opinion before and during the War of 1812.

Campbell, Charles S. The Transformation of American Foreign Relations, 1865–1900. New York, 1976. A classic example of the "open door" approach.

Carothers, Thomas. In the Name of Democracy: U.S. Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years. Berkeley, Calif., 1991. The only credible treatment.

Charles, Joseph. The Origins of the American Party System: Three Essays. Williamsburg, Va., 1956. Three provocative essays.

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Cole, Donald B. The Presidency of Andrew Jackson. Lawrence, Kans., 1993. An excellent overview.

Cole, Wayne S. Roosevelt and the Isolationists, 1932–1945. Lincoln, Neb., 1983. The definitive work on the subject.

Combs, Jerald A. The Jay Treaty: Political Battleground of the Founding Fathers. Berkeley, Calif., 1970. Combs remains the leading authority on Jay's Treaty.

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Gienapp, William E. The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852–1856. New York, 1987. The best treatment of this complex phenomenon.

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Horsman, Reginald. Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge, Mass., 1981. A classic treatment of a key element in U.S. expansionism.

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Kaufman, Burton I. The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. Lawrence, Kans., 1993. An excellent survey.

McQuaid, Kim. The Anxious Years: America in the Vietnam-Watergate Era. New York, 1989. The best overview of the period.

Osborne, Thomas J. "Empire Can Wait": American Opposition to Hawaiian Annexation, 1893–1898. Kent, Ohio, 1981.

Pletcher, David M. The Diplomacy of Annexation: Texas, Oregon, and the Mexican War. Columbia, Mo., 1973. The definitive study.

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Sharp, James Roger. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. New Haven, Conn., 1993.

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Varg, Paul A. New England and Foreign Relations, 1789–1850. Hanover, N.H., 1983.

Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York, 1990.

Watts, Steven. The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790–1820. Baltimore, 1987. An excellent study of the roots of American liberalism.

Widenor, William C. Henry Cabot Lodge and the Search for an American Foreign Policy. Berkeley, Calif., 1980. A classic political/foreign affairs biography.

Woods, Randall B. J. William Fulbright, Vietnam, and the Search for a Cold War Foreign Policy. Cambridge, Mass., and New York, 1998.

Woods, Randall B., and Howard Jones. Dawning of the Cold War: The United States Quest for Order. Athens, Ga., 1991.

See also Congressional Power ; Department of State ; Isolationism ; The National Interest ; Party Politics ; Presidential Power ; Public Opinion .


James William Fulbright, educator, senator, and Vietnamera dissenter, was born in Sumner, Missouri, on 9 April 1905, and was raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In 1942 he ran successfully for Congress, where he made a name for himself by cosponsoring the Fulbright-Connally Resolution, which placed Congress on record as favoring membership in a postwar collective security organization. In 1944 he captured a Senate seat, and two years later introduced legislation creating the international exchange program that bears his name. In 1950 he became chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and served in that capacity until his departure from the Senate in 1975. In 1993, President William Jefferson Clinton, one of Fulbright's protΓ©gΓ©s, presented him with the Medal of Freedom. Fulbright died on 9 February 1995 following a massive stroke suffered two years earlier.

The themes that dominated the public life and work of Fulbright were cultural tolerance and international cooperation. During his thirty-two years in Congress, he appealed to the people of the world but particularly Americans to appreciate and tolerate other cultures and political systems without condoning armed aggression or human rights violations. His dedication to internationalism generally and the United Nations specifically and his passionate support of the Fulbright Exchange Program followed logically. He was convinced that the exchange of students and scholars would increase understanding and breed political elites capable of pursuing enlightened foreign policies.

Frightened by the resurgence of the radical right and greatly impressed by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's conciliatory visit to the United States in 1959, Fulbright moved beyond competitive coexistence to embrace the concept of dΓ©tente. He was pleased with the Kennedy administration's flexible response to the communist threat and, following the Cuban missile crisis in 1963, with its willingness to make a fresh start with the Soviet Union. During the 1964 presidential election, Democrat Fulbright took the point in the foreign policy debate with Republican Senator Barry Goldwater and the "true believers." He was a devoted advocate of the liberal internationalism espoused by the Kennedy-Johnson administrations, that is, he believed that the United States ought to deter Sino-Soviet aggression through military preparedness and combat communist wars of liberation through foreign aid and counterinsurgency, but at the same time, he was committed to peaceful existence. The communist world, he argued, would eventually collapse of its own internal contradictions.

Fulbright parted company with Lyndon Johnson because he believed that his longtime political comrade-in-arms had sold out to the very forces that Johnson had defeated in 1964. The decision to intervene in the Dominican Republic and to escalate the war in Vietnam signaled to the senator the triumph of the nationalist, xenophobic, imperialist tendencies that had always lurked beneath the surface of American society. Fulbright came to the conclusion that the war was not a case of North Vietnam aggression against South Vietnam. Rather, the north's Ho Chi Minh represented the forces of authentic Vietnamese nationalism and the war in the south pitted an American-supported puppet government against indigenous revolutionaries who were seeking social justice and national self-determination.

In February 1966, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held televised hearings on Vietnam. The misgivings expressed began the national debate on the wisdom of U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia. From then until Johnson's departure from the presidency, Fulbright labored to undermine the consensus that supported the war in Vietnam. In 1967 he published The Arrogance of Power, a best-selling and sweeping critique of American foreign policy.

Concerning the executive-legislative prerogatives, Fulbright's concern was not with a particular interpretation of the Constitution. In the aftermath of World War II, with the tide of isolationism still running strong, an assertive, active executive was needed to advance the cause of internationalism and keep the peace. But over the years, the stresses and strains of fighting the Cold War under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust had taken their toll. Its actions sometimes circumscribed and sometimes dictated by a fanatical anticommunism, the executive had embarked on an imperial foreign policy that had involved America in its longest war and created a maze of international commitments and overseas bases not seen since the British empire was in full bloom. The only way to check this trend, Fulbright believed, was to restore congressional prerogatives in foreign policymaking.

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