Q&A with Linda Fowler, author of Watchdogs on the Hill

Fowler jacket

Linda Fowler is the author of the new release, Watchdogs on the Hill: The Decline of Congressional Oversight of U.S. Foreign Relations. Recently she answered some questions about the book’s contribution, her writing process, and why domestic influences in international affairs is such an important and overlooked topic.

What inspired you to get into your field?

LF: I worked on Capitol Hill right after graduating from college at a time when Congress was in disarray.  The country was tearing itself apart over the Vietnam War, and lawmakers appeared helpless to deal with the upheaval.  Octogenarians dominated the leadership in both chambers, creating opportunities for President Nixon to push the bounds of the Constitution with seeming impunity.  Once I started graduate school I wanted to better understand how the world’s most powerful legislature had ended up in such a sorry state.  I was unimaginably fortunate that one of the nation’s most distinguished congressional scholars became my teacher and mentor.  Richard Fenno taught me to see the democratic possibilities in Congress, to take a longer view about its imperfections, and to focus on close observation of the people who shape it through their daily actions.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book? 

LF: I learned that Congress had done a better job overseeing U.S. foreign policy since the start of the Cold War than most political observers acknowledged, but that since the mid-1990s, the institution has performed poorly in light of historical norms.  At first glance, this pattern seemed paradoxical:  why would lawmakers have been more effective monitoring the executive during a time when fears of nuclear war generated enormous pressures to defer to the White House regarding national security?  The answer eluded me until I began to focus on changes inside the Senate that devalued committee work.  When legislative craft and expertise mattered less to individual member’s success, they spent less time on committee hearings and thus diminished their capacity for oversight of the president.

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?

LF: The book demonstrates that the seemingly arcane business conducted by legislative committees matters a great deal in how well Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibilities in foreign affairs.  In an era in which commentators focus on the personality of the president and his conflicts with critics, the findings of the remind us why the framers put their faith in institutions, not individuals.  The unique research design of the study combines in-depth analysis of the content of committee hearings; lengthy time series from 1947-2008; investigation of both public and secret sessions; and detailed case studies.  Together, the different facets of the project enabled me to clearly identify trends and the reasons behind them, while grounding the analysis in real-world events.

What was the best piece of advice you ever received?

LF: Early in my career, when I was struggling with my first book, someone told me to stop fussing over the introduction and go back to it once I had the individual pieces of the story.   It is advice I have followed ever since.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life? 

LF: I found it most challenging to create a coherent narrative that did justice to the complexity of the topic, the wide variety of historical data, and the use of both statistical and qualitative tools of analysis.

Why did you write this book? 

LF: In 2004, I had just finished a long stint in an administrative position at Dartmouth and was looking to reinvent myself as a scholar by undertaking a new project.  Several articles in the news that spring caught my attention because they quoted members of the House of Representatives publicly scolding two of the Senate’s most distinguished members, Foreign Relation’s chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Armed Services chairman John Warner (R-VA), for scheduling oversight hearings of President Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq. In the past, such pointed challenges would have been unthinkable, given the Senate’s prestige in foreign affairs.  I wanted to discover whether the Senate’s prime national security watchdogs had lost influence and, if so, what reasons lay behind the change.

Who do you see as the audience for this book? 

LF: Scholars have paid comparatively little attention to the subject of Congress and foreign policy: congressional experts focus primarily on lawmaking, while foreign policy specialists tend to overlook domestic influences in international affairs.  My objective was to redirect the attention of both camps by showing that oversight was an integral part of the legislative process and key to the rule of law and democratic accountability in war and peace.  Despite the scholarly focus, I wanted to make the book interesting to students, journalists, and people generally interested in American politics. So, I worked hard to make it accessible by using case studies to illustrate the main arguments, avoiding jargon, and burying the technical material in appendices.

How did you come up with the title or jacket? 

LF: A major theme of the book is that Congress needs to do better in overseeing U.S. foreign affairs, so I wanted a cover that conveyed both gravity and urgency.  The bold lettering of the title, the yellow color of the subtitle and the photograph of the famous hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by chairman William Fulbright (D-AR), during the Vietnam War convey those messages.

Henry R. Nau Events On November 4th

nau-henryConservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman and Reagan
featuring author Henry R. Nau

Debates about U.S. foreign policy have revolved around three main traditions – liberal internationalism, realism, and nationalism.  This book delves deeply into a fourth, overlooked foreign policy tradition that he calls “conservative internationalism.”  This approach spreads freedom, like liberal internationalism; arms diplomacy, like realism; and preserves national sovereignty, like nationalism.  It targets a world of limited government or independent “sister republics,” not a world of great power concerts or centralized international institutions.

Conservative Internationalism shows how the United States can effectively sustain global leadership while respecting the constraints of public will and material resources.

___________________________________________________

Monday, November 4, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.

Hosted by Edwin Meese III

Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus, The Heritage Foundation

RSVP online | or call (202) 675-1752

The Heritage Foundation’s Lehrman Auditorium

~  Books will be available for purchase. ~

 
214 Massachusetts Avenue, NE | Washington, DC 20002 | (202) 546-4400


Plus! Later in the same day at 5:30, Nau will be speaking at the American Enterprise Institute:

5:15 PM
Registration

5:30 PM
Introduction:
Arthur C. Brooks, AEI

Lecture:
Henry Nau, US–Japan–South Korea Legislative Exchange Program

7:00 PM
Adjournment and Reception

To learn more, visit their website here.


Henry R. Nau is professor of political science and international affairs in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. His many books include The Myth of America’s Decline, At Home Abroad, and Perspectives on International Relations.


Joseph Nye talks presidential foreign policy with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer

You might also enjoy reading Joseph Nye’s thoughts on how external forces can change a presidential style from transformational to transactional or in the reverse.

Some critics complain that US President Barack Obama campaigned on inspirational rhetoric and an ambition to “bend the arc of history,” but then turned out to be a transactional and pragmatic leader once in office. In this respect, however, Obama is hardly unique.

Many leaders change their objectives and style over the course of their careers. One of the great transformational leaders in history, Otto von Bismarck, became largely incremental and status quo-oriented after achieving the unification of Germany under Prussian direction. Likewise, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s foreign-policy objectives and style were modest and incremental in his first presidential term, but became transformational in 1938 when he decided that Adolf Hitler represented an existential threat.

Transactional leadership is more effective in stable and predictable environments, whereas an inspirational style is more likely to appear in periods of rapid and discontinuous social and political change. The transformational objectives and inspirational style of a leader like Mahatma Gandhi in India or Nelson Mandela in South Africa can significantly influence outcomes in fluid political contexts, particularly in developing countries with weakly structured institutional constraints.

By contrast, American foreign-policy formation is highly constrained by institutions like Congress, the courts, and the constitution. Thus, we would expect less opportunity for transformational leadership.

But even the US Constitution is ambiguous about the powers of Congress and the president in foreign policy. At best, it creates what one constitutional expert called “an invitation to struggle.” Moreover, much depends on external conditions. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman developed transformational objectives only in response to external events after they entered office.

Read the complete article at Project Syndicate: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/contextual-intelligence-and-foreign-policy-leadership-by-joseph-s–nye


bookjacket

Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era
Joseph S. Nye, Jr.