The State Department and the Growth of American Foreign Policy

  • Secretary of State is most prestigious cabinet official
  • Executive branch is most powerful in realm of foreign policy
The Secretary of State is considered the most high-ranking cabinet position—and understandably so; foreign affairs have always been the area in which the president possessed the most unilateral power. Negotiating treaties and conducting foreign affairs necessitated a single, clear, authoritative voice. When called into service, the American military required a commander-in chief—a single buck-stops-here leader.

But the powers of the president in this area, like all others, have grown over time. Just look at the numbers. In 1789, Congress authorized the raising of a 1000-man army; when George Washington left office in 1797, the United States Navy consisted of only three almost-completed warships.blank" rel="nofollow">World War II, American concerns shifted from fascist Germany to communist Russia. American policymakers worried that our recent allies, the Soviets, represented a threat to free governments and free markets around the world. So Congress legislated a handful of tools for the president's use in combating the Soviet menace. One of these new tools was the CIA. Authorized by Congress to gather intelligence, and to do whatever else the president deemed necessary from time to time, the CIA quickly became the president's own agency, authorized to do whatever he asked, answerable only to him, and largely shielded from Congressional or public oversight.

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