(L to R) Matthew C. Waxman; Michael Bahar ’08 LL.M.; Ambassador Daniel F. Feldman ’93; Vance Serchuk
Friday, June 13
Congress and American Foreign Policy
Moderator: Matthew C. Waxman, Liviu Librescu Professor of Law; Faculty Chair, Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security, Columbia Law School
Panelists: Michael Bahar ’08 LL.M., Minority Staff Director and General Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Ambassador Daniel F. Feldman ’93, U.S. State Department Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Vance Serchuk, Executive Director of KKR Global Institute, Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security
Alumni and Faculty Discuss the Role of Congress in U.S. Foreign Policy
United States foreign policy is determined by ever-shifting conflict and cooperation between Congress and the executive branch, said distinguished foreign policy experts at a Columbia Law School panel moderated by Professor Matthew C. Waxman, faculty chair of the Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security. The conversation took place June 12th during Reunion 2015 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
“All politics is local, and Congress, even when focusing on foreign policy, often keeps that local, political bent,” Bahar said.
Waxman, the Liviu Librescu Professor of Law and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, introduced the panelists: Michael Bahar ’08 LL.M., minority staff director and general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the U.S. intelligence community; Ambassador Daniel F. Feldman ’93, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; and Vance Serchuk, executive director of the KKR Global Institute, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School. Waxman noted that the panel grew out of a Law School seminar he co-taught in 2014 with Serchuk and former U.S. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman. The course, Congress in American Foreign and Defense Policy, explored the various tools Congress has for influencing foreign policy.
“The idea that the United States speaks with one voice globally through the president has never really been true,” said Waxman, who has served in senior positions at the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the National Security Council.
Bahar, a former deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council staff who lectured on secretive intelligence processes in Waxman’s seminar, agreed, arguing that diverse interests across the country mobilize to affect the roles the U.S. plays on the world stage.
“All politics is local, and Congress, even when focusing on foreign policy, often keeps that local, political bent,” he said. “It also helps in understanding what issues Congress focuses on. The surveillance issue, for example, even though aimed at protecting against foreign threats, could potentially impact everybody at home, so it has become a hot button issue in Congress.”
Feldman, who holds a position created by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the late Richard Holbrooke, said Congress plays an important role building and shaping prevailing narratives about strategic engagement with the world.
Feldman said Congress plays an important role building and shaping prevailing narratives about strategic engagement with the world.
“Presidents tend to come down similarly on security issues because they are charged with protecting the country,” Feldman said. “But in an era of dwindling resources and competing interests, what is the optimal strategy? One area in which we’ll likely see continuing and increasing disagreement between Congress and the executive branch is over an exit plan from Afghanistan.”
Serchuk suggested that the influence of Congress on foreign policy has waxed and waned with time, peaking in the 1970s after Watergate raised questions about executive power.
“Congress’ role is in a space not of the text of the Constitution but what Congress is able to get away with and how the executive branch reacts,” said Serchuk, a fellow at the Hertog Program. “Beyond partisanship and broader forces, the personalities make a huge difference. People in Congress can make a huge difference if they are passionate about something.”
The Reunion conversation was part of an ongoing series of events the Hertog Program hosts to augment a rigorous and innovative curriculum that integrates the study of law, foreign policy, and strategy. The program draws on the unique government experience of permanent and adjunct faculty, and supports research by faculty members and students to produce policy-relevant scholarship on cutting-edge issues as a lasting contribution to the field.