Introduction to Foreign Policy

Lumen Learning and OpenStax

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shaking hands.
Figure 1. U.S. president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin shake hands for the cameras during the APEC Summit on November 10, 2017, in Da Nang, Vietnam. Whereas previous U.S. presidents were rather aloof with the Russian leader, Trump attempted to befriend Putin during his four years in the White House. President Biden has returned to the prior stance of firmness with Russia. (credit: President of the Russian Federation/

The U.S. government interacts with a large number of international actors, from other governments to private organizations, to fight global problems like terrorism and human trafficking, and to meet many other national foreign policy goals such as encouraging trade and protecting the environment. Sometimes these goals are conflicting. Perhaps because of these realities, the president is in many ways the leader of the foreign policy domain. When the United States wishes to discuss important issues with other nations, the president (or a representative such as the secretary of state) typically does the talking, as when President Donald Trump visited with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2017.

But don’t let this image mislead you. While the president is the country’s foreign policy leader, Congress also has many foreign policy responsibilities, including approving treaties and agreements, allocating funding, making war, and confirming ambassadors. These and various other activities constitute the patchwork quilt that is U.S. foreign policy.

How are foreign and domestic policymaking different, and how are they linked? What are the main foreign policy goals of the United States? How do the president and Congress interact in the foreign policy realm? In what different ways might foreign policy be pursued? This chapter will delve into these and other issues to present an overview of U.S. foreign policy.

*Watch this video to learn about the essentials of U.S. foreign policy.


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