I read the following phrase in the topic of foreign policies of a country,

"It stops at water's edge."

What does "politics stops at water’s edge" mean?

  • 5
    It means that political disputes are internal matters, and they should not be reflected in dealings with other nations. "Water's edge" is a metonymy for "national border". (The phrase is famously applied to bipartisan action in the US during the cold war, where politicians who naturally would be rivals acted together to forge and promote the policies of that era.) Dec 23, 2019 at 23:11
  • 1
    Please make that an answer. Dec 24, 2019 at 3:40
  • @Kris - I see why Mike does not want to spend time researching, but I heard this term multiple times. It applies only to politics of USA. Finding support materials would be lots of effort, because this common knowledge was always assumed. Dec 26, 2019 at 19:54
  • @MikeGraham If you can cite a reliable source in support, that can make for an answer I suppose.
    – Kris
    Dec 27, 2019 at 9:22
  • @MikeGraham I would call it a metaphor, not really a metonym.
    – Barmar
    Dec 30, 2019 at 22:06

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia mentions "politics stops at the water's edge" as "forging bipartisan support for [Truman's] foreign policy" (by a Republican senator supporting a Democratic president).

Vandenberrg official biography also mentions "we must stop “partisan politics at the water's edge," he cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO"

Google will provide many more examples of the phrase, some with explanation, many without (because understanding of the context is assumed).


It means that political divisions that exist between citizens inside the nation are (or should be) suspended when we go abroad.

For example, nine days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines, lead vocalist of the Texas-based band Dixie Chicks, told the audience of a a London concert, “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States [George W. Bush] is from Texas.” Had this happened in the US, it would have been ignored, but as Maines chose a foreign country to make the statement — breaking the “politics stops at water’s edge” rule — reaction from Americans was vociferous and negative. The Dixie Chicks were widely denounced in the press, many people boycotted their recordings, radio stations refused to play their songs, and the band did not tour again for seven years.

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