US Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines


US Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines 

A long journey from Interventionism to america First 

Historically, a US presidential foreign policy doctrine has served to define the national interest of a specific administration in a public manner, informing the American people and their allies, as well as putting potential adversaries on notice. James Monroe pronounced the first major presidential foreign policy doctrine for the newly-created United States on December 2, 1823. In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt made a significant amendment to the Monroe Doctrine. While many other presidents announced overarching foreign policy goals, the term “presidential doctrine” refers to a more consistently applied foreign policy ideology. It must be noted here that presidential doctrines did not define a specific strategy a president would pursue, their administration’s worldview, or how they would utilize American power.

Following is a list of important presidential foreign policy doctrines in the history of USA:

Monroe Doctrine

Articulated in 1823, this doctrine reflects the concerns and aspirations of a young country, bold enough to assert its power on the world stage. In dictating that Europe maintain a “hands-off” policy toward the Americas, it established the United States as a global power, albeit one with limited, hemispheric ambitions. President James Monroe declared, in his seventh State of the Union address, that America would not allow European colonies to further colonize in the Americas or interfere with independent states. His ambitions would expand, however, and in future decades, the Monroe Doctrine would prove useful for interventionists and isolationists alike. As the most recognizable and perhaps most venerated of diplomatic principles, its hold on the popular imagination has been so strong that it has defined the limits of acceptable policy options, shaping the range of choices open to presidents for the better part of two centuries. In many ways, the “doctrines” of American foreign policy take their cue from the Monroe Doctrine

Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt issued a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that significantly altered America’s foreign policy. Previously, the US stated that it would not allow for European colonization of Latin America. Roosevelt’s amendment went further stating that the US would act to help stabilize economic problems for struggling Latin American nations. As he stated:

“If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, … it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing … in the Western Hemisphere … may force the United States … to the exercise of an international police power.” This was the formulation of Roosevelt’s “big stick diplomacy.”

Since the earliest days of its existence, the United States has seen fit to announce in grandiose fashion its intentions and purposes to the world at large. The Declaration of Independence, for instance, the grandest statement of all, took aim at a foreign audience more than a domestic one. Subsequent declarations, often imbued with a millennial vision and a sense of exceptionalism, continued to broadcast the nation’s principles far and wide. The emergence of the United States as a global power endowed those statements with increasing authority, for Americans as well as for those abroad. In time, they came to take on the status of “doctrine,” establishing the precepts of US foreign policy.

The Hoover-Stimson Doctrine

The Hoover-Stimson Doctrine, named for President Herbert Hoover and Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, reiterated earlier pledges regarding American interests in the Far East. The events precipitating the doctrine’s articulation took place in northern China in September 1931, along a section of track on the South Manchurian Railway, which had been administered by Japan since the first decade of the century. An explosion near the railway, subsequently attributed to the Japanese military, was blamed by Japan on Chinese rebels. Japan used the occasion—thereafter known as the Mukden Incident—as a pretext to pacify ever-larger regions of Manchuria.HarryTruman

On 7 January 1932, Secretary of State Stimson delivered notes to both Japan and China stating US opposition to the course of events in Manchuria. Stimson’s announcement was twofold: first, that the United States would not recognize any treaty that compromised the sovereignty or integrity of China; and second, that it would not recognize any territorial changes achieved through force of arms. It was a statement of pure principle, made even purer by the disinterest and inability of the United States to back up those words with deeds.

Truman Doctrine

While the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine sought to constrain Japanese militarism, the Truman doctrine addressed a new and more global threat—international communism.

Weakened by two world wars, England had relinquished its commitment to Greece and Turkey and urged the US to step in to save them from communist subversion. In 1947 President Truman asked Congress for $400 million in aid for the two Mediterranean countries. On March 12, 1947, President Truman stated his Truman Doctrine in an address before Congress. Under this, the US promised to send money, equipment, or military force to countries that were threatened by and resisting communism. This began the American policy of containment to try and stop the fall of countries to communism and to halt the expansion of Soviet influence.

Eisenhower Doctrine

By the mid-1950s the Cold War had undergone a transformation. Stalin’s death in March 1953 ushered in a period of transition for the Soviet Union, prompting the Kremlin’s new leadership to stabilize its own power as well as Moscow’s position with regard to the Nato alliance. Yet changes in the international arena would encourage those men, as well as their counterparts in the West, to view the developing world as a new site for East-West competition. President Dwight D. Eisenhower would engage the Soviets in that global battle for hearts and minds, a conflict that threatened to become particularly fierce in the Middle East. Expanding on the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine declared that it was the US policy to intervene militarily in the Middle East so as to protect legitimate governments from communism.

Nixon Doctrine

Concerned that Asian countries were relying too heavily on the United States for protection against communist subversion, President Nixon casually mentioned during a press conference in 1969 that they should gradually assume more responsibility for their own survival. Over time, he used the doctrine to justify the sale of major weapons to the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and other countries in Asia and the Middle East. President Nixon insisted the United States would stick with Vietnam until a just peace was arranged. But he was determined to slowly reduce American involvement in the war through a process known as Vietnamization. One of Nixon’s goals, in fact, was to limit the type of intervention that Eisenhower had joined in Lebanon, where the commander-in-chief responded to an international crisis by “sending in the marines.” He would introduce his new approach on 25 July 1969, the very day that America began its lengthy retreat from the jungles and marshes of Vietnam.9780822386728

Detractors have also faulted the Nixon Doctrine for actually expanding the ranks of nuclear-capable nations. According to this critique, pledges to take friends and allies under the American shield left countries to wonder whether, and under what circumstances, they qualified for such protection. Nixon’s failure to identify potential beneficiaries led nations such as Israel, India, Pakistan, and Brazil to join the nuclear club.

Carter Doctrine

President James Earl Carter’s focus on human rights alarmed Soviet leaders, who were accustomed to Nixon’s disregard for such issues. A series of events, including conflict in the Horn of Africa and the discovery of Soviet troops in Cuba, led Carter to adopt a more hawkish position toward the USSR. Moscow’s invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan would bring him more firmly into the cold warrior camp. Responding to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, President Carter warned that the United States would regard a Soviet attack on the Persian Gulf states as an “assault on the vital interests of the United States.” On January 23, 1980, Jimmy Carter stated in a State of the Union Address: “The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.” Therefore, military force would be used if necessary to protect American economic and national interests in the Persian Gulf.theodore_roosevelt_genealogy

Within a month of his address, Carter sanctioned the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force, a contingent of as many as 200,000 troops, designed to expedite the projection of American military power around the globe, especially in the Middle East. He would take additional steps to improve America’s combat readiness, preparing the groundwork for a reimposition of the military draft and asking Congress for a sharp increase in defence spending. Other policies would impinge on US–Soviet relations as Carter enacted a partial grain embargo and boycotted the Moscow Olympics.

Reagan Doctrine

Throughout Reagan’s two terms in office from 1981 to 1989, and extending to the end of the Cold War in 1991, the Reagan Doctrine was the focal point of US foreign policy. It was a significant change in policy, moving from simple containment to more direct assistance to those fighting against communist governments.

Reagan laid out that vision in his State of the Union Address of 6 February 1985. “We must not break faith,” he declared, “with those who are risking their lives—on every continent from Afghanistan to Nicaragua—to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.” The president went on to equate anticommunist forces with American colonists who had fought the revolutionary war, describing those latter-day patriots as “freedom fighters” for democracy.

The point of the doctrine was to provide military and financial support to guerilla forces such as the Contras in Nicaragua. Providing aid to those groups was not only morally just but geopolitically sound. “Support for freedom fighters,” Reagan avowed, “is self-defence.” It would be months before those declarations would take shape as a fixed statement of policy.

The Reagan Doctrine also gave a boost to the CIA, an institution that had come under fire during the 1970s as its abuses of power, investigated by Congress, came to light.

Bush Doctrine

The Bush doctrine grew out of neoconservative dissatisfaction with President Bill Clinton’s handling of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. The US had beaten Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. That war’s goals, however, were limited to forcing Iraq to abandon its occupation of Kuwait and did not include toppling Saddam.

Many neoconservatives voiced concern that the US did not depose Saddam. Post-war peace terms also dictated that Saddam allow United Nations inspectors to periodically search Iraq for evidence of programmes to build weapons of mass destruction, which could include chemical or nuclear weapons. Saddam repeatedly angered neo-cons as he stalled or prohibited UN inspections.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress. During his speech, he committed the United States to a global war on terrorism. Using moralistic language, he declared that the countries of the world had to decide if they were for US or the terrorists.

Bush expanded on that when he addressed a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001. He said: “We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

The Bush Doctrine essentially died in 2006.

Obama Doctrine

In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned as a foreign policy moderate, wary of the aggressive interventionism of the George W. Bush administration but willing to take on a leading role for America in combating particularly ominous threats. Although promising to pull the remaining American forces out of Iraq, he vowed to send additional troops to Afghanistan.

During his first years as president, Obama generally conformed to these pledges. He authorized several increases in the US military presence in Afghanistan. He began withdrawing US forces from Iraq, albeit at a slower pace than promised in the campaign but one that nonetheless put the administration on a course for complete withdrawal. He worked with foreign allies on trade deals and used drones unilaterally against extremists in Pakistan.WO-000038

The foreign policy of Obama underwent profound change in 2011, a year that saw the departure of Robert Gates and other career foreign policy heavyweights. During 2011, Obama pressured Congress into steep cuts to the defence budget, while simultaneously formulating a new national security strategy that promised to defend the nation with substantially fewer resources. Under the new strategy, the United States would no longer fight large wars of counterinsurgency, as it had in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would instead rely on special operations forces and drones to defeat the remaining terrorists. The US Army and Marine Corps would hence be cut by 100,000 troops. The new strategy also called for a pivot to Asia, the continent on which America’s future ostensibly hinged, where American air and naval power rendered a large ground presence unnecessary.

Trump Doctrine

Like the doctrines of previous presidents, Trump’s has been dictated by what the US faces at the moment. The United States has forces deployed widely. They are engaged in combat in the Middle East and have been deployed to Poland and Romania to counter potential Russian moves. The US Navy is involved in non-combat operations in the South China Sea. And US forces remain in a position to strike at North Korea, if necessary. US military capabilities are, therefore, stretched thin, deployed over a vast swath of territory, and this creates a problem. An outbreak of war in any one theatre would reduce US capacity in another theatre, increasing the likelihood of a power taking advantage of this weakness.

Consider the North Korea crisis. The US could have responded to Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons in three ways: launch a war, passively accept the situation or negotiate. Trump chose the only option he could, which was to try to reach some sort of understanding with North Korea. When it comes to Russia, Trump had a similar menu of options: aggressiveness, passivity or diplomacy. But given Russia’s involvement in Syria, an area where the US is engaged, as well as the potential threat to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, Trump had to take the diplomatic route.Dollarphotoclub_81730674-scaled

On the economic and trade front, a very different landscape exists. For the United States, exports account for a relatively small percentage of gross domestic product. There are some sectors that are more reliant on trade than others, but for the most part, the US economy is not heavily dependent on exports. Other countries, however, are heavily dependent on exports. Trump does not see the free trade regime that has emerged since World War II as advantageous to the United States. He’s also constrained by the interests of his core constituency, which voted for him in part because he promised to get tough on trade. Given that the United States must be restrained militarily at this point, economic tools can help shape relationships with adversarial powers like China.

This policy of applying economic pressure has, of course, further aggravated tensions with other countries and degraded the United States’ reputation abroad. This is not new. Ever since Vietnam, and really since World War II, the United States has been condemned for a host of policies. But it’s not clear that global public opinion has any lasting effect. Trump, therefore, chose to be indifferent to global public opinion, which may just be his personal preference anyway.

The writer is an Assistant Editor at JWT.

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