Timeline of U.S. Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines


I’d like to review U.S. presidential doctrines throughout history. I think it important to understand just how consistent and unbashfully public American leaders have been about their quest for empire.

Monroe Doctrine (1823)

The Monroe Doctrine was expressed during President Monroe’s seventh annual message to Congress, December 2, 1823. The statement articulated United States’ policy on the new political order developing in the rest of the Americas and the role of Europe in the Western Hemisphere.

In the discussions to which this interest has given rise and in the arrangements by which they may terminate the occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.

It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord.

American leaders wanted to increase their influence and trading ties to the south and European mercantilism posed an obstacle to the United States’ economic expansion.

In the late 1800s, U.S. economic and military power enabled the nation to take on the role of regional policeman. The doctrine’s greatest extension came with Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary, which inverted the original meaning of the doctrine and came to justify unilateral U.S. intervention in Latin America.

Roosevelt Corollary (1904)

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt issued a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that significantly altered America’s foreign policy. Roosevelt’s annual message to Congress, December 6, 1904:

To the Senate and House of Representatives:

It is not true that the United States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards the other nations of the Western Hemisphere save such as are for their welfare. All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoingor an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.

If every country washed by the Caribbean Sea would show the progress in stable and just civilization which with the aid of the Platt amendment Cuba has shown since our troops left the island, and which so many of the republics in both Americas are constantly and brilliantly showing, all question of interference by this Nation with their affairs would be at an end. Our interests and those of our southern neighbors are in reality identical. They have great natural riches, and if within their borders the reign of law and justice obtains, prosperity is sure to come to them. While they thus obey the primary laws of civilized society they may rest assured that they will be treated by us in a spirit of cordial and helpful sympathy. We would interfere with them only in the last resort, and then only if it became evident that their inability or unwillingness to do justice at home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations. It is a mere truism to say that every nation, whether in America or anywhere else, which desires to maintain its freedom, its independence, must ultimately realize that the right of such independence can not be separated from the responsibility of making good use of it.

In asserting the Monroe Doctrine, in taking such steps as we have taken in regard to Cuba, Venezuela, and Panama, and in endeavoring to circumscribe the theater of war in the Far East, and to secure the open door in China, we have acted in our own interest as well as in the interest of humanity at large.  There are, however, cases in which, while our own interests are not greatly involved, strong appeal is made to our sympathies. Ordinarily it is very much wiser and more useful for us to concern ourselves with striving for our own moral and material betterment here at home than to concern ourselves with trying to better the condition of things in other nations.

We continue steadily to insist on the application of the Monroe Doctrine to the Western Hemisphere.

This is Roosevelt’s famous “big stick diplomacy.” – As in, do what we say or I’ll beat you with a stick!

Truman Doctrine (1948)

The Truman Doctrine was an American foreign policy whose stated purpose was to counter Soviet geopolitical expansion during the Cold War. It was announced to Congress by President Harry S. Truman on March 12, 1947, and further developed on July 4, 1948, when he pledged to contain threats in Greece and Turkey.

Here are the key lines from Truman’s speech:

The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government’s authority at a number of points

One of the primary objectives of the foreign policy of the United States is the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. This was a fundamental issue in the war with Germany and Japan. Our victory was won over countries which sought to impose their will, and their way of life, upon other nations.

To ensure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations, The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes. This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States.

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.

The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive.

The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.

If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world — and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.

Of course, the Truman was lying to the world about his true intentions. Please read The Cruelty Behind the Truman Doctrine.

Eisenhower Doctrine (1957)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the Eisenhower Doctrine in January 1957. The Eisenhower Administration’s decision to issue this doctrine was motivated in part by an increase in Arab hostility toward the West, and growing Soviet influence in Egypt and Syria following the Suez Crisis of 1956.

The Middle East has abruptly reached a new and critical stage in its long and important history. In past decades many of the countries in that area were not fully self-governing. Other nations exercised considerable authority in the area and the security of the region was largely built around their power. But since the First World War there has been a steady evolution toward self-government and independence. Our country supports without reservation the full sovereignty and independence of each and every nation of the Middle East. The evolution to independence has in the main been a peaceful process. But the area has been often troubled. Persistent crosscurrents of distrust and fear with raids back and forth across national boundaries have brought about a high degree of instability in much of the Mid East. Just recently there have been hostilities involving Western European nations that once exercised much influence in the area. Also the relatively large attack by Israel in October has intensified the basic differences between that nation and its Arab neighbors. All this instability has been heightened and, at times, manipulated by International Communism.

The reason for Russia’s interest in the Middle East is solely that of power politics. Considering her announced purpose of Communizing the world, it is easy to understand her hope of dominating the Middle East.

The Middle East provides a gateway between Eurasia and Africa.
It contains about two thirds of the presently known oil deposits of the world and it normally supplies the petroleum needs of many nations of Europe, Asia and Africa

Under these circumstances I deem it necessary to seek the cooperation of the Congress. Only with that cooperation can we give the reassurance needed to deter aggression, to give courage and confidence to those who are dedicated to freedom and thus prevent a chain of events which would gravely endanger all of the free world.

The action which I propose would have the following features.
It would, first of all, authorize the United States to cooperate with and assist any nation or group of nations in the general area of the Middle East in the development of economic strength dedicated to the maintenance of national independence. It would, in the second place, authorize the Executive to undertake in the same region programs of military assistance and cooperation with any nation or group of nations which desires such aid.

It would, in the third place, authorize such assistance and cooperation to include the employment of the armed forces of the United States to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid, against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism.

Thus the United Nations and all friendly governments, and indeed governments which are not friendly, will know where we stand.

The U.S. feared that the growing nationalism and independence of third world nations would combine with international communism and threaten Western interests. The U.S. saw the Middle East as being critical for future foreign policy regarding the United States and its allies as the region contains a large percentage of the world’s oil reserves.

Kennedy Doctrine (1961)

In his Inaugural address on January 20, 1961, President Kennedy presented the American public with a blueprint upon which the future foreign policy initiatives of his administration would later follow and come to represent. It is in this address that one begins to see the Cold War, us-versus-them mentality that came to dominate not only the Kennedy administration, but future ones as well.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

And just because the Cuban subject is very dear to me, here are Kennedy’s thoughts on the relationship between the Monroe Doctrine and the subject of Cuba. Kennedy made the following comments at an August 29, 1962 news conference:

The Monroe Doctrine means what it has meant since President Monroe and John Quincy Adams enunciated it, and that is that we would oppose a foreign power extending its power to the Western Hemisphere. And that’s why we oppose what is being–what’s happening in Cuba today. That’s why we have cut off our trade. That’s why we worked in the OAS and in other ways to isolate the Communist menace in Cuba. That’s why we’ll continue to give a good deal of our effort and attention to it.

Johnson Doctrine (1965)

The Johnson Doctrine builds off of the Kennedy and Eisenhower doctrines in that it opposes communism in the Western Hemisphere. It also parallels the Monroe Doctrine, with an emphasis on denouncing outside (in this case communist) interference in the Americas. On May 2, 1965, Johnson reported on the situation in the Dominican Republic:

The American nations cannot, must not, and will not permit the establishment of another Communist government in the Western Hemisphere. This was the unanimous view of all the American nations when, in January 1962, they declared, and I quote: ‘The principles of communism are incompatible with the principles of the inter-American system.’

This is what our beloved President John F. Kennedy meant when, less than a week before his death, he told us: ‘We in this hemisphere must also use every resource at our command to prevent the establishment of another Cuba in this hemisphere.’

This is and this will be the common action and the common purpose of the democratic forces of the hemisphere. For the danger is also a common danger, and the principles are common principles.

Nixon Doctrine (1969)

The Nixon doctrine was announced from the Oval Office in an address to the nation on the War in Vietnam on November 3, 1969. Nixon said:

Well, in accordance with this wise counsel, I laid down in Guam three principles as guidelines for future American policy toward Asia:

First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments.

Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security.

Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense…

The defense of freedom is everybody’s business—not just America’s business.

Carter Doctrine (1980)

The Carter Doctrine was a policy proclaimed by the President’s State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980:

The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two thirds of the world’s exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow. 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.

Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

Reagan Doctrine (1985)

Reagan first explained the doctrine in his 1985 State of the Union Address:

We cannot play innocents abroad in a world that’s not innocent; nor can we be passive when freedom is under siege. Without resources, diplomacy cannot succeed. Our security assistance programs help friendly governments defend themselves and give them confidence to work for peace. And I hope that you in the Congress will understand that, dollar for dollar, security assistance contributes as much to global security as our own defense budget.

We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith 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 Sandinista dictatorship of Nicaragua, with full Cuban-Soviet bloc support, not only persecutes its people, the church, and denies a free press, but arms and provides bases for Communist terrorists attacking neighboring states. Support for freedom fighters is self-defense and totally consistent with the OAS and U.N. Charters

Notice the line about securing the “rights which have been ours from birth”. Truly revealing!

Clinton Doctrine (1999)

The Clinton Doctrine is not a clear statement in the way that many other doctrines were. However, in a February 26, 1999, speech, President Bill Clinton said the following, which was considered the Clinton Doctrine:

It’s easy, for example, to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so. And we must remember that the real challenge of foreign policy is to deal with problems before they harm our national interests.

No conspiracies theories needed. Our rulers have always been very honest and very public about their intentions.

I’ll leave you with the words of Admiral Alfred T. Mahan. In 1900, Mahan gave us the bold truth about governments and national interests:

The first law of states, as of men, is self-preservation – a term which cannot be narrowed to the bare tenure of a stationary round of existence.

Self-interest if not only a legitimate, but fundamental cause for national policy; one which needs no cloak of hypocrisy. As a principle it does not require justification in general statement,

Not every saying of Washington is as true now as it was when uttered, and some have been misapplied; but it is just as true now as ever that it is vain to expect governments to act continuously on any other ground then national interest. They have no right to do so, being agents and not principles.

The Problem of Asia and Its Effect Upon International Policies

Any questions?

Thanks for reading,



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