For what purposes do US presidents construct doctrines and do they have a defining impact on US foreign policy or are they merely rhetoric?
Many presidents of the United States of America have constructed doctrines during their terms in office that have come to define their foreign policy aims, from James Monroe in 1823 right up until the very recent Bush Doctrine. This essay will focus on three of these doctrines, namely the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the Truman Doctrine of 1947 and the Reagan Doctrine of 1984. Although there are many other presidential doctrines in the history of American foreign policy, several of these, such as Polk’s doctrine in 1845 and the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957, appear to simply be reiterations of previous presidential doctrines. We will see that, although rhetoric is used quite freely in the president’s announcements of their doctrines, it would be wide of the mark to argue that the doctrines themselves are merely rhetoric. Instead should become clear that the doctrines shaped American foreign policy not only during the doctrine’s author’s term in office, but also for many of his successors. The Monroe Doctrine came about for two main reasons. Firstly, a clash with Russia over the north-western coast of North America led Secretary of State John Adams to suggest the principle that the Western hemisphere was no longer an option for colonisation by the European powers. Also, more importantly, the US was afraid that reactionary European powers would seek to recolonise the newly independent Latin American countries. Unveiled by President James Monroe in his State of the Union Address in December 1823, the doctrine contained two main points. Firstly, the United States would commit to a policy of non-colonisation, with Monroe saying that ‘the American continents…are henceforth not to be considered as subjects to future colonisation by any European powers’ (Avalon Project, 1996). Hart (1916) suggests that this part of the doctrine came about due to the fact that it is ‘common sense’ that the US is ‘by right more interested in American affairs, both on the northern and southern continents, than any European power can possibly be’. Secondly, Monroe warned that any attempt by the European powers to extend their territories in the Western hemisphere would be viewed by the United States as ‘dangerous to our peace and safety’ and ‘the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States’ (Avalon Project, 1996). In other words, if a European power attempted to take over any of the countries on the American continent, it would be taken as a direct threat to the safety of America. This suggested that the United States would take responsibility for the security of the entire continent, as if one country was threatened by a European power, America would also feel threatened, and would react accordingly. One of the first instances where the Monroe Doctrine was used was when the French Emperor Napoleon III placed Archduke Maximilian on the throne of Mexico in 1864, a direct violation of the doctrine. Although America was embroiled in civil war at the time, and as such could not afford to intervene directly, they refused to acknowledge the new regime in Mexico and demanded that the French armies who supported it were to leave Mexico. In 1866, after the end of the American Civil War, US troops were deployed along the Rio Grande, a natural border between Mexico and the US. This forced the French to leave Mexico, and ultimately contributed to the downfall and execution of Maximilian in 1867. This episode clearly shows that the Monroe Doctrine was taken seriously even after James Monroe had left office. Perhaps a better example of how seriously the Monroe Doctrine was taken by Monroe's successors is the Roosevelt Corollary. The Roosevelt Corollary was an extension to the Monroe Doctrine, in which President Theodore Roosevelt declared that the United States would intervene in Latin America if it felt...
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