How Many Presidential Doctrines Have There Been?

History Q & A

Following is a list of presidential doctrines. Such doctrines do not have the force of law, but invariably carry tremendous weight and are usually respected by succeeding administrations.


Monroe Doctrine



Moving to protect American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, President James Monroe declared that henceforth the U.S. would stop any European nation from interfering in the affairs of any country not already colonized.


Fearing France would attempt to develop colonies in Latin America, Britain asked the U.S. to join the empire in publicly denouncing French ambitions. While siding with Britain in the matter, the Monroe Administration decided to issue its own statement, sending a clear signal to European powers that any interference in the Western Hemisphere would be considered an act of hostility. Ironically, the United States depended on the British navy to enforce the policy, which didn’t become known as the Monroe Doctrine, until some time later.


Polk Doctrine



A reiteration of the Monroe Doctrine, warning European powers that any encroachment on the North American continent would be met with resistance.


After Texas won its independence from Mexico, French parliamentary deputies publicly stated it was desirable that Texas remain independent. President Polk, in response, declared that the fate of the North America continent would be decided by Americans, not Europeans.


Roosevelt Corollary



The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine declared that the United States would act as the policeman of the Western hemisphere if a country doing business with Europe was guilty of" chronic wrongdoing or impotence."


European countries seeking to collect back payments from small states in the Caribbean led Roosevelt to fear that Europeans would begin intervening in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere. To make sure this didn’t happen, TR announced that the United States would force the countries to repay their debts, thereby preserving the Monroe Doctrine.


Truman Doctrine



To suppress the possibility of a communist insurgency in Greece and Turkey, President Truman lobbied congress to provide military and economic aid which amounted to $400 million.


Weakened by two world wars, England had relinquished its commitment to Greece and Turkey and urged the U.S. 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. Truman told Congress it"must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressure."


Eisenhower Doctrine



Expanding on the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine declares it is the policy of the United States to intervene militarily in the Middle East to protect legitimate governments from communist subversion.


In 1958 the Lebanese government requested help when pan-Arab nationalists threatened to stage a coup. President Eisenhower, fearful the Soviet Union would exploit the situation to obtain a foothold in the Middle East, and worried about American dependence on Middle East oil, deployed the Marines to save the existing government. The coup was never attempted and the Marines were withdrawn in October.


Nixon Doctrine



The Nixon Doctrine encouraged Asian allies to slowly wean themselves off U.S. military aid in the war on communism.


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. By requiring the Vietnamese to slowly take over their own defense, he was able to withdraw hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops during his first term.


Carter Doctrine 1980


The Carter Doctrine committed the United States to protect the countries of the Persian Gulf from outside interference.


Responding to the Soviet Union’s 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." He added:"such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."


Weinberger Doctrine



The Weinberger Doctrine, named in honor of Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, declares it is the policy of the United States to use its military forces only in the defense of American vital interests.


Concerned about the overextension of American military forces, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger argued during the Reagan administration that force should be used only when American vital interests are directly threatened. He opposed the use of the military as peacemakers in Lebanon in the early 1980s. Shortly after their deployment they came under attack.


Powell Doctrine



The Powell Doctrine states that military force should only be used to win an overwhelming victory in a short period of time.


Shaken by the disaster of the Vietnam War, Colin Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the administration of George H.W. Bush, was determined never to commit U.S. troops to another war unless all-out victory was the goal. Like his colleague, Caspar Weinberger, he opposed the use of force unless American vital interests were involved. In the weeks following Iraq’s attack on Kuwait, Powell waffled when asked if the United States should try to force Saddam Hussein to withdraw. President Bush alone decided to confront Saddam, announcing his policy during a televised press conference, to the astonishment of Colin Powell, who had not been informed in advance.


Clinton Doctrine



This informal doctrine, never officially articulated by the administration, argued that the best way to ensure stability in regions of interest to the United States was to combat instability wherever it may occur. Reasoning that no matter how seemingly insignificant the areas where instability may arise, violence and disorder can intensify and spread, ultimately threatening United States interests at home and abroad. To stymie potential problems, regional and ethnic conflicts must be addressed as early as possible.


Often accused of not having a comprehensive stance on the use of military power, or if so, criticized for involving the United States in potential quagmires such as the Balkans, the Middle East, and Ireland, President Clinton argued that military intervention was justified"where our values and our interests are at stake, and when we can make a difference." His secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, dismissed the qualms of military experts who believed in the Powell Doctrine. What’s a big military for, she would ask, if it’s not to be used?


Bush Doctrine



The Bush Doctrine declares it is the policy of the United States government to go after all terrorists with a global reach and the states which harbor them. A key element is the right of the United States to preempt an attack on the United States in order to" confront the worst threats before they emerge."


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. See: Daniel Pipes: The Bush Doctrine .


Obama Doctrine



It depends on who you ask:

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