Thursday, September 26, 2013

No Doctrine is Great Doctrine

Foreign policy critics of Barack Obama are deeply concerned that he has no doctrine. For some reason we demand doctrines. Otherwise, we think, the United States is adrift.

From the Latin American perspective, however, we should be glad. U.S. foreign policy doctrines have always meant a coherent articulation of the abuse of sovereignty and/or human rights. No U.S. doctrine works out well for U.S.-Latin American relations.The Monroe Doctrine is an obvious case. Even the minority of 19th century Latin Americans who applauded the Monroe Doctrine were disappointed to learn the U.S. ignored it when it wished and did not protect them from European threats. The Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was not good for Latin America nor was the Olney Doctrine. The Mann Doctrine opened the door for supporting brutal military dictatorships, as did the Reagan Doctrine. To the extent that there was a coherent Bush Doctrine, it contributed to the most strained ties in decades. Having no Obama Doctrine is a relief.

We should applaud the lack of a grand strategy or doctrine for Latin America. Having good relations should not entail a rigid way of formulating policies. Inevitably, in large part because of policy makers' belief in U.S. exceptionalism, doctrines become finger wagging. Latin Americans are screwed up, doing things we don't particularly like, and so we need to impose solutions.


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