Monday, March 12, 2007

March 12, 1947:

The Truman Doctrine is Born

Not many presidents before World War II had "doctrines" named after them. You could argue that George Washington's admonition to his countrymen to avoid foreign entanglements was the Washington Doctrine, but no one calls it that, and most of his successors have ignored the advice anyway.

There is, of course, the Monroe Doctrine, which everyone learns about in school, plus Teddy Roosevelt's Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (take the big stick with you to Latin America, that is). After World War II, however, most of the presidents have proclaimed some sort of foreign policy doctrine that becomes attached to their names. But even most of those -- who among us recalls the details of the Eisenhower or the Carter Doctrine, to name two -- probably won't be remembered as anything but footnotes.

On the other hand, the Truman Doctrine, mostly written by Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson and elucidated 60 years ago today by Harry Truman in a speech to the nation, seems to have more staying power, probably since the containment of the Soviet Union was the cornerstone of US foreign policy for decades. Here is how the New York Times began its report on the speech:

"President Truman outlined a new foreign policy for the United States today. In a historic message to Congress, he proposed that this country intervene wherever necessary throughout the world to prevent the subjection of free peoples to Communist-inspired totalitarian regimes at the expense of their national integrity and importance.

"In a request for $400,000,000 to bolster the hard-pressed Greek and Turkish governments against Communist pressure, the President said the constant coercion and intimidation of free peoples by political infiltration amid poverty and strife undermined the foundations of world peace and threatened the security of the United States.

"Although the President refrained from mentioning the Soviet Union by name, there could be no mistaking his identification of the Communist state as the source of much of the unrest throughout the world. He said that, in violation of the Yalta Agreement, the people of Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria had been subjected to totalitarian regimes against their will and that there had been similar developments in other countries."

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