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Opinion

May 31, 2014

Shribman: The Obama Doctrine

For nearly two centuries the United States has conducted its Western Hemisphere diplomacy according to the precepts of the Monroe Doctrine, promulgated in 1823 and designed to keep European powers out of hemispheric affairs. America’s involvement in Latin America was expanded substantially by the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which proclaimed American willingness to intervene in the region. And America’s reach was extended again by the Truman Doctrine of 1947, designed to contain communism as the Cold War chilled.

Have we just witnessed the expression of the Obama Doctrine, at once more expansive and less ambitious than the doctrines that preceded it?

In two important speeches in recent days, President Barack Obama has shrunk the U.S. role (in Afghanistan, for instance, where troops are to be withdrawn by the end of 2016) even as he expanded the country’s global footprint (primarily in Africa and Asia, where the president says new terrorist threats reside).

At the heart of the Obama Doctrine -- a term that he never used and that may be an over-interpretation of its scope -- is the notion that the principal threat to American security comes from a discrete but exceedingly worrisome source.

That threat, according to Obama, comes not from nation-states, which prompted the doctrines of James Monroe, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Nor does it come from a centralized terror organization like al-Qaida, the prime preoccupation of American national security efforts for the last dozen years.

That threat also does not come from “trouble spots” -- a classic Cold War locution applied to Berlin, the Korean peninsula and Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia -- but from troubling rogue groups in places such as Yemen, Syria, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and elsewhere.

The president could not have made this more plain: “For the foreseeable future,” Obama said, “the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.”

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