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Return of the Nixon Doctrine

Author: Peter Beinart
January 4, 2007
Time Magazine


It’s an unwritten rule: each president gets one foreign policy doctrine. James Monroe’s was defense of the Americas. Harry S Truman’s was containment. And George W. Bush’s—spelled out after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002—was pre-emptive war to defeat terrorism and spread democracy.

To a lot of people, it sounded good at the time. The country was united, the military was triumphant, the mood was resolute. Americans were ready, literally, to take on the world.

Now it sounds crazy. The military is cracking from wartime strain. Isolationism is on the rise. Americans don’t want to sustain one pre-emptive war, let alone start others.

And so the Bush Administration has begun cribbing from a very different doctrine: Richard Nixon’s. The Nixon Doctrine is the foreign policy equivalent of outsourcing. Nixon unveiled it in 1969 to a nation wearied by Vietnam. No longer would Americans man the front lines against global communism. In Vietnam, we would turn the fighting over to Saigon. In the Persian Gulf, we would build up Iran to check Soviet expansion. America would no longer be a global cop; it would be a global benefactor, quartermaster and coach—helping allies contain communism on their own.

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