Time to Stop Using the Truman Doctrine

Zack Boyden


Obama’s foreign is derided frequently by pundits and even entire media outlets. His lack of commitment to attacking Assad and Syria is seen as a sign of a passive presidency, and as a result is supposedly making the country itself seem like a runaway bride, hiding from the lifelong marriage of foreign intervention.

Since the Cold War we’ve gone so far in the interventionist direction that anything that goes beyond direct military attack seems soft and compromising. The fact that op-ed authors can deride directly arming and supporting Syrian rebel groups as “preserving Assad’s government” is troubling. Republican candidates called President Obama “weak” for sending in special forces soldiers but not conventional forces.

It seems as though the war hawks in the Beltway are from a different era—namely, one that involved a large ideological enemy to the United States that was not only state-sanctioned but also comparable in size and in power. During the Cold War, President Truman sought to prevent the spread of an ideology that was deemed hostile to American stability. In traditional eyes, the Cold War was fought to stop the spread of Communism being funneled by the Soviet Union to the rest of the world.

That may have been true then. But the problem now is that it seems that Congress, the Pentagon, and even some Obama Administration advisors are conflating radical Islamic terrorism with the ideological threat of the Soviet Union—and thus applying the Truman Doctrine to it.

This type of response fails to understand the nature of Islamic terrorism and how it differs from the spread of Communism.

For one thing, Islamic terrorism is geographically limited—it can only spread to where Islam has a significant presence. Despite terrorist attacks in the West, there is no base majority of support for these operations (and in fact the intention of the attacks is to strike fear into Western hearts.)

Secondly, the United States and the West as a whole thoroughly misunderstand the main cause of Islamic radicalism—which is Western imperialism. It is frightening and radical and certainly a threat, but it is also a defense mechanism in response to the imposition of Western modernity.

Our failure to recognize and redefine our definition of a threat will ultimately lead to further misunderstandings and further violence. It is time to commit to more nuanced understanding of foreign policy as we move on into our next presidency.


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