US Senator Tim Kaine on the need for a new strategy for American foreign policy

This week, I made my first visit to London’s Chatham House – officially the Royal Institute of International Affairs – at the invitation of a friend who is a member and runs the website Make Me Aware. We were there to hear an address by Tim Kaine, a Democratic senator for Virginia, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, and the Vice-Presidential running mate of Hillary Clinton. He gave a fluent and thoughtful speech, ranging widely both geographically and historically.

The title of his speech was “The Truman Doctrine At 70”. This so-called doctrine was first announced to the US Congress by the Democratic President Harry Truman on 12 March 1947 – almost exactly seven decades ago. It can be summarised as an assertion that the United States would provide political, military and economic assistance to all democratic nations under threat from external or internal authoritarian forces.

Kaine explained that there were many criticisms to be made of the Truman Doctrine – notably the American conduct of the Vietnam War – but that at least it provided a strategic framework that guided US foreign policy and was understood by friend and foe alike. He contrasted that position with the stance of recent presidents, including and perhaps even especially Barack Obama,  since the collapse of the Soviet Union which has been simply “reactive” and “pragmatic” and therefore unpredictable and inconsistent.  For instance, why did the US intervene in Kosovo but not Rwanda? Why did it invade Iraq but stay out of Syria?

Kaine pointed out that Barack Obama did not like doctrine and promoted the mantra “Don’t do stupid stuff”. Some think that new President Donald Trump has a strategy in the words “America First”, but Kaine called that “a platitude” and not “a doctrine”.

Kaine sketched out what he would want from a new American foreign policy doctrine or strategy. It would have to be articulated by the president and have bipartisan support in Congress. It should recognise a diminution in the global dominance of the US and the rise of non-state actors such as terrorist organisations. It should seek to shore up democratic states, challenge authoritarian states, and defeat actors deploying violence.

Kaine further asserted that American policymakers should abandon the notion that the US is “indispensable” or “exceptional” and instead seek to promote the nation as “exemplary” – in its commitment to equality of peoples, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, promotion of entrepreneurship, and openness to self-criticism.

Finally he called for five characteristics of a new strategy:

  1. Put democracy first and spend more effort on promotion of democracy.
  2. Make the US military the security partner of choice.
  3. Not be an empire builder but a promoter of international rules.
  4. Hold on to the role of humanitarian leader in crisis situations.
  5. Correct the West/East bias of foreign policy and shift more to a North/South focus.

You can view Tim Kaine’s speech here.

One Comment

  • Max Bancroft

    Future quote from D Trump: “That’s just the kind of thing these liberal elites would say. America First”


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