At the risk of simplifying its foreign policy, in the United States, the tradition is concentration and simplification. This is exactly the reason why a series of State of the Union addresses go down in history as doctrines. Monroe was the originator in the third decade of the 19th century. He made it clear that Washington would not tolerate European intervention in the Americas.
Following him, in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson managed the country’s embroilment in World War I, and in 1919-20 attempted to regulate international stability through the League of Nations — an attempt that was thwarted by the Senate, which overruled the Treaty of Versailles and resulted in the United States’ regression into isolationism. Then, with his doctrine, President Harry S. Truman asked Congress to support Greece and Turkey against the threat of Soviet Communism. Using the Marshall Plan as his main tool he sent aid to Western Europe, establishing the United States as a permanent and key parameter to maintain the power balance in Europe.
Both President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958 and President Jimmy Carter in 1979 claimed the title of “doctrine” for their foreign policy in the Middle East, but neither seems to be justified by history. The former stated that Washington would prevent the expansion of “international communism” in the region, and the latter pledged to use whatever means necessary to advocate the country’s vital interests in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
As Barack Obama’s second term as president ends, he can rightly underscore in his State of the Union address to Congress that “the United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period.” In Obama’s second term, the great illusion that put the seal on both the Clinton and the Bush Jr. presidencies — that the United States, which won the Cold War, is entitled and obliged to impose a global Pax Americana — was quietly and gradually abandoned. It is a dangerous approach to the logic of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and expedites the development [of groups] that want to prevent the worldwide hegemony of the United States.
Obama — who is advancing toward a comprehensive approach to Moscow and tying up loose ends with Tehran — managed to catch the Russia-China-Germany train in the nick of time. On the other hand, emerging powers such as India, despite their discontent with the until recently unilateral American interventionism, have never ventured a coalition or alliance against the United States since an even problematic balance with Washington emerged as a more convenient option than a disgruntled front.
A typical example is U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine, which started as an attempt to interfere with Moscow-Berlin bilateral strategic cooperation, a momentum that inevitably resulted in the Russian approach to China. Nowadays in the Middle East, the updated and re-issued balance of power model, which was [originally] shaped with the cooperation of the great powers and the help of Metternich, Talleyrand, Castlereagh and Iohannis Kapodistrias at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, and which granted Europe a whole century without widespread warfare, is being tested.
So far, the United States has regarded the emerging multipolar and (according to some) post-American world with fear, but Obama’s policy shift sends the message that Americans are confident that in the new political landscape, their hegemony is not threatened.