Present at the Disruption
How Trump Unmade U.S. Foreign Policy
Vox populi—the great American people—has spoken in no uncertain tones. It has declared that it wishes to have Mr. Calvin Coolidge for President and that it approves of his policies; which are those of the party he leads. But what are these policies? In spite of the flood of recent as well as of earlier literature on the subject and the pronouncements of those highest in authority, there is still room—indeed there will always be room—for the inquiry.
In the London Times for October 13th we find its American correspondent saying of the presidential campaign, "There is not a genuine issue before the country." This is not the place to enter into the question of whether such a sweeping assertion contains any truth in regard to our domestic affairs. Be that as it may, can we not at least maintain that the three great parties differ profoundly in their ideals of foreign policy? If so, the renewed triumph of the Republicans will mean something more than the victory of a particular set of men. It determines our attitude for the next four years towards the other nations of the world. What, then, is our attitude? Let us begin by summing up in the briefest space the tenets of the American parties in regard to foreign affairs.
Certain broad principles are generally accepted, for instance the Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door. To come down to a more concrete and immediate example, all three parties believe—the Progressives the most of the three—in the payment of the Allied Debts. All recognize, too, that America must take some part in the settlement of world problems, including European ones, but their interpretation of that part varies greatly. The Republicans favor what might be called cooperation without commitment. The Democrats wish to join the League of Nations after they are sure the majority of the voters will support them. The Progressives prefer to keep out of the hornet's nest of European complications, while putting a stick in it by stirring up the most irritating question possible, a revision of the Peace Treaties; these they regard as the unclean thing, even worse than the war as the source of Europe's troubles. The Democrats, on the contrary, feeling a responsibility for the making of these treaties, approve of them, though some admit President Wilson had to make deplorable concessions to the greed of his allies. As for the Republicans, having refused to ratify the treaties but having got all the benefit for America there was to be found in them, they are indifferent on the subject of their theoretical excellence. Both the old parties have endorsed the idea of a World Court with more or less reservations—the Republicans more, the Democrats less. The Progressives do not much like courts of any kind if they interfere with the desires of the people—who knows, the one at the Hague might be worse than the one in Washington? They also demand immediate recognition of Bolshevik Russia. This is the more laudable as the advantage to the American farmer of putting Russia on her feet so that she may again become an exporter of grain is not obvious at first sight.
One may dispute as to how fundamental the above differences are and how free any party is to carry out its own program. At any rate it is the Republicans who have won the election and they have the President and, however nominally, both houses of Congress, so their foreign policy is the only one of practical importance at the present moment. There is nothing mysterious in their intentions or new in their plans. Through the speeches of the Secretary of State they have told us what they have done and what they mean to do. We are all fairly familiar with the story. Nevertheless, when we are looking forward to the beginning of a new administration, even with the same President, it is well for us to take stock.
We may assume that in its foreign policy the Republican administration will "carry on." The President has expressed his warm approbation of the achievements of Secretary Hughes, and the Secretary has stood forth as the most effective Republican speaker during the election campaign. We may, therefore, take it that for the present there is to be no change in the head of the State Department, and that he will be given a free hand. But that hand, like the President's own, is none too free at best. There are two sets of factors that will always have to be reckoned with, those due to internal conditions and those due to foreign conditions.
The most obvious difficulties arising from the internal situation are that though the Republicans control Congress they are far from having the two-thirds majority of the Senate necessary for the ratification of treaties, and that the President's control of his own party is not firmly established, indeed at the end of the last session it was not established at all. Since then the situation has improved. The President has behind him the prestige of an extraordinary personal triumph, he has had time to build up his own party machine and is in a much stronger position to secure attention to his wishes than he has ever been before. But there will always be limits to that attention. Congress is jealous of its own authority and the Senate in particular will not be disposed to abate the tiniest fraction of its prerogatives, real or imaginary. Senator Borah, the new chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, may not have the wide knowledge and experience of the late Senator Lodge, but he is equally set in his opinions. Though he sometimes seems to delight in being enigmatic, we know that some of these opinions are further removed from those of the administration than were those of Senator Lodge. Secretary Hughes, with the best of intentions, has never been particularly successful in conciliating Senators. He will have to tread warily. For instance, the idea of a cancellation of the Allied Debts, much as there is to be said for it, cannot for the present be entertained.
One pressing question has been settled by the Democratic Convention. There are few things most of the members of that august assembly understood less or cared less about than the treaty between Turkey and the United States, negotiated at the time of the Lausanne Treaty and on similar principles. None the less, as a concession to one group, a condemnation of the Turkish treaty was inserted in the Democratic Platform. Little as such planks often mean, it is hard to see how the Democrats in the Senate can now vote for the treaty which is to be submitted to them. Without their votes it cannot be carried. The State Department is thus left in an embarrassing quandary. Treaty or no treaty, the Turks do not intend to recognize the capitulations any longer. We are likely to find ourselves in a position where we shall have no legal means of protecting Americans in Turkey, or of obtaining redress of grievances, save by the use of force on a large scale, which we certainly do not wish to undertake. To be sure, our trouble with Turkey, though disagreeable, does not affect vitally many people in the United States. If every American is put out of Turkish territory, if the American schools and colleges which have done such wonderful work are closed and further American enterprise of all kinds is made impossible, this will be annoying, but it will not endanger our security or prosperity. We can forget about Turkey if we have to. The Far East is another matter.
When we compare the situation in the Far East from the point of view of American interests with what it was four years ago at the time of the accession of President Harding, we note three cardinal points. First, the internal situation of China has become worse, and the danger of actual political dissolution is more menacing. Second, the relations between the United States and Japan, after a temporary amelioration due to the Disarmament Conference, have not improved. On the contrary, the Japanese have a real and lasting grievance which they did not have before, and which they are going to make use of. It is true that the Anglo-Japanese Alliance is defunct, but that presented no real danger to us. As to whether the United States is left relatively better or worse off by the military provisions of the disarmament treaties, we can leave this to the experts to quarrel over. What is more serious is that the good feeling which the reduction of armaments was intended to promote, though stimulated for the moment, has been more than neutralized by the immigration bill and by the particular way in which Congress, in spite of the President and to the humiliation of the Secretary of State, insisted on applying it to Japan. The intensity of Japanese sentiment on the subject was well shown by the incident of the patriot who committed hari-kiri in protest and who, as is illustrated in the recent honors accorded to him, will doubtless go down to posterity as one of the heroes of Japanese history. Third, Soviet Russia has reappeared in force on the Pacific. She has reoccupied the old Russian territories and reasserted Russian claims; she is in no way bound by the Washington agreement, to which she was not invited; she is fond of fishing in troubled waters, and as long as we maintain our present attitude towards her she may be counted on as being hostile to the United States. We need not be surprised, therefore, if we find her frequently making common cause with Japan now that the two countries are on speaking terms again.
Such are the disagreeable facts. They must be faced, but it is not clear what we can do about them. It is true we are too powerful for anyone to pick a quarrel with us needlessly. Even if Japanese public opinion may be hostile to us, the government of the Mikado is not likely to go beyond an attitude of cold and dignified reserve. It has not hurried to send back its ambassador to Washington, it may not send one back for years—this is a legitimate form of showing resentment, and western rather than oriental. Meanwhile events in the Far East will take their course, and the possibilities are disquieting. We cannot hold China together if she insists on falling in pieces. What shall we do if she does disintegrate? The lending of money to put her on her feet does not today look attractive as a venture. To what extent are we ready to go in order to check Japanese domination or hegemony or spheres of influence in the Far East? Are we prepared not only to keep the Japanese out of our part of the world, but to interfere with them in theirs? Are Pan-Asianism or Pan-Mongolianism more unnatural than Pan-Americanism? Many questions of the sort might be asked, to which it would be difficult to make a satisfactory reply. It does not look as if there were much for us to do at present in the Far East except to mind our own business, look after and protect our commercial and other interests as best we can, be helpful when there is a chance and trust that the situation will improve of itself in the course of time. But our days as the "great and good friend" of everybody are over.
Towards Russia we have adopted an attitude which apparently commends itself to the majority of the American people and from which, with all due respect to Senator Borah, we shall not soon depart unless important changes occur there. This attitude has been firm, consistent and dignified, and its official harshness has been tempered by splendid unofficial charity. To be sure, this attitude presents grave inconveniences. The Federation of Socialist Soviet Republics covers too large a portion of the globe for us to be able to leave it comfortably out of account. We may have few points of contact, but there are some, even if we are willing to sacrifice for the time being our opportunities of mutually helpful trade. Now that the Soviet Federation has been recognized de jure by all the great powers but ourselves, as well as by many smaller powers, it will be increasingly difficult to avoid meeting, that is to say dealing with, its representatives at international gatherings of every sort. Are we to refuse to appear whenever the Russians are invited? And it will be hard to leave them out even when we issue the invitations ourselves. This is especially true of any disarmament conference. Our government cherishes the hope of convoking another disarmament conference at Washington that shall continue and surpass the achievements of its predecessor three years ago—achievements of which the State Department is justly proud and concerning which it has never quite been able to understand the lack of livelier enthusiasm. But it is only too obvious that a Disarmament Congress in which Russia does not take part will be even more incomplete than the last. At that time her non-participation meant a gap in the Far Eastern settlement whereby whatever was concluded lacked the consent of one of the most interested and most powerful parties. Now it is Europe and western Asia that are concerned. If the Russians remain free to maintain armies of the size they think fit, how can the weak states along their borders, Finland, the Baltic States, Poland, Rumania, and Turkey, which already live in some fear and trembling of them, be expected to cut down their own forces? How can France do so if she is to support these weak states, some of which are her allies and look to her for protection? But unless France reduces her forces we can hardly ask it of her neighbors such as Italy and England. The Bolsheviks may dislike the League of Nations as much as do some Americans, but there is a chance, however small, that they will accept the invitation extended to them to take part in a disarmament conference at Geneva. It is possible that they may abide by the decisions arrived at there and will consent to a fair proportional reduction of their armies. But they cannot even be invited to attend at Washington except perhaps as "unofficial observers."
The recent establishment of a Soviet legation in Mexico and the open expressions of sympathy for Communist ideas on the part of members of the Mexican Government are phenomena which we may view without alarm but not with pleasure. Russian influence in Mexico will be exercised in a sense unfavorable to the United States and it will not be agreeable if we are to have a base of communist propaganda established to the south of us. Still we should probably mind this less than one of Japanese influence. Not long ago it seemed that what we might have to fear was too close relations between Mexico and Japan, something like an alliance against the United States. There also appeared to be a possibility of an influx into Mexico of Japanese, some of whom would tend to cross the border in spite of our customs guards. This may still happen, but the Mexicans of today, like many other peoples, are more exuberantly nationalistic than of old. They no longer welcome Asiatic immigration, indeed it is conceivable that they may follow our example and forbid it. On the other hand, Mexicans are not excluded from the United States by our immigration laws and we may look forward to their flowing over in ever greater numbers. Before long, in southern California the place of the Asiatic may be taken by the peon. Whether he will be as efficient time will show, but perhaps it is better he should not be if he does not want to become equally unpopular. Any attempt to shut him out would add one more to the possible causes of ill-feeling between us and our difficult neighbors.
These causes are grave enough already. It is in the nature of things that the Mexicans, though in certain respects anxious for our assistance, should not like us and should distrust and fear us profoundly. We have got to accept this and make due allowances for it, and we shall often have to exercise infinite patience. The way that we handle Mexican affairs will be a test of our statesmanship. At present the State Department seems to be meeting this test with credit.
With the rest of Latin America we may be thankful that we have no such permanently delicate relations. We have been withdrawing or are going to withdraw American guards from Santo Domingo, Haiti, and Nicaragua. In Cuba the situation is reasonably tranquil and things are progressing smoothly elsewhere. The Monroe Doctrine remains a shibboleth to which due homage is paid. Pan-American congresses bid fair to continue with much flow of the soul. All this is well enough as far as it goes. What one sometimes wonders is how far does it go? Is much really being accomplished? For instance the State Department has held that the Santiago Congress of a year and a half ago was a success, but that view does not appear to be widely entertained outside. The Government also holds that Latin America has never been better disposed towards the United States than at the present day, yet some people declare that there is a growing hostility towards us. If this last be true, a thing difficult to determine with certainty, it is unfortunate and discouraging, for there can be no doubt of the friendliness on our side, a friendliness perhaps tinged with a patronizing indifference but genuine enough in its essence. We have honestly tried to play the good big brother to Latin America. Still, even the role of the best big brother may be overdone.
Since the World War, as never before, except at the time of the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine, the more important side of our relations with Europe has been the general one rather than the dealings with any particular country. We of course have our separate relations with each, but they are in the main simple and satisfactory. It may be noted here parenthetically that the return to power of a Conservative government in England will mean strong efforts to check the increasing disintegration of the British Empire. One form these efforts will assume will be an attempt to introduce imperial preference in tariffs, a measure which, however desirable from the British political point of view, cannot help being disadvantageous economically to the United States. Of course, as a highly protectionist country, a protest on our part would be ridiculous. Retaliation would have many dangers.
We may divide our relations with the European world into four main heads corresponding with four great questions which we are doing our best to keep asunder but which insist on remaining connected with one another. These are Rehabilitation, including especially the reparations question, Allied Debts, the League of Nations, and the World Court.
We—i.e. the triumphant Republican Party and the administration—have always been anxious to aid in the rehabilitation of Europe and the betterment of mankind. But we prefer to do it at our own time, in our own way, without running unpleasant risks or incurring awkward obligations. We have rejoiced at not being in the mess in which Europe has been floundering, at not sharing the passions and mistakes of her peoples and her statesmen. We have not been wanting in sympathy, as our private charity has shown, but we have believed it to be better for the world (and emphatically for ourselves) that we should keep out of the turmoil and merely proffer advice and indirect aid.
This policy has been justified by its results, at least in the eyes of the American people. After the somewhat sterile period of "unofficial observers" has come the more fertile one of approved, though still unofficial, cooperation. The success achieved by the commissions of experts gave the name of Mr. Dawes a popularity sufficient to make the Cleveland Convention feel that his nomination for the Vice-Presidency would add to the strength of the Republican ticket. There can be little doubt, too, that the presence of Secretary Hughes and his wise words at the opportune moment in London, Paris, and Berlin helped materially to secure agreement to accept the report. By our consent to the appointment of Messrs. Perkins and Gilbert we have given it a further blessing. If all goes well, we shall claim no small credit for our share in the transaction. If all goes badly, we shall maintain that it is not our fault. We have recommended and assisted the best solution yet proposed. If it is not carried out in practice, the blame must be attached to those who have not profited by the chance of salvation offered to them.
Our interest in rehabilitation and in reparations, though great, is indirect. The question of the payment of Allied Debts, though luckily not pressing, is direct. The outlook at the present moment is hopeless enough. Of course no government of continental Europe has even hinted at a flat repudiation of what it owes to us or to England, but at bottom no one of the peoples has any more belief they will be called upon to pay their debts than the American people has an intention of forgiving them. The English have made an arrangement which we regard as generous but which many of them resent as iniquitous, and which helps to make it difficult for them to remit what is due to them from the continental powers. Like ourselves, they assert that such debts are quite independent of what the Germans owe for reparations, a view which only prudence prevents the French Government from denying and which to the French people seems monstrously unjust. At any rate, we can see that if Germany does pay a substantial sum for reparations the situation will be easier. If no reparations are to be forthcoming, the prospect is gloomy. Our Government, to its credit, has appreciated the magnitude and delicacy of the task before it and has so far acted with real tact. Unfortunately its hand may be forced at any time by clamor in America or by ill-advised action in Europe.
The famous declaration of the Thirty One prevented the presidential election of 1920 from turning specifically on the question of whether the United States should join the League of Nations. The size of the Republican majority, however, and the attitude of the Republican press made it evident that the country as a whole was opposed to any such step. President Harding, who had given encouragement to the Thirty One, soon dropped all talk of an Association of Nations of any kind, and for long the League received little attention (its partisans said scant courtesy) from the State Department. Many Republicans spoke of it with open dislike and derision. Undeterred by this, or perhaps in ignorance of it, the public in Europe continued to hope that the United States might change its mind, and in spite of frequent rebuffs America was persistently invited to take part in one conference or another, and again and again refused.
In the last year or so the tone of the Republicans has become more generous. The League has ceased to be a bogey to them. They have been willing to recognize that it has excellent intentions and has done good in its way. They have approved of our joining in its conferences about such subjects as the white slave traffic and the evils of narcotics. Thus, though there have been few signs of conversion of Republicans, there has been a diminution of hostility on their part, indeed most of them have not regarded the connection between the League and the High Court as an insurmountable obstacle to our participation in that Court provided our own rights, as we choose to define them, are safeguarded. On the other hand, President Coolidge soon after he came into office declared the question of the accession of the United States to the League to be a "closed incident," and the Bok Peace Plan, which was a move in that direction, fell rather flat. The further publicity it might have hoped to enjoy, thanks to its being made the object of a senatorial investigation, was cut short by the more absorbing topic of the oil scandals.
When the Republican Convention came together in Cleveland the refusal to have the United States enter the League of Nations was, without opposition, made a plank of the Republican Platform. The Democrats were in rather a plight. Their party was committed to the League, but they feared that the majority of the American people might be opposed to it. Accordingly they tried to sidestep the issue by a Platonic declaration in its favor and a promise to submit the question to a referendum. One may doubt whether they gained any votes by this subterfuge, for they exposed themselves to the jibes of their adversaries for their cowardice and they made it easier for pro-League Republicans to remain faithful to their own party, on the ground that there was not much to be hoped for from the Democrats. In one way the attitude of the Democratic convention might be compared to that of the Thirty One four years earlier. Both prevented the question of our accession to the League of Nations from being a clear cut major issue between the parties at the presidential election. This is something for which American partisans of the League may be thankful.
For its part, the Assembly of the League met together in Geneva last September in a mood to take more resolute action than it had since the days of its formation. It had been stung by the charge that so far it had only settled small questions and proved itself incapable of solving large ones. It had also apparently come to the reluctant conclusion that there was no hope of an immediate change of mind in the United States nor advantage in longer waiting. The Dawes Report and its acceptance, the community of views expressed by Macdonald and Herriot, the new willingness of France to entrust the guaranty of her security to the League instead of relying merely on her own military strength, all paved the way for weighty decisions. The result was the Protocol.
This is not the place to go into the meaning or importance of the Protocol, which we were not invited to sign. Much has been said about it and we are only at the beginning of the discussion. For a good effect on America it came out at an unfortunate moment in an unfortunate way. Rightly or wrongly, the Protocol has increased distrust of the League here, reviving the somewhat forgotten alarms of those who had opposed the League on the ground that it was creating a superstate. To make matters worse, suspicion has been much intensified by the eleventh hour action of the Japanese. It is true that they did not obtain their demand in the form they had put it. It also may be true, though it is not clear, that they will be in no better position to urge their claims for a reopening of the immigration dispute than they were before. But the mere fact that the League seems to provide a way in which, without incurring its disapproval, the Japanese may go ahead and act as they please about what we believe to be a domestic question, is like a red rag to a bull to the average American. Supporters of the League will continually have to explain away a clause which seems to present in concrete form a danger whose existence they have denied in the abstract. All told, the chance of anything like the immediate accession of the United States to the League appears to have been reduced to a vanishing point. Even the more friendly attitude we have of late been maintaining towards it is menaced. Already there has been some little feeling in America at the proposal to call a disarmament conference in Geneva next June regardless of our expressed desire to have another one in Washington under our aegis. The charge, justified or not, that the Protocol facilitates anti-American designs on the part of Japan is almost enough to wreck all chance of our participating in any disarmament congress fathered by the League of Nations. If, as now seems probable (and even desirable to many friends of the League), the Protocol fails to receive the number of ratifications necessary to make it valid, we may witness the opposite effect. It is too early yet to make predictions.
But this is not all. The fact that the High Court has been brought into connection with possible Japanese claims about what we regard as domestic questions threatens to stimulate American dislike of any such Court. To be sure, President Coolidge as well as President Harding, the Republican Party as well as the Democratic, have pronounced themselves officially in favor of our participation. Still, a good many Americans have their doubts, and a large number, well represented in Congress, demand that it shall be entirely disassociated from the League. This demand has been strengthened, at least temporarily, by the incident of the Protocol and will be affected by its outcome. But the High Court is an indispensable part of the League. It can hardly be cut off to please us nor can it easily be made to serve in two capacities.
On this question of just what we intend to do about a World Court the administration must soon make up its mind. There is no such necessity in regard to the League, for there its mind is already made up. We intend to stay outside with Russia, Mexico, and Ecuador. We shall continue our policy of coöperation and we shall try to collect our debts. In our present mood we care less to have our course idealistic than to have it safe and sane, even if our definition of safe and sane looks to some people a short-sighted one.