Putin the Great
Russia’s Imperial Impostor
SELECTIONS FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT AND HENRY CABOT LODGE. EDITED BY HENRY CABOT LODGE. 2 vols. New York: Scribner's, 1925.
ROOSEVELT AND THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR. BY TYLER DENNETT. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1925.
FORTUNE took Theodore Roosevelt in her lap, showered gifts upon him during the course of nearly a generation, and ended by playing him a scurvy trick. Tragedy is obviously too strong a word; but irony does enter into the last five years of Roosevelt's record. It consists in the fact that to him was denied a share in the biggest event of his age. During the World War, Theodore Roosevelt was on the sidelines. Writing him from Paris towards the end of July, 1905, after Roosevelt's intervention in the Moroccan crisis and on the eve of the Portsmouth Peace Conference, Senator Lodge ventures to anticipate the verdict of posterity: "Your great work in world politics this summer, will be, when the history of our time is written, one of your most, if not your most, certain titles to a really enduring fame." That forecast might have been vindicated if less than ten years later the World War had not come around to reduce the events of 1905 to the dimensions of a prologue. The historian of the first quarter of the twentieth century will by no means overlook the war in Manchuria and the Algeciras Conference. But he will inevitably be in a hurry to move on to the main event. To Roosevelt, the sturdy fighter, fate assigned only a part in the preliminary bouts. She behaved much more kindly to many of his contemporaries of the year 1905. For Balfour, Lloyd George, the Kaiser, and for the impersonal forces behind the Russian and Japanese governmental systems of the first years of the century, she reserved rôles of high importance in the forthcoming drama. Even for William J. Bryan she kept in store a few exciting moments. But with Roosevelt and the World War it was as if some impresario had an option on the services of Edwin Booth, and booked him for a curtain raiser.
One of the instrumentalities employed by fate in playing its little joke on Roosevelt was the truth, held as self-evident by the American people, that the proper thing to do with ex-Presidents is to forget them. The presidency is the most exalted political office on earth. Consequently any man who has been President is unfit to render further service to his country. To be sure, Roosevelt was not forgotten after he left the White House. But he remained a force precisely because he remained a possible contender for a new term in the White House. When Finis was written to that prospect in 1916, Roosevelt ceased to be a power in any sense. The role of Elder Statesman, as all other countries know it, is alien to our political instincts. We elect, we vest with authority and responsibility, and we impatiently invite the outsider to hire a hall. To this ingrained principle, rather than to the Administration's jealousy of Roosevelt or its dread of mischief-making on his part, must be attributed the rejection of his request for permission to organize a volunteer division for service in France after our entry into the war. His friends were indignant. But the volume of protest was nothing to what might have been predicated on his former vast popularity. It may be that if the war had lasted longer, our traditional partyism would have given way and Theodore Roosevelt would have been called into the national service on the model of Europe's coalition governments, unions sacrés and Bürgerfrieden. Fortunately for the United States we were not reduced to that extremity.
The pathos of this dynamic American condemned to the rôle of spectator in the greatest show on earth since Waterloo ran deeper than what might be called a piece of accidental ill-luck. The event showed that Roosevelt's influence on his countrymen had suffered an immense decline. Either that, or else he had not succeeded, during the long years when he preached to delighted multitudes, in really impressing his own spirit and outlook on his fellow citizens. He writes to Lodge in January, 1916: "I am so out of sympathy with what seems to be the prevailing currents of American opinion that I keep my judgment suspended as regards the political wisdom of certain party moves." A fortnight later he writes: "I know that a year and a half ago, when I started to deal with the problems of the Great War and of Mexico, I had a practically solid opinion against me. I believe I now have an appreciable public opinion with me. It is, however, merely an appreciable minority. Whether it is five or fifteen percent I do not know." It is startling to think of Roosevelt as being, at any time, out of touch with his times and his countrymen. And there are phrases which suggest a sense of failure as he looks back. In June, 1915, he writes to Lodge: "I am afraid that Gardner is right about our people at the moment. The iniquitous peace propaganda of the last fifteen years has finally had its effects." But if you count fifteen years back from 1915 you are still in 1900 and you have covered a period during nearly two-thirds of which Theodore Roosevelt was--well, Roosevelt. Why was it that his continuous preachment of the anti-pacifist doctrine and the force of his own militant example availed so little against the advocates of the "soft" life? The suggestion occurs that Roosevelt, at the height of his power, imposed himself on his countrymen rather than convinced them; that all along he was out of tune with the basic sentiment in the country, and that this sentiment asserted itself once he had stepped from the scene at Washington.
The distinction between Roosevelt and national sentiment goes back to his big year in 1905. It is of the Roosevelt foreign policy rather than of America's foreign policy that we must speak in connection with the Russo-Japanese War and the Moroccan question. Mr. Dennett states this explicitly:
"In the course of our narrative, for the sake of literary smoothness, we have often used the terms 'America,' 'the American Government' and 'the United States' where we might with greater accuracy have continued to repeat the name Roosevelt. In truth, he was the Government. Congress had no part. Senators were rarely consulted. The President's cabinet made few contributions. The influence of the American diplomatic service, with the single exception of Ambassador Meyer (at St. Petersburg) was negligible."
But this does not mean merely that Roosevelt chose to make himself the sole governmental instrument for interpreting the popular will. The foreign policy of 1905 was not only personally guided and expressed but was personally determined. When war broke out between Russia and Japan in 1904, says Mr. Dennett, Roosevelt did more than give to Japan every support which was constitutionally within his sphere:
"He went even further and served notice on Europe that if a third power went to the aid of Russia he would join in support of Japan. The action may have been unconstitutional, but it was honest. . . . This was the big contribution of President Roosevelt to Far Eastern policy. It was not a permanent contribution for it did not have the support of the American people, and the next Administration lapsed into the old traditional policy.
Whether a single act or series of acts by a President of the United States, which has not the support of the American people and which lapses after him, can be called a real "contribution" to policy is perhaps an academic question. But Mr. Dennett does well to place in the proper perspective the role played by Roosevelt during the Manchurian war. Contemporary acclaim, as well as popular opinion since the Portsmouth Conference, has hailed Roosevelt as the peacemaker between Russia and Japan. But what Roosevelt wrote at the time to Lodge in strictest confidence is now a matter of common knowledge: the initiative for peace did not come from him. It came from the Japanese when the destruction of the Russian fleet by Togo had brought the auspicious moment. It was then that Takahira addressed himself to the President with the formula which greatly amused the President, namely that Roosevelt "on his own initiative" employ his good offices for bringing about peace negotiations.
This request was presented on May 31, 1905, and was the final step in a sequence of moves which began on April 5, at Paris when Foreign Minister Delcassé, alarmed by the Kaiser's threat in Morocco, expressed to the Japanese minister, Motono, his conviction that the Czar was in the mind to discuss peace provided Japan would refrain from bringing forward certain inadmissible demands. A fortnight later the Japanese Minister at Washington conveyed this information, via Secretary of War Taft, to the President who was away on a hunting trip in Colorado. On April 20, Roosevelt, via Taft, informed the Japanese Minister that in his opinion direct negotiations between Russia and Japan was the desirable procedure, subject only to the understanding that in any treaty of peace Japan must adhere to the principle of the Open Door in Manchuria and pledged itself to restore that province to China. It is Mr. Dennett's belief that if Roosevelt had been on the spot in Washington affairs would have moved more quickly, but the probabilities are that neither Russia nor Japan was ready to sit down and talk until the Czar's last card had been played in the form of that pathetic Russian fleet which was then lumbering half way around the world to meet its doom at Togo's hands at Tsushima.
Everybody wanted peace. Japan had attained her objectives. Russia was in revolutionary ferment. The Kaiser, who had worked hard to inveigle his Imperial cousin at St. Petersburg into the Manchurian adventure, in order to assure for himself a free hand with France, was now alarmed by the possible repercussions of the Russian revolutionary movement in his own country. France, harrassed by the Kaiser over Morocco, was anxious to have her Russian ally extricate itself from the Manchurian bog. England, though for no such pressing reasons, was willing enough to see the end of hostilities. The American people was largely swayed by the sanguinary nature of the struggle in Manchuria and wanted an end of slaughter. It may be said, then, that whoever was President in 1905 the Japanese request for America's good offices would have been laid before him. The alignment in Europe was such that the mediation of none of the neutral Continental Powers would have been welcome at Tokio--by the good old European practice, mediation had a way of expecting to be heavily paid for. Japan wanted no "honest brokers," and turned to Washington.
Not that Japan was unaware that in Roosevelt she had a good friend and in the American people a sympathetic audience. American sentiment from the outbreak of the war was with Japan, primarily because our public opinion was against the Russian autocracy and the methods that had so tragically been illustrated less than a year before in the Kishineff massacre. Roosevelt's own opinion of the Russian Government was short and sweet. "Russia," he wrote to Lodge in June, 1905, "is corrupt, treacherous, shifty and incompetent." To be sure, he goes on to say that Japan, too, is entirely selfish but "with infinitely more knowledge of what it wants and capacity to get it." It is in this characteristic admiration for "capacity," whether in nations or individuals, that we must look for the chief cause of Roosevelt's friendliness to Japan; just as it will explain the soft spot in his heart for the Kaiser. Naturally there was a realistic basis in Roosevelt's attitude towards the war and peace. He wanted to see a balance of power in the Far East and considered that such a balance would be established by a Japanese victory; the expulsion of Russia from the Far East was inconceivable. But personal sentiment played the chief part. He liked the Japanese because they were a masculine, militant, capable race. For the Russian people, though he distinguishes between people and government in Russia, he had no great respect. In the revolutionary movement of 1905 he detected the Tolstoyan influence, that "softness" which he abhorred. Russia was, on the whole, in the same category with the country from which Roosevelt coined his verb "to chinafy," and with Korea. In the case of the latter country Mr. Dennett is at pains to defend Roosevelt against the charge made after Portsmouth that he had callously consented to the destruction of Korean independence. Mr. Dennett argues that the Korean emperor had virtually sacrificed his country's independence by separate agreement with Japan before the Portsmouth Conference. But from Roosevelt's own words there is little doubt that he had no sympathy to spare for a people incapable of defending its own liberties. If the possession of Korea was necessary to keep Japan satisfied and maintain peace in the Far East, sentimentality should not be allowed to stand in the way.
It does not appear from the record that Roosevelt exercised any decisive influence in shaping the terms of peace at Portsmouth. The contest between Witte and Komura at Portsmouth centered about two points: the retention of the whole of Saghalien by Japan and the demand for an indemnity. On these questions it was feared at the time that a break would come, though we know now that both sides were too anxious for peace to resort to that extreme. Oddly enough, Roosevelt's intervention on either point had no effect. Privately he thought that Japan ought to have all of Saghalien and he wrote to Lodge that he would not blame Tokio if it renewed hostilities for that objective. Officially, however, he sought to bring the Czar to reason by urging a "substantial payment" for the return of the northern half of the island in lieu of an indemnity. For a moment the Czar consented. Then came reports of financial and military exhaustion in Japan, the backbone of St. Petersburg was stiffened, and in the end Russia got back northern Saghalien without compensation.
Roosevelt's rôle, then, in the Russo-Japanese War was not primarily that of a peacemaker--I have suggested that under any other President the peace overtures and negotiations would have run very much the same course--but as a friend of Japan who conceivably influenced the entire course of the war by ensuring for Japan a free field in the conduct of hostilities. We come back to the point stressed by Mr. Dennett as Roosevelt's principal contribution to world politics, the point with which Mr. Dennett begins his story. In July, 1905, Roosevelt wrote to his friend Cecil Spring-Rice, then First-Secretary of the British legation in St. Petersburg:
"As soon as this war broke out, I notified Germany and France in the most polite and discreet fashion that in event of a combination against Japan to try to do to her what Russia, Germany and France did to her in 1894, I should promptly side with Japan and proceed to whatever length was necessary on her behalf. I, of course, knew that your government would act in the same way, and I thought it best that I should have no consultation with your people before announcing my purpose."
On such grounds Mr. Dennett speaks more than once of the United States, or rather of Roosevelt, as virtually a third partner in the Anglo-Japanese alliance. It was an "honest" if extra-constitutional declaration of policy. But to the student of Roosevelt's psychology the incident is rich in speculation. How far did Roosevelt venture in the direction of bluffing? How far did he go towards violating his own favorite precept not to draw your gun until you are ready to shoot? His wrath over the provocative action of the California Legislature with regard to Japanese immigrants, uttered on more than one occasion, was stirred by the "besotted folly" of inviting Japanese enmity while insisting on a navy not strong enough "to shoot." Yet Roosevelt evidently was going far when he threatened to enter the Russo-Japanese war on the side of Japan. Possibly he might have converted the American people to such a course by capitalizing anti-Russian sentiment in this country, and, beyond that, by emphasizing the necessity of retaining the friendship of a nation that could make itself master of the Philippines whenever it chose. But on the other hand we must recall the "pernicious" pacifist propaganda that had for several years been having it all its own way, according to Roosevelt's own statement. We must seriously question whether the American people would have consented to go to war over a Manchuria of which, as Lodge wrote, not one American in a thousand knew the name. We are forced to conclude therefore that in this instance Roosevelt deviated from his own frontier formula. He did draw a gun without pulling the trigger. "I utterly disbelieve," he wrote to Secretary of State Knox in December, 1910, in comment on the latter's unsuccessful proposal for placing the Manchurian railways under international control, "in the policy of bluff. As regards Manchuria, if the Japanese choose to follow a course of conduct to which we are adverse, we cannot stop it unless we are prepared to go to war." Was Roosevelt really prepared to go to war in behalf of Japan in 1904? It is highly doubtful. The fact is, of course, that his never-draw-unless-you-shoot-formula, if strictly carried out, would eliminate all forms of discussion, of diplomatic pressure, from the sphere of international relations. National policy would be reduced to the alternative of silence or shooting. In practice he did not live up to his own principle.
He deviated from that principle during the Moroccan crisis. On June 25, 1905, when Roosevelt feared a German invasion of France, he told Baron Sternberg that "no one would understand or pardon wars entered into for frivolous reasons," and that in the case of war the support which would rally to the side of France would be "very formidable." Here again is a significant motion towards the holster without the assurance that American shooting in behalf of France or the European balance of power would follow immediately. It has been the contention of Roosevelt's admirers and Woodrow Wilson's opponents that the story of 1914-17 measured precisely the difference between Wilson and Roosevelt. Writing to Spring-Rice on October 3, 1914, Roosevelt maintains this thesis:
"If I had been President, I should have acted on the thirtieth or thirty-first of July, as head of a signatory power of the Hague treaties, calling attention to the guaranty of Belgium's neutrality and saying that I accepted the treaties as imposing a serious obligation which I expected not only the United States but all other neutral nations to join in enforcing. Of course, I would not have made such a statement unless I was willing to back it up. I believe that if I had been President the American people would have followed me." Possibly. From what we know of German psychology Roosevelt's determination to back up his threat by action would have received a severe testing. Yet that Roosevelt would have uttered the threat we may concede, once he had made up his mind about the wrongs of Belgium, which in the first days of the war he apparently did not.
At any rate, Roosevelt's warning to Sternberg in June, 1905, was efficacious. A fortnight later he writes to Lodge at Paris:
"I received a message of thanks from the German Government for my part in securing a conference between Germany and France with the other powers on the Moroccan question. This is a dead secret. But I became the intermediary between Germany and France when they seemed to have gotten into an impasse, and have already been thanked by the French Government through Jusserand. I suggested the final terms by which they could get together."
In the case of the Russo-Japanese War, Roosevelt had begun with a strong bias in favor of Japan, which did not prevent his later assuming the role of mediator. In the case of Morocco the attempt was made by the Kaiser to enlist his support on one side of the quarrel; the move failed and, faute de mieux, William II sought and obtained Roosevelt's good offices. On March 6, 1905, while the battle of Mukden was under way, Baron Sternberg invited Roosevelt to join the Kaiser in backing up the Sultan of Morocco against France. Roosevelt replied that America had no interest in the matter. The Kaiser was not discouraged and in April urgently requested of President Roosevelt to find out how far Great Britain would go in support of France. This favor was also refused, though in good humor, and when William II finally suggested a general conference on Morocco he was backed up by Roosevelt who thereby put himself in no friendly light from the Entente point of view. Nevertheless, at Algeciras he took his stand with France, whose thanks expressed through Jusserand were sincere. Lodge, writing from Paris, testifies to the intensity of French gratitude. Of the quality of William II's appreciation we may be more in doubt.
In a letter to Lodge, the President protests somewhat humorously against the too prevalent notion that he was under the thumb of the Kaiser. But there would seem to be little question that William II did exercise on Roosevelt something of that spell which the latter felt in the presence of all "strong" men and nations. The Kaiser was not "soft," he knew what he wanted, and he was very persistent in trying to get it. Ultimately, at Algeciras, Roosevelt's instincts came to his rescue, but Mr. Dennett admits that Roosevelt did not understand the German Emperor. Mr. Dennett blames it on the very poor quality of diplomatic service upon which Roosevelt had to depend; but that is not a complete answer, since Roosevelt was so much in the habit of drawing his information from non-diplomatic sources. How thoroughly he misunderstood the Kaiser is shown in a letter from the Colorado hunting trip to Secretary Taft in April: "Now, in my view this action of Germany in embroiling herself with France over Morocco is proof positive that she has not the slightest intention of attacking England." And yet Morocco was precisely an attempt to feel out the strength of the Anglo-French understanding, to break up that Entente, and so to prepare the way for what came to pass in 1914.
Manchuria and Morocco were more than interrelated. They were simultaneous episodes in a single action played out at the two extremes of the Eurasian Continent. The Czar had plunged forward against Japan with the hearty encouragement of the Kaiser who wanted a free hand to deal with the growing manifestations of Anglo-French friendship. When Russia had been beaten in the field and was rendered for the time being impotent by internal ferment, the Kaiser went to Tangier and set into motion the series of crises that mounted to a convulsion before which resources of diplomacy found themselves helpless in 1914.
In Manchuria and Morocco the action of Theodore Roosevelt was dictated by a spirit totally opposite to that dread of "entanglement" which has so haunted the dreams of his party since the World War. And it is odd that, within his party, men like Hiram Johnson and W. E. Borah who were closest in sympathy with Roosevelt in domestic affairs are now most closely associated with that policy of isolation of which Roosevelt would have nothing. The threat to bring in the United States on the side of Japan, the warning to Sternberg of "formidable" support for France in case she was attacked over Morocco, show a very lively recognition of America's interests in the European situation as part of the world situation. It may be, then, that if Roosevelt had been President after 1914 he would have asserted himself from the first more strongly than Woodrow Wilson did. But that is pure speculation, if by assertion we mean something more than strong words. Before proceeding to action he would have had to deal with that "soft" state of American sentiment for which Woodrow Wilson cannot be blamed since Roosevelt himself traced it back fifteen years to the beginning of his own activities at Washington.
Against Woodrow Wilson up to 1917 Theodore Roosevelt may conceivably be used as a text. Against Wilson after 1917 the charge will not hold. For if Wilson "took" the United States into the war, he must have done so by overcoming that "softness" of which Roosevelt so bitterly complained.