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From Colony to Superpower X: Wilson Epic Fail

[ 0 ] February 1, 2009 |

Chapter X of From Colony to Superpower covers the Wilson administration. There’s a lot here; much of the chapter deals with US relations with Mexico, which Erik is probably a bit more qualified to discuss, and which I’ll accordingly return to in the second round. To start with, I’ll concentrate on Herring’s treatment of the Road to the Great War.

The presence of the United States on the world stage had been steadily increasing since the Revolution. During the Roosevelt administration, the United States became a more or less conventional great power, building and consolidating a colonial empire and evening the field economically and militarily with the most powerful European state. Accompanying this rise to conventionality, such that it was, the idea of American exceptionalism developed and matured. Under the Wilson administration, these strands came together in the construction of a theory that could explain and guide the behavior of the United States in the international sphere; liberal internationalism. It’s not quite right to say that the ideals of liberal internationalism (pursuit of a particular vision of democracy, free trade, international organizations, United States as first among equals) emerged solely from the United States during this period, but it is remarkable the degree to which coherent vision of American foreign policy and the international system was in place by 1916. This vision crossed party boundaries (both Roosevelt and Taft shared general principles with Wilson, although they disagreed on specific points), and offered a narrative of US participation in the First World War. For a variety of reasons, the first US experiment with liberal internationalism was a qualified failure.

Herring capably describes the development of liberal internationalist sentiment (which was structured, in many ways, by the Great War), and the eventual collapse of Wilson’s efforts in Europe and the United States. Abroad, Wilson failed to create what he understood to be an equitable peace with Germany (on his own terms; I think there’s a good argument to be made that Germany should have been punished much more harshly, but Wilson didn’t believe so), to save a reformed Austria-Hungary, to structure new European borders safely and fairly, and most notably to challenge the foundations of European imperialism. At home, he was unable to make the case necessary to enrolling the United States in the central multilateral institution of the period. I don’t think it’s too harsh to suggest that Wilson’s foreign policy, while ambitious, resulted in utter failure on its own terms.

Herring briefly discusses the Lusitania incident. I have long believed that the sinking of the Lusitania rivals the sinking of the Titanic in the extent to which its significance has been overblown; for all the heat, the actual sinking seems to have had very little impact. The US did not enter the war or substantially change its policy towards Germany as a result of the sinking. The outrage surrounding the loss of Lusitania was one of several reasons why the Germans moderated their submarine policy, but German U-boats were not numerous enough in 1915 to decide the war in any case. Moreover, German behavior of 1917 provided ample causus belli independent of the sinking of Lusitania; this is not to say that the US decision for war was a good one, but rather that the Germans furnished reasons for war (Zimmerman Telegram, unrestricted submarine warfare) that would have held in the absence of Lusitania’s destruction. Thus, while the destruction of Lusitania was certainly tragic (and was incidentally not solely the fault of the Germans, as the ship was being used to smuggle arms to the UK), I do not understand why it has earned such a place of priority in accounts of US participation in World War I.

This brings me to a related question. It’s commonplace to argue that US participation in World War I was a tragic and avoidable error. Indeed, I’ve argued so myself. However, I think that while the “tragic” part is sound, the “avoidable” is in much greater question. The United States could have avoided entanglement by observing an embargo against all belligerents, but it’s fair to say that this is not something that an American President could have advocated in 1914. William Jennings Bryan made, as Secretary of State, some effort to limit US trade, which was met by howls of protest from, well, pretty much everyone. It was also inevitable, I think, that American trade would heavily favor the Allies. Without ordering the US Atlantic Fleet to escort convoys to Germany, there was no way to break the British blockade. As such, it’s very difficult to imagine how the United States could have gotten to 1917 without being intricately bound up in the war, formally neutral or not. After that, it’s not easy to construct a scenario under which an American president, even one opposed to the war (and Wilson certainly lacked enthusiasm for it) could have navigated public outrage generated by German diplomatic clumsiness and the renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare. I suppose that the very best that could have been hoped for would be a replay of 1940-41, in which the US engaged in more or less active maritime hostilities against Germany without a declaration of war, or direct intervention on the continent. I do think that this would have represented a better choice in 1917; however, I suspect it would have been very difficult to pull off politically.

Finally, as I’ve argued before, I would liked to have seen more about US military policy; if in the next chapter we don’t get some account of the importance of the Washington Naval Treaty, I’ll be quite put out.

We have a winner!

[ 0 ] January 31, 2009 |

This is pretty awesome:

I thought PJM was going to rival AP, UPI, Reuters. Finally, a news portal of citizen bloggers and journalists that would counter the Pali stringers and left wing biased journalists of the news gathering agencies . . . .

Can you imagine if I were given 20% of what was invested in PJM? I am one person. No assistants, no interns, no editors, nuthin. I would have had bands of free men roving the world reporting into Atlas central. TV, video, newsletters, action alerts, campaign headquarters — serious ass whuppin.

Like so:

. . . Um, ok. Thers was already there…. As was everyone in this thread. Do I win anything for getting to Atlas by way of TIDOS Yankee?

Fuck it. I’m going back to working on specs for my white wine bong.

That word does not mean what you think it means

[ 2 ] January 31, 2009 |

From the New York Times, Wall Street is pushing back against offensive suggestion that perhaps they have any obligation to account for the billions of dollars we gave them:

“I think President Obama painted everyone with a broad stroke,” said Brian McCaffrey, 55, a Wall Street lawyer who was on his way to see a client. “The way we pay our taxes is bonuses. The only way that we’ll get any of our bailout money back is from taxes on bonuses. I think bonuses should be looked at on a case by case basis, or you turn into a socialist.”

That, indeed, was a recurring equation: Broad strokes + bonuses = socialist.

“It’s a very slippery slope to go down,” said another insurance broker as he waited to be seated for lunch at Cipriani Downtown. “A blanket statement like that borders on” — you guessed it — “socialism.”

I know crying “socialism” whenever anyone gets in your way is pretty deeply ingrained for some people, but it might be time to find a new word.

Zarek-Gaeta for a New Tomorrow

[ 0 ] January 31, 2009 |

I’m not convinced that the Roslin-Adama politico-military clique has demonstrated enough success to deserve our continued support. Discuss.

EPIC FAIL, Utter Inevitability Edition

[ 0 ] January 31, 2009 |

Pajamas Media. If I understand correctly, they’re going to go from being a $7 million wingnut RSS feeder/wingnut BlogAds to a wingnut BloggingHeads. I’m sure that will be equally successful…

…whoa, whoa, whoa…is it true that the idea is that this wingnut Bloggingheads will involve a subscription fee? That’s twice as expensive as Showtime? Maybe there are people who would actually pay money to watch Glenn Reynolds interview Roger Simon. I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t want to know. They’re the kind of market we could do without. (Hmm, maybe now I see the business model: compiling lists of leads for various sales enterprises. “Look, if you don’t buy our list of extremely dumb people with way too much money on their hands, we’re taking it across the street to Jerry Graff!” Alas, I think you need more than 5 names…)

…in the funniest bit of comedy from his letter to the dupes, Roger Simon explains his new business model:

…but as many of you have noticed we are putting considerable effort into Pajamas TV. The theory behind this is that television is on the cusp of change and the Internet and the TV set will soon fuse. Apple TV already exists and several of the electronic companies have flat screen TVs in the pipeline with the Internet accessible at the click of a remote. Pajamas TV is trying to position itself for this in the long run.

All of this may be true, but alas for it to be relevant there would have to be an actual market for hour-long “Joe the Plumber’s exclusive interview with 2012 GOP presidential front-runner Fred Thompson, live from a hammock in Glenn Reynolds’s backyard” videos. But I’m sure they have data proving that people with video game consoles mysteriously start paying for content they wouldn’t watch in a million years for free once they discover that they can watch the intertubes on the teevee! This makes look like a better business model than Microsoft…

…Thers also had the last point. An example of “minds who are at least smart enough not to invest 7 million dollars in Pajamas Media think alike,” I guess…

More On The "Somehow Overruling Roe Would Be Good For Reproductive Freedom" Fantasy

[ 0 ] January 31, 2009 |

Ed Kilgore has a good, very detailed response to Damon Linker. One thing to add is that the idea that pro-criminalizing-abortion politics is at bottom about procedural objections rather than moral objections 1)is condescension dressed up as respect, and 2)exceptionally implausible. How many people who oppose Roe consistently oppose judicial intervention into policy disputes? Given the reaction to, say, Kelo, Heller, or Parents Involved, we can approximate the number as approximately “zero.” Or, about the same as the number of people who care about “federalism” when it conflicts with any cherished political interest.


[ 0 ] January 31, 2009 |

The Russian Army will begin professionalizing its non-commissioned officer corps. Via WiB.

From Colony to Superpower IX: Teddy

[ 0 ] January 30, 2009 |

Some kind, anonymous soul picked up my bag off the street and delivered it to my office, meaning that I didn’t have to buy another copy of Herring’s From Colony to Superpower. Thank you! And so we return to the series at chapter 9, which covers the Roosevelt and Taft administrations, the Great White Fleet, the Roosevelt Corollary, and so forth. See Erik’s commentary first.

Imperial consolidation is the motivating concept of the chapter; the United States consolidated control over both its formal empire (Philippines, Caribbean, South Pacific), and its informal imperial interests in Latin America and Asia. The United States also undertook the modernization and professionalization of its diplomatic corps. This helped the United States achieve a number of notable diplomatic successes, including Roosevelt’s brokering of the Russo-Japanese War. I think it could be argued that the United States achieved full membership in the European Great Power system under Roosevelt, completing a process that had been initiated nearly a century before.

Herring continues to give short shrift to the independent influence of Alfred Thayer Mahan. I think I would have preferred this account to pay greater attention to the intersections between a foreign policy history of the United States and a military history of the United States. By this I don’t mean more detailed attention to the wars that the United States has undertaken, but rather closer scrutiny on the history of the military organizations, and there relationships both foreign and domestic. They are key foreign policy organs, after all, and the popularity of Mahan (and other figures like him) is important, I think, to analysis of US foreign relations during the Roosevelt period. But then the book is still only half over, and I’ll be particularly curious to see how Herring treats the “globalization” of US military power after 1945.

US intervention in the Russo-Japanese War is interesting for several reasons. As discussed earlier, the United States and Imperial Russia maintained unusually cordial relations in the nineteenth century. These relations began to deteriorate as US foreign policy took a more overtly ideological tint, and as American Jews became increasingly concerned with the plight of Eastern European Jews living under Russian governance. While it would be wrong to suggest that Roosevelt and the larger elite foreign policy establishment were unmoved by the plight of Russian Jewry, the primary concerns weren’t precisely altruistic; Americans worried that continued repression of Russian Jews would lead to mass emigration to the United States. Nevertheless, it’s kind of interesting that, given the hysteria that greeted the possibility of Japanese Pacific expansion, US policy on the war was relatively even-handed. Herring suggests that Roosevelt may have been more personally impressed by the Japanese than by the Russians.

More soon….

"Compromise" Through Unilateral Surrender

[ 0 ] January 30, 2009 |

I hadn’t seen the wealthy urban male proposing to “solve” the abortion debate by letting anti-choicers win (hey, women he knows will be able to get abortions, so who cares, right?) routine in its pure form for a while, but Damon Linker is back to the plate:

How could Obama — how could liberals, how could supporters of abortion rights — both win and end the culture war, once and for all? By supporting the reversal or significant narrowing of Roe, allowing abortion policy to once again be set primarily by the states — a development that would decisively divide and demoralize the conservative side of the culture war by robbing it of the identity politics that holds it together as a national movement.

I’ve been through this many times before — most comprehensively in the article linked at the top — but to summarize some of the most obvious defects in Linker’s argument:

  • The idea that overturning Roe would “return the issue to the states” is transparently wrong, and the idea that having constant legislative battles about banning abortion at the state and federal level would somehow “end the culture war” is bizarre.
  • Linker’s claim that the pro-life movement was “conjured into being” by Roe is entirely false. Opposition to abortion legalization was very well-mobilized prior to 1973, which is why abortion was still illegal in most states with little immediate prospect for changing policy for the better. If the argument is that the movement expanded, this would seem to be the more trivial argument that winning creates more opposition. Linker’s answer that it would therefore be better to lose seems…unconvincing.
  • Linker’s grasp on abortion law seems, at best, tenuous. Consider his claim that “in socially liberal Western Europe, where democratically elected legislatures readily place modest restrictions on abortion that would never be allowed to stand under current American constitutional law.” My first question: what “modest” restriction of abortion (aside from husband notification laws) would not be permitted under current American constitutional law? (Linker shows no awareness that Casey even exists.) My second question: Does Linker realize that when you consider all factors — most notably state funding — abortion is probably more accessible to women in many Western European countries than in the U.S.? I fear he does not, and indeed has never spent much time considering how abortion policy actually works on the ground.
  • Another country Linker doesn’t mention: Canada, where abortion is a federally protected right, abortion is both largely unregulated and state-funded, and yet policy has been stable and abortion is not a salient issue in national politics. And since it completely destroys his assertion that the “culture war” over abortion is solely the product of judicial intervention, I think you can understand why.

In addition to these kinds of problems, there’s a broader question: why is the fact that people disagree over abortion supposed to be a bad thing, exactly? Politics is about conflict. So talk about “ending the culture war” doesn’t make sense. But even if it was a viable and desirable goal, I’m certainly sure that extinguishing the aboriton rights of poor women in red states won’t somehow end political conflict over abortion.

[X-Posted at TAPPED.]

Meet The New Boss, Different Than the Old Boss

[ 0 ] January 30, 2009 |

Says it all, doesn’t it? And, of course, good that the new Congress acted so quickly to overrule the odious Ledbetter decision. Although the Republican argument that civil rights are OK as long as nobody can enforce them is certainly very compelling!

…while the link at Feministe is down, see here.

Nobody Could Have…

[ 0 ] January 30, 2009 |

Adjustable rate mortgages more likely to default! A pretty shocking development — I don’t think anybody could have ever predicted that they would be used by people who couldn’t actually afford the higher rates. Especially since they were approved by St. Alan Greenspan, whose fears about the risk and likelihood of paying down the national debt too quickly were certainly well-founded…

More Please

[ 0 ] January 30, 2009 |

Pelosi gets it:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she didn’t come to Washington to be “bipartisan”, one day after shuttling through an $819 economic stimulus bill without a single Republican vote.

“I didn’t come here to be partisan, I didn’t come here to be bipartisan,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference. “I came here, as did my colleagues, to be nonpartisan, to work for the American people, to do what is in their interest.”

Pelosi expressed no regrets over passing the stimulus measure without any GOP support. Republicans followed their leaders in objecting to the bill on the grounds that it was put together without GOP input, and that it would not do enough to stimulate the economy.

Repeating the term “nonpartisan” on more than one occasion in describing the bill, the Speaker said her goal was to put President Obama’s vision on paper for the good of the country regardless of the type of support it garnered.

Testify, Big John:

Sen. John Kerry says Democrats should ignore Republicans’ demands about the stimulus plan if they’re going to vote against it anyway.

Reacting to Wednesday night’s vote in the House — where not a single GOP member supported the stimulus package — Kerry told Politico that “if Republicans aren’t prepared to vote for it, I don’t think we should be giving up things, where I think the money can be spent more effectively.”

“If they’re not going to vote for it, let’s go with a plan that we think is going to work.”

The Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate suggested tossing some of the tax provisions in the stimulus that the GOP requested. “Those aren’t job creators immediately, and even in the longer term they’re not necessarily. We’ve seen that policy for the last eight years,” he said.

Hopefully this is sinking in more widely. No votes, your votes aren’t needed for passage, no leverage. This is pretty easy. And it looks as if the obvious is finally being recognized.