Chapter VIII of From Colony to Superpower deals with the second Cleveland and first McKinley administrations, covering the Spanish-American War and the beginning of serious US involvement with China.
Herring touches on the influence of Alfred Thayer Mahan, but I think he gives insufficient attention to the US military buildup between 1893 and 1898. As we discussed last time, the USN in 1890 was demonstrably inferior to even second tier European navies. By 1898 it was capable of crushing the Spanish Navy (really at the bottom of the second tier) and was competitive with any force not named the Royal Navy. The development of the Army was somewhat slower. Herring goes pretty easy on the performance of the Army in the Philippines, although (unsurprisingly, given his thesis) he doesn’t waste time implying that the Spanish-American War was anything but an imperial project. I think a fair argument could be made that an independent Philippine Republic would have fallen victim to either German or Japanese imperialism, but of course this didn’t require a long term occupation by the United States; a defensive treaty allowing for some military cooperation would have sufficed.
Herring briefly mentions the issue of post-war military reconciliation. He suggests that the Spanish-American War provided military professionals from the North and South with an opportunity to heal the rift, so to speak. This is an issue that I’m quite interested in, but unfortunately know almost nothing about. The timeline doesn’t seem quite right to me; some very senior officers in the Spanish-American War must have served in the Civil War, but the numbers would be quite small. I would imagine also that the Indian Wars would have served as the cauldron in which the US Army was, so to speak, reforged. But maybe not; I’ll be tracking down some of the cites that Herring gives on this point.
Herring also gets into US involvement with China, including participation in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. American missionaries and merchants had already extensively visited China, but the late McKinley administration made the first serious efforts at military and political involvement. US concern was motivated mainly by the need to maintain access to China, and thus to prevent its direct partition by Japan, Russia, and the European powers. Although Americans tended to interpret this as altruistic, this belief was not shared by the Chinese. The acquisition of the Philippines and the increased involvement of China were not, of course, coincidental.
More later on the Venezuela Crisis and the promotion of US ministers to ambassadorial rank…