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Unformatted text preview: 62 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS This contradiction between the expectations raised at the dawn of the modern era by the culture of political equality of foundational liberalism and the reality of social and legal constructions is one of the essential legacies of the nineteenth century. In the metropolitan spaces this contradiction was resolved slowly and with difficulty by the spread of the rights rhetorically espoused, as suffrage limitations and other exclusions by sex or age would continue to show until the twentieth century. In the colonial world, which was not a world all that distant, after all, from that metropolitan political culture, it was resolved that the struggle for the dissolution of formulas of social exclusion within the framework of political exceptionality was the norm. All the empires played at this, and all became exhausted, sooner or later, in their struggle against the unstoppable leveling tide. From Old Empire to New
The. Changing Dynamics and Tactics of American Empire
THOMAS MCCORMICK and superior to others. Each nation creates its own traditions and narratives, infused with more than a dollop of fiction, to lend the weight of history to its sense of exceptionalism. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the United States, a New World, where the sins of moribund, decadent Europe, the Old World, were said to be absent. And among those sins—allegedly missing in the country's unfolding— was Europe's half millennium of imperialism and its accompanying wars. That popular myth begins with an apparent self-evident truth—that the American Republic was itself the product of an anticolonial, revolutionary war against empire and thus anti-imperialism was an inherent part of its national DNA from its very birthing. True to its origins, the subsequent expansion of America westward and southward across the North American continent was a natural, organic, inevitable process—simply a case of the flag following demography as American pioneers poured into lands either unoccupied or sparsely peopled by indigenes making nonproductive use of the land. It was an Empire for Liberty, if an empire at all, carrying with it democracy and the commercial revolution in agriculture. To be sure, the end of that continental expansion—the end of that life-giving frontier in the 189os—spawned a copycat overseas expansionism that seemed to ape the New Imperialism that had gripped Europe in the late nineteenth century. Even that expansionism, however, was not the result of systemic imperatives or conscious choice but rather the almost accidental consequence of a "splendid little war"—an anticolonial one at that—which freed Cuba from the yoke of Spanish empire. The resulting American empire in Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Wake Island, and Guam was miniscule compared to the European empires in Africa and Southeast Asia. Indeed, no sooner had it been acquired
EVERY NATION FANCIES ITSELF EXCEPTIONAL — unique 63 r.
64 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS :iWdr in McCormick / From Old Empire to New 65 than the United States began to consider ways to be rid of it. In sum, American imperialism was a venal sin but not a mortal one. In the words of the late historian Samuel Flagg Bemis, American imperialism had been merely a "Great Aberration."' This compelling moral fable of a little sin and a great redemption enabled later historians to picture subsequent American wars, both hot and cold, as confrontations fought with clean hands by an exceptional nation, untainted by ulterior motives of aggression and aggrandizement, seeking merely to defend and promote democracy and civilization against Old World pathologies.
CONTINENTAL EMPIRE A more persuasive telling, while less satisfying to the national psyche, paints a far more complex and dynamic historical portrait. It argues that the United States has always been an empire but one that dramatically mutated in the 189os and thereafter as the result of structural shifts both in the American political economy and in the world system itself—arguably a new empire, a second empire. The first empire had focused primarily on the landed colonization of North America by American farmers and entrepreneurs and the related acquisition of seaports such as New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle to transport their produce and primary commodities to the commercial markets of Europe and Asia. That first empire started with the American Revolution itself, which was not only a war against empire but a war for empire and a grandiose one at that. Indeed, in the American revolutionary crosshairs were the trans-Appalachian West, Canada, Florida, and the British West Indies. In the end, the United States acquired only the first item on that imperial shopping list, laying the groundwork for American dominance of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. But even the French foreign minister, America's wartime ally, feared that America's demography, geography, and natural resources would eventually lead Americans to dominate the Caribbean. "And they would not stop here," he added, "but would in the process of time advance to the Southern Continent of America and either subdue the inhabitants or carry them along with them, and in the end not leave a single foot of the Hemisphere in the possession of any European power."' Similarly, nineteenth-century American expansionism was more than a simple narrative of a booming population obeying nature's command to leave no vacuum unfilled. First, it was also the product of conscious foreign policy choices often made well in advance of American settlement. Thomas Jefferson had sought to include Texas in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 two decades before the first wave of American migration; John Quincy Adams, buoyed with Spanish claims (the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819) had secured joint occupancy with Britain of the Pacific Northwest (the Oregon Convention of 1819) two decades before "Oregon Fever" inflamed the land hunger of midwestern farmers; and James K. Polk made California his principal objective in the Mexican-American 1846 not because of the miniscule American presence in California but ;,:ecause the American navy had determined a decade earlier that San Francisco Oa •and San Diego Bay (along with Puget Sound) were the "windows to the Ori, that held the key to America's future in Asia.' ti Second, the overarching aim of this grand strategy was to roll back and then Ilbs'orb the Spanish empire either formally or informally. Jefferson's "Large Policy" of 1808 suggested as much, and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 made it explicit. tflideed, the latter might more properly have been termed the Monroe Manifesto !of Empire, one that proscribed European colonization and institutions in the :hemisphere while the absence of any self-denying ordinance left the United i;States free to interject its hegemony into the void. In the event, that meant any and all means necessary. Covert action, the War of 1812, armed incursion, and 'coercive diplomacy all led Spain to part with West and East Florida and its claims ,to,the Oregon Territory. Mexico's independence in the 182os and the birth of )a,,sister republic did nothing to stay the course of empire. Managed revolution and annexation detached Texas while the War of the Northern Invasion (the Mexican War), ripped off the northern tier of Mexico that constitutes the present American Southwest and capped it with California and its "windows to the DrienC Only the logistical difficulties of governing a large, alien, and distant population prevented pressure from America's "All Mexico" movement to mark an end to Mexico's brief independence altogether.' No such considerations stayed the American hand in Cuba, long considered a natural appendage of North America. In the 182os and 183os, the United States played a waiting game. It dis' couraged any Latin American efforts to liberate Cuba, preferring to bide its time until a weakened Spanish rule inevitably dropped Cuba into the American lap like a ripe apple. By the 184os and 185os, no longer content to wait for nature to take its course, successive administrations tried unsuccessfully to acquire Cuba, alternating carrot-and-stick tactics between repeated attempts to purchase the island from Spain and clandestine support for armed, private mercenaries (filibustering expeditions) to destabilize Spanish rule.' Third, and inextricably coupled with this drive to roll back the Spanish borderlands, was a concerted effort to subvert and replace British hegemony in the Caribbean Basin. While northern Whigs preferred negotiated engagement and southern Democrats favored aggressive confrontation, all agreed on the general end of making the Caribbean an American lake, mare nostrum—"our sea." While this Anglo-American contest for dominance played itself out in multiple places, it was Central America, especially Nicaragua, that was the prime focal point between the mid-184os and the British acquiescence in American pretensions six decades later. At stake was the right to build, fortify, and control a future isthmian canal as a commercial and military shortcut to the American West Coast and the Asian East Coast—a necessary prerequisite for the United 66 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS McCormick / From Old Empire to New 67 States to become not merely a hemispheric power but a Pacific power as well. It was a battle that Britain seemed to be losing in the 185os in the face of aggressive American diplomacy and Democratic Party endorsements of filibustering expeditions such as William Walker's temporary takeover of Nicaragua in 1856 and his abortive effort to reintroduce slavery.6 At first glance, the American Civil War offered Britain a perfect chance to halt its retreat in the Caribbean. After all, a Confederate victory would weaken the diminished Union and permit the British to play balance of power diplomacy in North America. Britain, however, pursued that strategy in only a halfhearted way—enough to irritate the Union but not enough to be of decisive help to the South. And, while many factors explain that hesitant approach, perhaps the most overlooked was Britain's fear of Confederate imperialism in the Caribbean should it emerge as an independent nation. Effectively shut out of access to the western lands of North America, the South dreamed of an empire to the south in Central America, the Caribbean islands, and even parts of Mexico, and acquiring that empire was one of the postwar goals of the proslavery Confederacy.'
OVERSEAS EMPIRE The three decades that followed the Civil War wrote finis to the first stage of American empire and prepared the way for the second stage, at once similar and yet so different from its predecessor.' The process of landed, continental expansion northward essentially ended in 1867, when dominion status blunted U.S. hopes to annex Canada, and southward in 1877 when northern financial interests, more interested in investment than landed conquests, persuaded the government to resist pressure to incite another land-grabbing conflict with Mexico from a coalition of Texas cattle and railroad interests backed by elements of the U.S. Army.' There was, however, another aspect to early American expansion, one that would form the core of a new empire that would come to pass in 1898 and forever after. It rested on a grand strategic vision that had already begun to capture the imagination of national leaders such as William H. Seward and Stephen A. Douglas even before the Civil War. Its medium-term goal was to make the Monroe Doctrine not a long-term hope but an operational reality. Its longer term goal was to make America the dominant power in the Pacific Basin, a dream implicit in Commodore Perry's forced opening of Japan before the Civil War and the manner in which the United States hitchhiked on British efforts to coerce the opening of China through the Opium Wars and unequal treaties, ironically dubbed the Open Door policy. 10 And its shorter term goal—the transformation of the Caribbean into an American lake—was to facilitate both broader goals. An American-controlled isthmian canal would be the drawbridge between the Americas and Asia and U.S. control of the key Caribbean islands would protect the Windward and Mona passages that funneled trade in and out of that future canal. Between the U.S. Civil War and the Spanish-Cuban-Philippine-America War, U.S. foreign policy makers repeatedly tried to act out this grand strategy, though only rarely with much success. In the Caribbean Basin, the United States threatened to intervene in the Cuban Revolution of 1868, sought to annex the Dominican Republic, tried to secure a naval base in Haiti, attempted to purchase the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1867, negotiated an 1877 treaty with Nicaragua for exclusive U.S. canal rights in blatant disregard of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty with Britain, and intervened several times to help Colombia put down Panamanian revolts. In Latin America as a whole, Secretary of State James G. Blaine embraced a proto–Good Neighbor policy in 1890 by convening an International American Conference to consider his vision of a U.S.–Latin American customs union and a common currency ("the annexation of trade" he candidly termed it). And while he failed to achieve those maximum goals he did secure a series of reciprocity treaties with Latin American countries, the first in U.S. history." Finally, in the Pacific Basin the United States sought to secure the strategic KiskaHonolulu axis, purchasing the Aleutian Islands on the northern pincer as part of the Alaskan deal and on the southern flank acquiring Midway Island and effectively absorbing the Hawaiian Islands by bringing them under the umbrella of the Monroe Doctrine, by acquiring rights to a Pearl Harbor naval base, by tacitly supporting an American settler revolt against the indigenous regime, and by ultimately negotiating a treaty of annexation. Moreover, in Asia itself, the United States led the world in opening Korea to Western trade and diplomatic exchange while enhancing its position in Japan through trade agreements and the dispatch of American experts to advise Japan on education and frontier development.'2 Despite such initiatives by American policy makers, the United States lacked the necessary and sufficient preconditions to bring many of them to successful fruition in the quarter century after the Civil War. Consumed with the political and psychological consequences of that long and horrific ordeal, its economic focus was also largely inward looking as it completed the national rail network and integrated the last internal frontiers in the Far West and the defeated Deep South into the national common market. To be sure, exports were important to the economy, but they consisted largely of primary commodities such as grains, cotton, and raw materials and low-value, labor-intensive finished products. As a harbinger of better days, however, the balance of trade did shift in United States favor starting in 1877, the first such time in American history.'3 That national portrait radically altered in the decade of the 189os, perhaps the most pivotal in American history, ushering in changes that both transformed elite visions of American empire and created the circumstances that enabled their fulfillment. Some of those changes were external ones that were transforming the 68 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS McCormick / From Old Empire to New 69 u. world system. Most prominent were the decline of British global hegemony, the global competition for empire, and the emergence of a German-British rivalry that threatened to outstrip the British economy, dominate the European continent, and compete with British interests in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Partly in response, the British began to move away from free trade, enlarged their army and navy, and showed a greater inclination to use force in such defining episodes as the Boer War. But the British did something else just as significant. They reconsidered and ultimately reshaped their relationship with the United States. Until the mid-189os, the British had continued to contain the expansion of American influence in Latin America. Illustrative was the Anglo-American conflict over the Brazilian Revolution of 1893-94 and the Venezuelan Crisis of 1895. Britain in decline, however, could not afford to make adversaries out of both Germany and the United States, and it was the former that threatened more fundamental British interests. So, in a series of stunning moves, the British accepted U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. In the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, it surrendered its prior rights to joint control over any future isthmian canal, acknowledging the American right to build, own, fortify, and operate any such canal unilaterally. It explicitly accepted the Monroe Doctrine and even its Roosevelt Corollary, which stipulated that European grievances over unpaid debts could only be addressed through America's good offices since it alone had the right to exercise police power in Latin America. And to dramatize that acceptance the British essentially withdrew their fleet from the Caribbean in 1905, indicating their confidence that the United States would protect their interests for them." More important changes, however, occurred in America itself. Prominent among them were a radical restructuring of the American economy, a related revolution in economic theory, and, finally, an elite consensus on the nature of American empire and the tactics required to make it so. First, the radical changes in the U.S. political economy made American expansionism abroad far more feasible than ever before. At the start of its Civil War, the United States had been largely a breadbasket economy barely two decades into the Industrial Revolution. Within forty years, it had obtained (in the parlance of the day) "American economic supremacy," surpassing the dominant British economy in almost all major industrial indices and possessing a productivity rate likely to widen the gap indefinitely. European politicians and newspapers acknowledged this supremacy, speaking often of an "American invasion" of Europe or the replacement of the "Yellow Peril" with an "American Peril" and even prophetically musing about the need for a European customs union to deflect the U.S. threat. Possessing a unique common market and unmatched economies of scale, conceivably American big business not only could challenge its other industrial rivals in Latin America and Asia but could "carry coals to Newcastle" as well.'s The second key change in the 189os was a revolution in economic theory, which argued that economic expansion was not merely possible but absolutely essential for the survival of liberal capitalism in America. That paradigm shift, in turn, resulted from the need to explain why America's economic boom was continually undermined by economic crises. Between the Civil War and the events of 1898, the United States suffered through the so-called Long Depression—three major financial panics in 1873,1884, and 1893, each of them followed by industrial depressions. 16 Those crises, in turn, spawned unprecedented labor violence and agrarian radicalism, producing a widespread elite fear (as the New York Tribune put it) that "social restlessness is arraying class against class and filling the land with a nondescript Socialism as dangerous and revolutionary as it is imbecile and grotesque." 17 How, then, to address this double-edged threat of a volatility that was at once economic and social in nature? The elite answer, a consensus by the mid-189os, was nothing short of an economic heresy that overturned the classic law of supply and demand. Articulated mainly by large manufacturers, trade associations, and probusiness economists, it argued that America suffered from industrial overproduction, a structural surplus of supply over demand that depressed the rate of profit and could only be alleviated by a systematic quest for foreign markets. The real causes of that persistent surplus were underconsumption, born of income redistribution upward, and the related fact that "capital . . . has accumulated faster than it can be profitably invested." 18 Some American capitalists, however, found it safer to put the blame on new technologies and increased mechanization that produced more bang for the buck. Andrew Carnegie's Law of Surplus, for example, argued that the high fixed cost of modern industry meant that "it cost the manufacturer less to run at a loss . . . than to check his production." 19 Others blamed it on the closing of America's last frontier and the end of the railroad boom, both long crucial as investment opportunities. Whatever the causes, acceptance of the overproduction theory by 1897 was such that it is almost impossible to find any prominent trade journal, business leader, or state policy maker that did not publicly embrace both it and its corollary—that only large-scale, systematic expansion into foreign markets could stabilize a volatile economy and pacify a chaotic society. Otherwise America might well have to face the eventual necessity of redistributive policies to restore a balance between consumption and production. Elihu Root, America's leading corporate lawyer and, as secretary of war, the prime architect of American empire, put it thus: "If you once begin to limit [wealth], you can never stop short of a general division," that is, socialism.20 The final change in the 189os was the consensus resolution of a hotly contested debate over a crucial question of tactics. Did commercial expansion into global markets require an empire in order to be successful? And if it did what kind of empire did it need? Did the flag have to precede trade, extending formal 70 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS McCormick / From Old Empire to New 71 political sovereignty and administrative colonialism akin to the British actions in India? Or could imperial control take other forms, which might serve the same purpose without the burdens of formal rule? The contest over these issues, usually pictured as a two-sided "Great Debate" between imperialists and antiimperialists, was actually a triangular battle of wills, power, and ideas ultimately won by a third group one might dub imperial pragmatists. While all three differed over the form of American expansion, all of them favored commercial expansion abroad; all of them tended to be racists, though racism was used both as an argument for and, more especially, against colonies; and all resorted to gendered language and values to validate their positions, although this was most true of more martial, macho imperialists.2' Anti-imperial expansionists made an unequivocal case that formal colonies were both undesirable and unnecessary. Among policy makers, President Grover Cleveland and his first secretary of state, Walter Q. Gresham, best epitomized this view. They and their ilk saw colonialism as undesirable for five reasons. First, their commitment to democratic dogma led them to believe that it was hypocritical to free people from Spanish rule only to subject them to American rule. Second, in ironic contradiction, their racism made them fear that the Constitution might follow flag, ultimately conferring citizenship and immigration rights on nonwhite, non-Anglo races, which they viewed as inferior and incapable of fulfilling the civic responsibilities of a free people. (Had they anticipated that the Supreme Court would later rule in the "insular cases" that the Constitution did not follow the flag they might have been less hostile to formal colonies.) Third, in prophetic shades of Eisenhower's military-industrial complex address, they feared that the protection and administration of a formal empire would require a large navy and a standing army in times of peace—a development feared since the days of American independence as a threat to civilian rule, the only guarantor of democracy in the United States itself. Fourth, they believed that colonialism was self-defeating, always breeding the seeds of its own destruction. Sbme pointed to India's resistance to British colonialism in brutal events such as the Sepoy Mutiny; others looked closer to home to America's own southern Reconstruction, which they saw as a form of internal colonialism doomed from the beginning by a southern white backlash. Fifth, and finally, as laissez-faire liberals, they opposed an activist role for the state in market expansion abroad just as they opposed any such role in a free enterprise market at home. Instead, they thought the state should limit its role to lowering the American tariff in the direction of free trade, arguing that the size and attractiveness of the giant American market would encourage other great commercial nations to follow suit. If so, they confidently believed, American economic supremacy would give the United States all the markets that its glutted economy required without the material and spiritual burdens of colonialism, the imperialism of free trade, or informal empire, to borrow oft-used British terms. Imperial expansionists made a strong countercase that colonialism, formal empire, was both desirable and necessary. Historians often point to policy makers such as Albert Beveridge, Henry Cabot Lodge, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and the young Theodore Roosevelt as reflecting this tendency. Setting great store on national honor, personal valor, and the white man's burden, they stressed several arguments. First, since commercial expansion required political stability as a prerequisite, it could only be obtained in underdeveloped countries by the imposition of external power. Their views strongly colored by racism, they believed nonwhite societies were incapable of rising above tribalism to create true nations; thus, they would always be prone to political chaos and social upheaval. Cuba was said to be a case in point as "there are only too strong reasons to fear that, once Spain were withdrawn from the island, the sole bond of union between different factions would disappear; that a war of races would be precipitated."" Second, they argued that free trade, at least for the foreseeable future, could not meet America's needs for market expansion. Like the tango, free trade could not be a solo dance. But the rest of the industrial world showed little inclination to sign that dance card. The drift, instead, was all in the other direction toward protectionism, preferential trading systems, closed empires, and semiclosed spheres of influence. In that context, there seemed to be no alternative to joining in that struggle for empire, a choice that had the added benefit of demonstrating that the United States had arrived as a great power that the world would have to take into account. Third, unlike laissez-faire liberals, they believed in the use of state power to promote expansion, including the use of military force. Indeed, they welcomed the opportunity. Fearful that urbanized, industrial America was becoming too crass and materialistic, perhaps even too soft and effeminate, they hoped that the martial competition for empire would resurrect the lost frontier values of manliness and national honor. Pragmatic expansionists approached the issues of empire in a nonideological, cost-accounting manner. Centered in the big business wing of the Republican Party, policy makers such as William McKinley, Mark Hanna, and Elihu Root sought "imperialism on the cheap" to borrow a British phrase. This entailed taking elements from both their adversaries in the three-cornered debate over tactics. On one hand, they agreed with imperialists that expansionism might well require the threat or use of military force, hence their fervent support of the big navy begun in 1890, a navy focused not on traditional defensive coastal vessels but on wide-ranging battleships and cruisers designed for offensive operations in distant seas. Similarly, they also concurred that immediate, unilateral free trade was impractical while still holding it out as a long-term historical objective, hence their compromise policy of gradually lowering American protective tariffs through bilateral reciprocity agreements (a policy more fully realized by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s). On the other hand, they sawmerit in 72 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS McCormick / From Old Empire to New 73 the basic anti-imperialist opposition to large-scale formal colonialism, though less out of ideological objections than concern for the high costs of colonies. Either colonies cost more to administer and defend than any profits they might produce or they risked alienating a public opinion weaned on the exceptionalist notion that empire building was a European phenomenon alien to the American tradition. Despite these concerns, however, pragmatic expansionists were willing to acquire colonies or protectorates if practical circumstances seemed to require it. One might do so partly to preempt a strategic rival, if the local situation was either so hostile or unstable that U.S. interests could not be protected, or if an area's geographic location was vital to keeping the main trade routes open to major markets—for example, potential isthmian canal routes in Central America, Caribbean islands standing guard over the leeward and windward approaches to such routes, and well-spaced coaling, cable, and naval stations in the Pacific en route to the fabled China market. In short, pragmatic expansionists abided by the old British dictum: "Informal empire where possible, [more] formal empire where necessary." By late 1900, the so-called Great Debate over empire was essentially over, even fading in the last days of the presidential campaign. Pragmatists won it quite handily for two kinds of reasons. First, they were more integrated into the dominant corporate order of the day—an order less under attack from agrarian and urban dissidents once the 189os depression waned in 1897-98. So they simply had more clout of all kinds at their disposal. Second, reality had forced both imperialists and anti-imperialists to modify their principled positions and move toward a pragmatic, centrist common ground. The latter, for example, had discovered that protection of commercial interests sometimes required them to abandon their aversion to the use of force. The second Cleveland administration in the mid-189os confronted such circumstances in dealing with the Brazilian Revolution of 1893-94 and the Venezuelan Crisis of 1895—episodes that led the anti-imperial administration to tell the British that "To-day the United States is practically sovereign on this continent and its fiat is law." In effect, Secretary of State Richard Olney's corollary to the Monroe Doctrine made explicit the imperial implications of that manifesto and in so doing anticipated the Roosevelt Corollary after century's turn. At the same time, however, imperialists began to confront the reality that colonialism could be both dehumanizing and costly as they did in fighting their first colonial war in the Philippines and in confronting the real possibility of a similar war developing in Cuba should America backslide on the Teller Amendment promise of Cuban independence." Between the Spanish-American War and World War I, U.S. expansionism predictably targeted the Caribbean and North Pacific basins, seen by American policy makers as simply two halves of one megaregion connected by the drawbridge of the Panama Canal. The modes of expansionism employed varied from formal to semiformal and informal empire, depending on timing as well as the location, economic development of the object countries. More formal means of control befell the periphery nations of the Caribbean and the North Pacific clustered roughly along the twentieth parallel—Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Hawai'i, Wake Island, Guam, and Luzon. Smaller in size and market potential than major areas such as China and Mexico, their economies were less important to policy makers than their strategic locations." In the initial years between 1898 and 1903, formal empire was the chief instrument employed—that is, formal claims of U.S. sovereignty, military occupation, the imposition of a de facto colonial bureaucracy, control over basic economic and social arrangements, and the exclusion or severe limitation of any indigenous participation. In fundamentals, it was akin to the colonialism-of the British in India, the French in Indochina, or the Dutch in Indonesia. Indeed, their civil governmental forms were modeled after the British "Crown colony" system. Nonetheless, policy makers tried to hide that reality from potential public hostility by choosing not to use the formal term Colonial Office to describe that system, perhaps trying to suggest that U.S. holdings were more akin to semiautonomous territories than outright colonies." Strategic considerations, albeit born of commercial need, dictated that this first stage be mainly colonial in nature. Disadvantaged by Europe's Suez Canal, the United States needed its own cost-saving shortcut to Asian markets—hence the interference in Colombian affairs, the encouragement of a Panamanian Revolution, and the creation of the Canal Zone as a de facto colony in 1903. As subsequent builders of that canal, it needed Caribbean pickets to guard the sea approaches to it—hence Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and the colonization of Puerto Rico. As newcomers to the global game of market competition, the United States needed along its trade routes secure coaling stations, naval bases, and cable relay points, hence Hawai'i, Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines. Being good pragmatists, American policy makers took only what they needed. For example, they declined the Spanish offer to negotiate for all of the Caroline and Mariana Islands, settling simply for the island of Guam. Similarly, President William McKinley and Mark Hanna tried to limit their Philippine acquisition to a "naval base and coaling station" (a "hitching post" at Manila as one cabinet member put it) to project American influence into Asia and took the whole archipelago chiefly out of fear of German and Japanese designs on the islands. In effect, the early 1898-1903 period consisted of an eclectic dose of insular and isthmian imperialism—a formal infrastructure or ground floor on which later, less formal expansion could be built. Sufficient to meet national interest needs, it had the added advantage of making the overseas conquests appear to the American public (and later historians) to be too small to count as a true empire."
size, and It 74 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS McCormick / From Old Empire to New 75 INFORMAL EMPIRE After 1903, semiformal empire became the main mode that filled in any remaining infrastructural gaps, especially in the Caribbean Basin—that is, arrangements commonly termed protectorates, satellites, puppets, client states, and the like. Stung by the experience of colonial war in the Philippines and still concerned about U.S. public opinion, American leaders embraced a safe house halfway between colonialism and independence, though closer to the former. The targeted countries retained nominal, legal independence but one fatally compromised by limitations imposed through American military coercion ("gunboat diplomacy") or financial pressure ("dollar diplomacy"). Those limitations were both financial and political-military in nature. The former usually involved American bankers buying out and refunding a nation's foreign debt so that it was owed solely to an American consortium; imposing forced loans that added to that financial leverage; taking over the collection of customs duties, the major revenue source in such commodity export economies; and requiring the appointment of an American financial adviser or fiscal agent (FA) to both make and implement the national budget, usually making debt repayment to American bankers a top priority. The political-military limitations typically involved longterm naval bases, organization and control of the National Guard, the right of unilateral intervention in case of internal chaos or external threats, and treaty and/or constitutional guarantees of "special relationships" with the United States. The model for such semiformal control was Cuba under the Platt Amendment, imposed in 1902 at the point of a bayonet. With clever variations attuned to local circumstances, similar arrangements were made in the Antilles with Haiti and the Dominican Republic and in Central America with Nicaragua and Honduras. Most of those semicolonial relationships remained operative for decades until the 193os Good Neighbor policy modified or ended them. Most were used . as well to legitimize periodic American interventions, often multiple ones such as the three in Cuba in 1906,1912, and 1917, and often long-term ones such as the nineteen-year occupation of Haiti. Before 1917, some used an alleged German strategic threat as justification, but interventions continued apace after World War I simply substituting implicitly race-based rationales such as the paternalistic "Moral Uplift" program in Haiti." Colonies and protectorates, however, were principally important as means to a more important end—the economic penetration of heavily populated, emerging market areas such as Mexico and China. While still economically weak, such countries had the potential to become major profit makers for goods and capital if their politics could be stabilized in the hands of propertied regimes hospitable to foreign capital, if a modern railroad system could be built that would produce an integrated national market rather than fragmented local ones, if their agriculture could be commercialized and their mining mechanized so they could export and earn enough to pay for increased imports of foreign goods, and if, in like vein, they could develop cruder forms of labor-intensive manufacturing whose semifinished exports could not only earn foreign exchange but be fabricated into higher value products in core country factories. The mode of expansion into such emerging markets was informal empire— what some have called "open door imperialism" or "the imperialism of free trade." In this mode, the major means of control are largely economic and the chief actors are not the state but private American traders and investors, albeit backed by government influence and military power if need be. Informal empire is a tricky concept that has to be used with some care. Trade and investment, after all, are not inherently exploitative or imperial in nature. So certain conditions must obtain for it is a plausible concept. For example, the exports of the developing country must be sold largely into the market of a single, core, developed country and the terms of trade must favor the latter (e.g., it takes the export of more and more primary commodities to purchase the same amount of finished products from the core country). Similarly, core country capitalists must control the industries that service that trade (banking, insurance, and shipping), the infrastructure of the developing country (its railroads and gas, electric, and telephone services), and, finally, the plantations and mines that produce the primary commodities for export." Until revolution made a surprise appearance after 1910, Mexico had seemed to be the perfect embodiment of informal empire. Since 1876, the dictator Porfirio Diaz had imposed stability through both co-optation and repression. Moreover, he and his positivist advisers had embraced an ambitious scheme of modernization but one based on the assumption that only foreign capital, technology, and entrepreneurship could bring Mexico into the twentieth century. This open door for all things foreign, coupled with U.S. proximity and power, was to transform Mexico into an American economic dependency as subordinate to the United States as it had been to Spain in the eighteenth century or Great Britain in the nine°G 1 teenth. Its trade flowed overwhelmingly to and from the United States. Its peso was pegged to the American dollar, a vulnerability for which it paid dearly in the Panic of 1907. Its railroads, built and consolidated by railroad tycoons such as E. H. Harriman, ran north and south between Mexican mines and the American market, breaking promises to build a true a national grid east and west as well. The mines themselves passed under the control of the Guggenheims, Dodges, and other mining magnates, who repatriated both the profits and the products back to the United States. Mexico's infant oil industry, soon to be the second largest in the world behind America's own, came to be dominated by John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon, John Gates, William E Buckley Sr., and other American capitalists, who . outmuscled British rivals for control. Finally, Mexico financed its ambitious 76 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS McCormick / From Old Empire to New 77 development schemes through American bank loans, encountering the country's first, though hardly last, debt trap. As early as 190o, the two billion dollars in foreign capital exceeded total indigenous capital in Mexico, and half of that was American, more than the British, German, Spanish, and French combined." Informal empire, like globalization today, carried a high price tag for both Mexico and the United States. For Mexico, it came in the form of business cycle volatility, increasing income inequality between classes and regions, massive movements of people displaced by both market forces and government fiat, and racial tensions exacerbated by an elite government imbued with a social Darwinists mind-set. All played causative roles in the Mexican Revolution. And that was the price the United States paid. While the dynamics of that Revolution no doubt emanated largely from Mexican society itself, it was powerfully fueled by xenophobic antiforeignism, especially anti-Americanism. That price came in two installments. Between 1910 and 1917, it came in the form of a great power threat to U.S. hegemony in Mexico. As Frederich Katz described it, it was a "secret war" among the United States, Germany, and Great Britain as each supplied arms and money to various revolutionary factions, attempting to use them as proxies to reshape post-Porfirian Mexico in ways that would benefit their national interests. Germany was America's major concern, but even Great Britain, heavily dependent on Mexican fuel oil for its Royal Navy, found that its interests did not always jibe with those of the United States. On occasion, it was a not very secret war as the U.S. occupation of Veracruz and the later Pershing expedition were to demonstrate." World War I ended the foreign threat to American dominance, but Mexico itself became a threat after 1917 when its new Constitution seemed to herald a radical turn to the left by the Revolution. Especially troubling was Article XXVII of that Constitution, which posited that subsoil mineral rights belonged exclusively to the Mexican people and could only be exploited by capitalists, foreign and domestic, on such terms as the people's representative, the Mexican state, might choose to allow. Directed primarily at American oil interests and using the threat of nationalization as a lever, Mexico attempted to restructure American investments in ways that would ensure the Mexican government a greater say in production policies and a greater share of profits. Tame by today's standards, the effort generated fierce resistance from the U.S. government and the powerful industry lobby, the American Petroleum Producers in Mexico (APPM). The battle would be waged for a two decades, until 1938, when Mexico won a symbolic but shallow victory, finally nationalizing an aging oil industry that held less promise for U.S. oil interests than did reserve lands elsewhere in the world. By the post–World War II era, however, the dominant party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), had institutionalized the Mexican Revolution into a PRI-controlled corporatism, and this fact, coupled with American's unrivaled
rj global power, would mark a return to informal empire status. As before, it would prove to be a problematic status for both parties, as several debt crises, the uneven operation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the explosive issue of immigration would demonstrate." . If informal empire was a recurring reality in Mexico, it appeared to be simply an obsessive hope in China—and an unlikely one at that. After all, China's imperial dynasty wobbled on its last legs, offering none of the political stability necessary for market development. China's tragic experiences with outside powers (e.g., the Opium Wars, the unequal treaties, race-based immigration exclusions, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and the great power partitioning that followed in 1897) hardly made it hospitable to their presence and influence. And the obstacles to economic development were staggering, especially the absence of an integrated railroad network, the neglect of river and harbor infrastructure, and a system of internal tariffs that discouraged the movement of goods from province to province or region to region. Those barriers notwithstanding, American leaders remained mesmerized by the sheer numbers in the world's most populous country; by the success that some American exports, such as kerosene, cigarettes, and textiles, already enjoyed; and by the belief that the United States enjoyed a special relationship with China not only because of private American initiatives there by missionaries, social reformers, and academics but because American diplomatic opposition to the partitioning of China seemed to stand in sharp relief to European and Japanese imperialism." The resulting optimism, however guarded, was shared not only by state policy makers but by the big business interests that often prodded them (e.g., the National Association of Manufacturers, investors in the American China Development Company, the Cramp Shipyards, Standard Oil, the British American Tobacco Company, and a host of railroad builders and speculators). To translate the dream of the China market into reality, the United States had to overcome one fundamental liability: it was a latecomer to the power struggle already in progress. By 1897, Germany, France, Russia, and Japan had begun to carve China's coastal provinces into de facto colonies, exercising exclusive rights in commerce, railroads, mining, and banking. Even Great Britain, the traditional champion of an open door for trade and investment, began to backslide on its commitment. To overcome this weakness, the United States had to do three things. First, it had to find a way to project American military force into the western Pacific to lend greater weight to its policies. Conquering the Philippines with seventy thousand troops and building on the old Spanish naval base at Subic Bay sought to do exactly that. The Philippines were to be the American Hong Kong, both an entrepOt to the China market and a staging ground for the American military—a fact that seemed to be validated by the ability of the United States to dispatch five thousand troops to North China (with ten thousand more at the 78 PART 1. EXPLORING IMPERIAL TRANSITIONS McCormick / From Old Empire to New 79 ready) to help suppress the 1901 Boxer Rebellion while simultaneously acting as a check on the ambitions of other great powers. Second, the United States had to find ways to make its goods more cost competitive in the China market. Lowering transportation costs by using the new Panama Canal was the most obvious way, but from time to time there were also imaginative efforts to tie the American heartland to Northeast Asia more directly, chiefly by connecting America's northern transcontinental railroads to the new Manchurian railroads via packet shipping lines out of Seattle. Finally, the United States had to persuade the other great powers that partitioning and colonizing were counterproductive and informal empire, collectively pursued, was a far superior way to develop and profit from the China market." Formal and semiformal control, argued the Americans, would further exacer- it bate Chinese sensibilities and fuel a Chinese nationalism heavily laden with xenophobia. The result would be yet greater political instability. Moreover, it • would tend to perpetuate the status quo of a China fragmented into many local and regional markets, retarding China's modernization and the overall size of its market potential. Finally, imperial rivalry among the great powers would encourage China to play one power against another, heightening the possibility that the scramble for spheres of influence in China might lead to Armageddon-4 the great war between the powers that many feared would begin not in the Balkans but in Asia. The American substitute for this great power scramble was an updated version of Britain's old Open Door policy for China. Rather that divvying up China into colonies or spheres of influence, the Chinese state and territorial integrity would be kept intact both to assuage nationalist feelings and enhance ChinA purchasing power through integration of a truly national market. Rather thari opting for exclusive trading privileges in spatially constrained spheres, the great powers would compete on an equal playing field where all would pay the same. trade tariffs and railroad rates. What would ultimately distinguish the American Open Door policy from Britain's was the effort to expand it from a commercial concept to a financial one as well—an open door for investment in railroads, mines, bank loans, and the like. In practical terms, that meant funneling inves0. ment and loans into China through some sort of international clearinghous e for example, the first China Consortium of international bankers in 1912 and the , second China Consortium in 1919. In other words, informal empire, as a meanty of penetrating China, would be done collectively by the United States, Europ#4, and Japan—a kind of G-7 approach. The social Democratic theorist Karl Kautsky would refer to it as "ultra - imperialism"--the "cartelization" of foreign policij _I through a "holy alliance of imperialists."" This venture in collectivized informal empire never materialized despite sotnq innovative American efforts to make it happen. Like Mexico (and Russia, anoth0 emerging market economy), China had its own revolution, one in which antiforeignism and anti-imperialism again played a key role. Coupled with the distractions of two world wars and the Great Depression, interspersed with rounds of Japanese imperialism in the second decade of the century and again in the 193os, revolutionary China was never stable or attractive enough to encourage systematic Western initiatives, cooperative or otherwise.
CONCLUSION Nonetheless, this failed experiment in China provided the intellectual framework for much of the American expansionism of the twentieth century. Woodrow Wilson's internationalism was, in essence, an attempt to globalize this Open Door approach. And, while the preconditions for its realization were not yet sufficient in the post—World War I period, they would come to pass in the cold war that followed World War II. No longer challenged by any great capitalist power, and blessed with a convenient threat in the Soviet empire, hegemonic America now possessed the power "to begin the world again" and bring into being a new wave of globalization to replace the British-led one that had died at the turn of the century. Multilateralism was to be the order of the day backed by American military might, if need be, to enforce the rules of the game in Korea, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Panama, Iraq, and the like. It was an order, however, dependent on the perverse stability of the cold war. And when that war ended and the manifest shortcomings of globalization produced their own backlash, it would ironically be the United States itself that abandoned informal empire and reverted to war, military occupation, permanent bases, and, most likely, long-term protectorates. As a consequence, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq had, by 2007, begun to look less like the post—World War II occupation of Germany and Japan, as the U.S. president claimed, than it did the 5qost-1898 occupation of Cuba and the Philippines. Perhaps it also suggested ;'.more generally that great powers in decline, like great powers on the make, are rarely happy with the status quo and much inclined to use whatever means are necessary to alter it in their favor. ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/22/2011 for the course AFPRL 103 taught by Professor Melendez during the Spring '11 term at CUNY Hunter.
- Spring '11
- The American