Saturday, October 10, 2015

Coolidge's Foreign Policy

The foreign policy of Calvin Coolidge might be described as located between the extremes of isolationism and internationalism. He saw the need for American engagement, and oversaw Frank Kellogg and Charles Dawes as they developed the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Dawes Plan, respectively.

Yet Coolidge knew that the nation was weary after Woodrow Wilson had dragged it through WWI and the ensuing diplomatic entanglements of Versailles and the League of Nations. Wilson had been elected on a platform of keeping America out of the war, but he’d ultimately been unable to resist the attraction of the extraordinary powers which he would exercise as a wartime leader.

Therefore, Coolidge engaged diplomatically, but did not commit the United States militarily or in any way which, like the League of Nations, would compromise its national sovereignty.

The years of the Coolidge administration included significant foreign policy challenges, from efforts to ameliorate the problematic provisions of the Versailles Treaty, to the disconcerting awareness of Japan’s growing militaristic nationalism; from emergence of the Soviet Union as it replaced the Czarist dynasty to the irruption of civil war in China as the communists sought power.

There were, naturally, critics: some saw Coolidge as too engaged, and there was a vocal isolationist minority who doubted his decisions. But the voters overwhelming affirmed Coolidge and returned him to office, manifesting the will of the majority. Historian David Greenberg writes:

He ultimately declined to recognize the Communist government of the Soviet Union, and his policy toward the internal strife and rising anti-Western sentiment in China was uncertain and reactive. Coolidge, however, was no isolationist. Rather, his cautious temperament disinclined him from making bold ventures. He governed, moreover, at a moment when the public has lost its patience for the swashbuckling of a Roosevelt or the internationalism of a Wilson. Indeed, the president’s critics on foreign affairs were mainly those men who distrusted his internationalist forays altogether, from the Dawes Plan in his first term to his efforts to join the World Court in his second. He was fighting isolationism, not carrying its banner.

The voters seemed to like Coolidge’s foreign policy because, on the one hand, he avoided the extremes of isolationism and Wilsonian adventurism, and other the other hand, he engaged diplomatically while firmly maintaining national sovereignty.