Introduction: The Sovereignty Wars
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1 ONE Introduction The Sovereignty Wars On the eve of March 19, 1919, 3,000 lucky ticket holders gathered in Bos­ ton’s Symphony Hall for one of the most eagerly anticipated debates in American history. The question posed was ­ whether the United States should approve the Covenant of the League of Nations and become one of its found­ ing members. Arguing in the affirmative was A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University. In the negative was Henry Cabot Lodge of Mas­ sa­ chu­ setts, the Senate majority leader. Interest in the debate was intense, both in the United States and abroad. And rightfully so. A month earlier President Woodrow Wilson and fellow negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference had presented humanity with an ambitious scheme to safeguard international peace. In the wake of the ­ Great War, the idea of the League had captured the world’s imagination. More than 72,000 Americans had applied to attend what A. J. Philpott of the Boston Eve­ning Globe called “the greatest debate staged in this country in 50 years.” Below the event stage, telegraph operators prepared to dispatch the speakers’ remarks instantaneously around the country and across the Atlantic.1 For the United States, League membership would imply reversing its his­ torical aversion to formal international commitments. Less than a month earlier Wilson had returned from France aboard the George Washington—­ christened for Amer­ i­ ca’s first president who, as irony would have it, had cau­ tioned the United States to “steer clear of any permanent alliances.” Wilson 01-3159-7_ch1.indd 1 9/11/17 1:09 PM 2 THE SOVEREIGNTY WARS himself had disembarked in Boston, promising throngs of well-­ wishers to seek speedy ratification of the Covenant. Four days ­later, Lodge had begun his own campaign to defeat it. The Lodge-­Lowell debate was but one engagement in what became a titanic­ battle over the League of Nations, still the most divisive, dramatic, and conse­ quential controversy in nearly two and a half centuries of U.S. foreign policy. Many issues ­were at stake. But the core issue was national sovereignty—­namely, the ­ future of the United States as an in­ de­ pen­ dent republic, endowed with freedom of action and capable of shaping its own destiny. Three questions ­were front and center, and they can be summarized ­ under the headings of authority, autonomy, and influence. First, was League membership consistent with the system of government established ­ under the U.S. Constitution, including the liberties of the American ­people and the separation of powers? Second, would new commitments ­ under the League expand or constrain Amer­ i­ ca’s tradi­ tional freedom of action, both abroad and at home? Third, as a practical­ matter, would League membership help or hinder U.S. efforts to remain master of its own fate? Lurking ­ behind ­ these three queries was a fourth: How should the United States balance ­ these objectives of authority, autonomy, and influence? One hundred years ­ later the concerns and dilemmas that Lodge and Low­ ell confronted in 1919 have rarely been more topical. Americans are once again debating just what role the United States should play in a complex, shrinking, and unsettling world that brings dangers and risks, as well as op­ portunities, closer to its shores. For nearly three-­ quarters of a ­ century, dating from World War II, the United States shouldered the mantle of global leader­ ship, in effect managing world order. But ­today many Americans have wearied of this role and have endorsed a narrower, more self-­ interested posture that looks out for Amer­i­ca and Americans first—­even as transnational threats like climate change, terrorism, and infectious disease cry out for international cooperation. How should the United States navigate between the practical need to go it with ­ others and its instincts for in­ de­ pen­ dence? What external commitments should it make, what constraints should it accept, to advance a rule-­ bound international order? Revisiting the Lodge-­ Lowell encounter is compelling for another reason. In our own anxious ­ century, debates over American sovereignty generate more noise than understanding, with the shrillest voices—­ typically exagger­ ating the costs of global integration—­garnering the most attention. What has been missing is a thoughtful and ultimately more hopeful discussion about the real (as opposed to imaginary) trade-­ offs the nation needs to consider as it 01-3159-7_ch1.indd 2 9/11/17 1:09 PM Introduction 3 seeks to reconcile its constitutional in­ de­ pen­ dence...