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  • The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.-Soviet Relations
  • Ivan Kurilla
Donald E. Davis and Eugene P. Trani . The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.-Soviet Relations. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002. 360 pp. $42.50.

U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1940s swung from amity to hostility—from wartime alliance to intense confrontation after World War II. The Soviet presence in Eastern Europe coupled with the rapid evolution of the international system made it difficult for historians to find precedents in the past. However, there was a period of a similarly dramatic volte-face—the period that began with the U.S.-Russian alliance in World War I and ended with U.S. military intervention in Russia to dislodge the new Bolshevik regime.

This book by two distinguished scholars—Donald E. Davis of Illinois State University and Eugene P. Trani, the president of Virginia Commonwealth University—provides an admirable survey of Soviet-American relations during that formative era. The authors begin with a gloomy description of U.S. policy toward Russia on the eve of World War I: the recent abrogation of a commercial treaty, the lack of a permanent ambassador, and the reliance on "amateur" consuls—a combination that Davis and Trani rightly characterize as an "unpromising start" (p. 13). The first chapter is devoted to Woodrow Wilson's policy toward Russia during World War I. Davis and Trani claim that the only "bright light in an otherwise dismal record for the Wilson administration's Russian policy" (p. 34) was the timely recognition of the provisional government after the removal of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917.

Davis and Trani next discuss the activities of the two delegations sent to Russia by the U.S. government in 1917, one headed by Elihu Root to deal with political issues and the other by John F. Stevens to deal with railways. Neither delegation was able to provide sufficient help to the provisional government. Root had no knowledge of Russia, and Stevens knew "railroads but little else." Moreover, Stevens's railroads commission worked independently of Root's delegation, decreasing its efficiency. The authors insist that the two missions delayed "a quick and firm U.S. policy to aid Russia [End Page 192] on a grand scale," and, as a result, Woodrow Wilson lost an opportunity "of gargantuan proportions and consequences" (pp. 56–57). Instead of formulating "a vigorous policy," the president relied on "delay and further ambiguity" (p. 35).

Davis and Trani argue that U.S. policy toward the Bolshevik government immediately after the seizure of power was largely devoid of substance. Of three possible alternatives—"watching and waiting," contacting the Bolsheviks and urging them to stay in the war, or declaring grounds for non-recognition of the new regime—Wilson's administration chose watching and waiting (p. 73). The first attempts at formulating U.S. policy toward the Bolshevik regime were made in December 1917. U.S. diplomats contacted the Bolshevik military commissar Leon Trotsky as well as anti-Bolshevik forces in the south of Russia. Alternatives to a "do-nothing" policy were proposed at that time, including the option of supporting a counterrevolution, as advocated by the European allies, or of offering "an olive branch to the Bolsheviks" (p. 99) in the hope of keeping them in the war. This latter option was supported by U.S. diplomats Raymond Robbins and William V. Judson, but President Wilson was "intrigued" by his friend Colonel Edward House's suggestion to wage a propaganda campaign in Russia appealing to ideals and speaking directly to the Russian people "while bypassing the Bolsheviks" (p. 99).

Wilson's Fourteen Points of 8 January 1918 were heavily influenced by the events in Russia. Point VI was devoted specially to the situation there, calling for evacuation of Russian territory in order to give the Russian people the chance for self-determination and to test Russia's policy of "goodwill, unselfishness, and understanding" (p. 107). However, the new German offensive and the Anglo-French debates about a mandate for Japanese occupation of the Russian Far East caused Wilson's test to fail by the...