Adam Tooze in THE DELUGE: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, which I just got finished reading, traced the impact of the emergence of the United States as the world’s dominant superpower and arbiter of world affairs.
He described in great detail the struggles in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan for security and economic stability, and how they all hinged on the action and inaction of the USA.
Leaders of the USA today call our country the “indispensable nation”, and assert the right and the power to be the arbiter of the world. Tooze’s book shows how this self-appointed role began.
The early 20th century USA was a new kind of world power, Tooze wrote. It had a greater area and greater population than any European country except Russia. It was uniquely invulnerable to invasion. It was the world’s leading manufacturing nation, agricultural producer and oil exporter and, as a result of the war, the world’s leading creditor nation. No other country could even come close to matching American power.
Tooze began his history in 1916 because that was when Britain, France and their allies came to realize how much they depended on the United States, not just for supplies, but even more for financing of the war.
Woodrow Wilson’s policy was to use this leverage to dictate a “peace without victory,” a compromise peace based on liberal democracy, international law and—most importantly—a worldwide open door for U.S. commerce.
The United States was not interested in new territorial acquisitions because it didn’t need them. All it wanted was access to other nations’ territories by American business.
Wilson’s neutrality became politically unsustainable because of German attacks on U.S. shipping, and the Zimmerman telegram to Mexico urging reconquest of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, but he still tried to maintain U.S. position as an arbiter above the fray.
His Fourteen Points encouraged liberal democrats around the world. According to Tooze, with better decisions and better luck, there might have been a compromise peace between the pro-democratic Provisional Government of Russia, which came to power in March 1917, and a German government forced to yield to pressure from liberals and socialists in the Reichstag.
But the USA and the other allies pressured Russia’s Provisional Government to go on fighting, and the German army successfully counterattacked. The Russians ceased to hope for peace and the Germans ceased to see a need for peace. Wilsonian liberal movements in China and Japan also received no support, partly because of Wilson’s racism.
Tooze pointed out that the Fourteen Points were all highly consistent with American national interests. The first three points were (1) no secret treaties, (2) freedom of the seas and (3) removal of barriers to equality of trade, all policies that advanced U.S. economic interests.