The Spectacle Blog

Henry Cabot Lodge: Isolationist? Not Exactly

By on 6.29.11 | 3:59PM

While discussing the "new" fissures in the GOP over foreign policy (they're not, especially on Iraq and Afghanistan, but hey! Whatever), Alex Roarty at National Journal offers this:

But the shattering of that consensus isn't revealing new divisions within the party as much as laying bare old ones. Dating back to Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, R-Mass.-who took on Democratic President Wilson over the League of Nations and won-an isolationist strain has always run through the party, even if it remained on the fringes. The more prominent battle within the GOP, however, has been between Republicans arguing for aggressive foreign intervention, as President Reagan did, or those wary of overseas involvement and promoting a more pragmatic view, like President Nixon.

Look, I know how it goes. You're on deadline, you're writing your piece, and you figure a bit of historical color would help. Because you think the opposite of "isolationist" is the internationalist technocracy of Woodrow Wilson, you flip to Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia Britanni-whatever, or even the notes you took from your authoritative professor who probably specialized in Wilsonianism, and go, "Ah, Henry Cabot Lodge, you're an isolationist Republican -- let's thrust you into the discussion!"

I kid, actually, because even Wikipedia has Lodge's position on foreign affairs correct.

Lodge wasn't exactly an isolationist anymore that Reagan was. Lodge championed intervention in Cuba as a moral obligation:

Of the sympathies of the American people, generous, liberty-loving, I have no question. They are with the Cubans in their struggle for freedom. I believe our people would welcome any action on the part of the United States to put an end to the terrible state of things existing there. We can stop it. We can stop it peacefully. We can stop it, in my judgment, by pursuing a proper diplomacy and offering our good offices. Let it once be understood that we mean to stop the horrible state of things in Cuba and it will be stopped. The great power of the United States, if it is once invoked and uplifted, is capable of greater things than that.

He also called for the annexation of the Phillippines, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. He was so involved in foreign affairs, he was actually a part of the "imperialist faction" of the U.S. Senate -- he was the first chairman of the Committee on the Phillippines, where he constantly argued with the anti-imperialists -- such as George Frisbie Hoar (also a Republican, and I assume reporters never cite him as the preeminant GOP isolationist because he was dead only a few years into the century). (But seriously, look at those chops.) (Also, now you can call any isolationist you actually encounter a "Hoar." You're welcome.)

So why do people always turn to Lodge's so-called isolationism? For two reasons: Immigration and his refusal to support the Treaty of Versailles. But his stance on immigration wasn't particularly unusual for the time -- most politicians supported immigration restrictions in one form or another, leading to the Immigration Act of 1917.

So we're left with Lodge's refusal to support the Treaty of Versailles as most popular example of his isolationism. Lodge understood the treaty to subjugate American sovereignty to the plight of other nations -- which was appropriate, given that secret alliances in Europe were the actual cause of World War I in the first place. This helps to shed light on what actually prompted his disagreement: Article X of the treaty allowed for the League of Nations to determine American involvement in a war.

The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In the case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.

Refusing to allow American soldiers to fall under the command of a committee of other nations hardly sounds isolationist. And besides, Lodge was willing to work with pro-Treaty Democrats to pass a treaty with reservations, one that excluded Article X. But Wilson refused the offer.

Roarty isn't the first journalist to make this error. But it is a similar error to when people refer to former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton as an isolationist, despite his work at reforming the United Nations (that earned plaudits from the New York Times) and providing aid to Africa. Pushing America's goals into the international stage isn't isolationism: It's recognizing the American principle of government of the people. by the people, and for the people.

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