The Monroe Doctrine, adopted by the U.S. government in 1823, reflected the country’s bitterness and showed American immigrants turning their backs on the old European world of their ancestors. The principle of the doctrine states that America is isolated from the old world and this new world is immune to the influence of Europe. This was intended as an expression of neutrality toward the old continent and its turmoil and wars. In practice, the Monroe Doctrine continued to be applied until April 6, 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany and subsequently entered World War I.
Between Jan. 13 and March 28, 1917, Leon Trotsky lived in the United States before returning to Russia and leading the October Revolution with Lenin. Trotsky wrote the following impression of America, “It is a fact that the economic life of Europe is being shattered to its foundations, while American wealth is growing. As I look enviously at New York — I who have not ceased to feel like a European — I wonder anxiously, ‘Will Europe be able to stand all this? Will it not decay and become little better than a graveyard? And will not the world’s economic and cultural centers of gravity shift to America?’” (Isaac Deutscher, “The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921”, Verso, 2003)
Shortly thereafter, Washington entered the war in Europe and cast aside the Monroe Doctrine. This was not merely so President Woodrow Wilson could act as the “savior” and “reformer” he had hoped to be, but also because there was a growing sense that Washington should lead the world, including the land of its European ancestors. The role of the American president at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles and then the establishment of the League of Nations was guided by that premise. However, French and British Prime Ministers George Clemenceau and Lloyd George ended up imploding Wilson’s vehicle for diplomacy. Then, American isolationists further blocked the president’s plan when they rejected American membership in the League of Nations in 1920. They considered membership a violation of American sovereignty, and the Monroe Doctrine was declared victorious once again.
Whoever has read Churchill’s memoirs can sense the frantic attempts by the British prime minister, between when he took office in 1940 and the Japanese attack on the American fleet in Pearl Harbor in 1941, which drew Washington into World War II against Hitler and the Japanese. President Franklin Roosevelt had been withdrawn and afraid of the American isolationists who occupied a large part of the American political landscape, public opinion and the press. The isolationists were against Roosevelt, just as they had been against Wilson, with most of them in the Republican Party. Berlin had also been busy in America in the two years leading up to the attack, in order to keep Washington out of the conflict. Had it not been for what transpired in Pearl Harbor, the Americans would never have been involved in World War II. The day of the attack was the day of the death of the Monroe Doctrine and the beginning of a tilting of the scales in favor of the United States and the Soviet Union against Hitler and the Japanese. Starting in 1947, Washington led the Western Europeans in the Cold War against Moscow until victory was achieved over the Kremlin with the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. From that point on, America has led an era of singular American power.
Washington did not face any downsides to leading the Western Europeans against the Soviets, except from French President Charles de Gaulle, who wanted French independence from American hegemony. The U.S. also experienced pushback from West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who feared American National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger so much that his policies in the 1970–1973 period would lead to recognition of Germany’s post-WWII borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia and then Bonn’s surprise recognition of East Germany and its rapprochement with Moscow. However, since 1970, the Americans have worked with the Kremlin in bilateral talks as part of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks I, which took place in 1972, in order to draw up a policy of international accord between the American and Soviet superpowers. Other than these two cases, Western Europeans have been obedient under Washington’s leadership.
In the post-Cold War era, the Europeans were more united in their backing of the Americans, and we saw how Barack Obama exercised what he himself described as “leading from behind” in the NATO operation in Libya in 2011, spearheaded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and also falling to the back during the Syrian crisis. The Europeans have supported Washington without cacophony. In the French military operation against Islamic militants in Mali in early 2013, Paris was acting as an agent of Washington. But when French President Emmanuel Macron, after the bombing* of the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, considered developing an independent and separate French policy vis-a-vis Lebanon, the Americans intervened. Then, under the AUKUS alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia formed as a military-security alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, on Sept. 15, 2021, Australia canceled its French submarine deal. Instead, it would replace it with nuclear-fueled submarines with the cooperation of Washington and London. The French president could feel the extent of the marginalization by the Americans toward the Europeans in light of the pivot of the global economy toward East Asia.
The focus had been on the Western European shore of the Atlantic since the defeat of the Ottomans by the Spaniards and the Venetian Republic in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, and then the defeat of the Spanish by the English in the Battle of the Armada in 1588. That is, until the economic leadership of the Western European world moved from London to New York in 1944 with the Bretton Woods agreement. Perhaps, in this context, America’s marginalization of the Europeans has increased after the increased fragility of European security in the post-Russian-Ukrainian war period since Feb. 24, 2022. The extent of the fragility of the old continent when it comes to the issue of oil and gas has become clear, with Moscow providing 40% of the gas and 25% of the oil to European Union countries. Moreover, it is likely that this American marginalization of the old continent will increase with the emerging European panic about the “Russian danger” in the post-war period. This could lead to panic in a European-Russian rift, of which Washington will be the biggest beneficiary. This is an rift, unprecedented since the reign of Peter the Great, 1682-1725, who led Russia’s opening to the European West.
*Editor’s note: In August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut in the capital city of Lebanon exploded. There was no bombing.