The Foreign Service Journal, March 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2024 81 With America out of the picture, an international power vacuum was created, enabling the eventual rise of predatory autocracies. autocracies. The U.S. government would remain on the sidelines as Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany serially invaded other countries from the early 1930s onward. Despite facing intense “America First” pressure at home, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized that the Axis powers presented an acute threat to U.S. security. Kagan vividly relates how the president, going “as far as he thought the American public would allow,” boosted the defense budget and extended assistance to Britain. The account ends with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The “date which will live in infamy” would open the door to a new era of U.S. global engagement. In navigating this complex terrain, Kagan always seems to come up with an illustrative quote. The book’s title, for example, is derived from the following allusion to Shakespeare’s Macbeth made by Harold Nicolson, a British delegate to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919: “The ghastly suspicion that the American people would not honour the signature of their own delegates was never mentioned between us: It became the ghost at all our feasts.” As is the case with most of his writings, a central theme in The Ghost at the Feast is Kagan’s preference for assertive American leadership and the deployment of U.S. capabilities when it can make a difference. He convincingly contends, for instance, that Wilson’s 1917 decision to join the war against “ruthless” Prussian militarism was the right one. Kagan also underscores that America’s sharp inward turn after World War I was a grave mistake because it foreclosed Washington’s ability to shape European events. It’s hard to deny the validity of his conclusion that the “determination” of Americans “in the 1920s and ’30s never to be drawn into a war in Europe again had the effect of depriving them of the means and the mentality necessary to avoid precisely that fate.” Although The Ghost at the Feast is dense with information, the writing is fluid and elegant. It is also a genuine milestone with respect to synthesis and analysis. The endnotes go on for 124 pages and are an authoritative resource in and of themselves, as are the detailed maps and the comprehensive bibliography. Judging by Dangerous Nation and The Ghost at the Feast, there is ample reason to look forward to the author’s concluding installment in his history of U.S. foreign relations. Through his expanding catalog of works, Kagan has demonstrated that he has the stuff to rank among the most accomplished of diplomatic historians. Anyone seeking a deep dive into American statecraft would be wise to turn to his impressive oeuvre. n Joseph L. Novak is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London and a retiree member of the American Foreign Service Association. A former lawyer, he was a Foreign Service officer for 30 years. Washington decided to retain other territories acquired during the war, including the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Placing America’s new imperial role in context, the author comments that it was “small beer” when contrasted with the British Empire, which at the time “stretched across more than 11 million square miles, with colonies on every continent.” Much of the book explores the U.S. response to World War I. Initially, President Woodrow Wilson and a large majority of the American public rejected “entanglements” in Europe and backed neutrality as a policy. The slogan of Wilson’s successful presidential reelection campaign in 1916 was even the emphatically nonbellicose: “He has kept us out of war.” Kagan evocatively describes how American perspectives rapidly shifted due to Germany’s missteps, most notably its resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. By 1917, Wilson was proclaiming his support for a world “made safe for democracy,” and America—newly aligned with Britain and France—was in the war. Cited by Kagan as one of his sources, A. Scott Berg’s 2013 biography of Wilson is essential in understanding the 28th president’s startling transformation from a domestically focused politician to a globally renowned statesman. The next section chronicles how the Senate’s final rejection of the Treaty of Versailles in 1920 ended any chance of the United States assuming postwar multinational security responsibilities. As Kagan observes about the noninterventionist temper of the times: “Americans simply could not conceive of themselves as would-be global hegemons.” With America out of the picture, an international power vacuum was created, enabling the eventual rise of predatory