A navy second to none exceeded the Mahanian standard. So much the better from Roosevelt’s standpoint if a naval accord could be brokered to lock in parity with Great Britain’s Royal Navy and superiority over the Imperial Japanese Navy—as indeed an arms-control treaty negotiated in Washington, DC did by 1922. The Washington Naval Conference, then, may well have gone forward under TR in much the same way it did under Warren Harding. Roosevelt would have been entirely comfortable with the pact—again, provided he satisfied himself that it was enforceable and thus worth more than the scrap of parchment on which it was inscribed.
So . . . my guesswork is that a Theodore Roosevelt v2.0 presidency would have proved less eventful than purveyors of alt-history might posit. It would have taken herculean politicking for him to make it back to the Oval Office in the first place. And if he did, he would have found the political climate far less congenial than in 1901–1909, when he headed an established political party and could use that leverage to move initiatives through Congress. In short, the President Roosevelt of the 1920s would have been an incremental—not revolutionary—chief magistrate.
A status quo presidency? That prospect would dismay the Colonel.
James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and the author of Theodore Roosevelt and World Order (2006). The views voiced here are his alone.