Will the Bush presidency end as did Wilson’s?
Will George W. Bush be defending to his dying day, against the pitiless evidence of events, his “global democratic revolution”?
Contingent upon what happens in Afghanistan and Iraq, that may well be his fate. For, as Bush’s strength is Wilson’s strength, his flaw is Wilson’s flaw. Both men promised an earthly utopia through liberty and free elections. Both worshipped the golden calf called democracy.
Scholar Marvin Olasky describes Clemenceau’s reaction as Wilson rhapsodized at Versailles about how his vision of self-determination and a League of Nations would realize for mankind its ancient dream of world peace.
“Wilson’s ‘most extraordinary outburst,’ according to Lloyd George, came when he explained the failure of Christianity to achieve its higher ideals. ‘Jesus Christ so far [has] not succeeded in inducing the world to follow His teaching,’ Wilson stated, ‘because He taught the ideal without devising any practical scheme to carry out his aims.’
“In Lloyd George’s account, Clemenceau slowly opened his dark eyes to their widest dimension and swept them around the Assembly to see how the Christians gathered around the table enjoyed this exposure of the futility of their Master.”
As with Wilson, Bush’s belief in the salvific power of free elections has become near-religious. He has told staff he believes that, 50 years from now, he will be remembered for his “forward strategy of freedom.” His inaugural address is to be about liberty. In the Oval Office last week, he elaborated on how democracy was going to transform the Middle East:
“I believe democracy can take hold in parts of the world that have been condemned to tyranny. And I believe when democracies take hold, it leads to peace. That’s been the proven example around the world. Democracies equal peace.”
But is this true? The American republic was the most democratic on earth in 1860 when the Confederate states voted to secede and the Union invaded and crushed them at a cost of 600,000 dead.
Never was democracy more advanced in Europe than in August 1914, when the continent plunged into the bloodiest war in history. The Weimar republic was the most democratic government Germany ever knew. It ushered in Hitler. If Europe is peaceful, is it because she is democratic, or because she bled herself almost to death between 1914 and 1945, and collapsed in exhaustion?
Democracy has taken root in offshore Asia, but not China, Vietnam or Burma. In Africa and the Arab world, there is virtually no democracy. What was there vanished. In Latin America, it has given us Hugo Chavez. Israel is democratic, but she has fought five Arab wars and two intifadas against the Palestinians in half a century. In Ukraine, free elections have given us Yushchenko; in Russia, Putin.
George Bush has wagered his presidency on two wars to introduce democracy to nations that have never known it: Afghanistan and Iraq. But, in such nations, men consign their fortunes to elections only when things they hold far more dear are not imperiled.
The Afghan warlords accept Hamid Karzai because U.S. guns back him up, U.S. aid pours in, and they have been allowed to revive a heroin poppy trade that enriches them. Eradicate the poppy fields and shut down the drug trafficking, and we will discover how committed to democracy the Afghan warlords and their warriors really are.
Ayatollah Sistani favors elections in Iraq because he expects the majority Shia to win and take power. The Sunni, like the South Africans, resist elections because they mean their dispossession. Would the Kurds consign their fate to elections if they knew the Arabs would force them back under Baghdad?
As James L. Payne writes in The American Conservative, it took centuries before a politics of violence gave way to a politics of peace in England. What evidence is there that we can telescope evolution into a few short years in Iraq and Afghanistan?
How did we succeed in Italy, Germany and Japan?
As Payne relates, Mussolini, Hitler and the Japanese militarists of the 1920s and 1930s interrupted long eras of a politics of peace. The process of evolving democracy could be renewed, once the thuggish regimes were removed. But a politics of peace has never existed in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Yet, Bush has gambled his presidency, the lives of our soldiers, the prestige of the U.S. military and our superpower standing in the world on the questionable proposition that democracy will, under our tutelage, take root rapidly in desert soil where it has never sprouted before.
Wilson did not live to see the consequences of the disastrous peace he brought home from Versailles. President Bush, however, will likely reap the fruits, or witness the futility and failure of his great gamble, before he leaves office.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.