Wilson in the Mirror

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It
was early in the new century, and an American President with fundamentalist
Christian values declared war upon a foreign ideology. He took the
nation to war to fulfill America’s mission to make the world safe
for democracy, and to free oppressed peoples in developing nations.

That
was President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson’s personal belief system would
plunge an unwilling nation into World War I with the loss of untold
lives, domestic liberties and capital. President Bush lends credence
to the adage that history repeats itself. The men, their ideologies
and their policies are eerily similar.

Both
men left state governorships to ascend to the White House at the
beginning of new centuries. Both men came from white Protestant
backgrounds, although President Bush’s zeal for fundamental Christian
values became an acquired taste. Both men were graduates of Ivy
League institutions. One can only speculate as to how much better
off the nation would be if the comparisons ended there. Tragically,
they do not. President Bush appears to be embarked upon the same
delusional path as his predecessor was at the turn of the last century.

One
author describes this peculiar mindset as Gnosticism. This description
accurately captures both Wilson and Bush. "They tend to divide
the world into two camps — light and dark — and to interpret all
political disagreements and wars as absolute struggles between the
kingdom of God and the forces of Satan. Ordinary war becomes the
Last Judgment, every battle becomes Armageddon." (Reassessing
the Presidency
, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2001, Woodrow
Wilson’s Revolution Within The Form, by Richard M. Gamble, p. 416)

Both
men campaigned upon slogans which promised no foreign entanglements.
Wilson’s re-election campaign slogan, "He
kept us out of war,
" is credited with his narrow re-election
victory. Campaigning for election in 2000, George Bush promised
not to send the armed forces abroad for what he called nation
building
, a direct criticism of Clinton’s armed interventions
in Somalia and Yugoslavia. Instead, Bush promised to bring troops
home from their many foreign deployments, leaving nation building
up to the people of those nations.

Within four months of his re-election, Wilson reversed course and
took the nation into the very war he promised to keep the nation
out of. In a bizarre distortion of the nation’s principles, Wilson
argued that entry into the war was an unfulfilled mission of the
Founding Fathers, that it was imperative for America not to hoard
its freedom and liberty but to expand it throughout the globe. In
his April 2, 1917 speech to Congress urging a declaration of war
on Germany, Wilson argued that "The
world must be made safe for democracy."

President
Bush would reverse his campaign promises and take the nation to
war within less than a year of his election to the Presidency. Bush
would draw upon the same themes as Wilson in selling his war to
a reluctant American public. "From the day of our Founding,
we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights,
and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of
the Maker of Heaven and earth…It is the honorable achievement of
our fathers…The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion
of freedom in all the world."

The struggle between tyranny and democracy would preoccupy Wilson,
who became obsessed with defeating what he termed "[a] thing,
not a people." (Ibid at 420) Wilson would not compromise upon
what he viewed as the ultimate battle between good and evil. President
Bush would strike the same chord in his 2005 inaugural address.
"We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because
we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery."

Bush drew a starker line by demanding that the entire world divide
itself into two camps, "Either you are with us or you are with
the terrorists."

Wilson navely equated democracy with peace. "A
steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a
partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could
be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants."
President Bush would ignore decades of history in asserting
that "Free nations don’t wage wars of aggression…Free nations
are peaceful nations."

Bush’s preoccupation with Saddam mirrored Wilson’s obsession with
the Kaiser of Germany. Both men saw their foes as the devil incarnate,
poster boys for the "evil" their crusades were designed
to eliminate throughout the earth. Both Presidents also attempted
to justify the mayhem they would unleash upon the opposing nation
by telling the people of that nation that we had no quarrel with
them, only their leader. Wilson’s apology, "We have no quarrel
with the German people."
President Bush produced a template apology in anticipation of multiple
uses, "The United States respects the people of Afghanistan…
but we condemn the Taliban regime."
"The United States and its coalition partners respect the people
of Iraq….Our only enemy is Saddam’s brutal regime…"
The beleaguered peoples of these nations have no doubt been left
to wonder, "With friends like this, who needs enemies?"

It
can also be argued that despite their public pronouncements to the
contrary, both Wilson and Bush desired a breakup of the nations
they went to war against. Wilson’s target was the Austro-Hungarian
Empire, while Bush sought to end central control and splinter Iraq
into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni cantons. Neither President invented
divide-and-conquer, but both were its willing students.

The
similarities between Wilson and Bush do not end with their foreign
crusades to banish evil from the planet. They also developed tandem
domestic policies which were in part driven by their overly ambitious
foreign adventures. Wilson used the war as his excuse for severely
curtailing domestic dissent and private liberties. The Espionage
Act of 1917
and its counterpart the Sedition
Act of 1918
were written in terms so broad as to make virtually
any criticism of Mr. Wilson’s war a treason punishable by up to
twenty years in prison.

President
Bush would produce the ironically-named Patriot Act to wield against
those who dared oppose his crusade against the evil. More Draconian
than either of Mr. Wilson’s laws, the Patriot Act provides virtually
unlimited powers to the executive to monitor, arrest and imprison
anyone whom the government deems a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer.

Also
common to the agendas of Presidents Wilson and Bush, is an unending
commitment to warfare to achieve their stated goals. As Gamble details,
Wilson was adamant that "u2018There can be no compromise.’ As a
minimal condition of peace, he promised, there must be u2018the destruction
of every arbitrary power anywhere that can separately, secretly
and of its single choice disturb the peace of the world.’"
(Ibid at 418) Bush described his war on terrorism as "a task
that does not end." "This war will not be like the war
against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory
and a swift conclusion….Americans should not expect one battle,
but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen."

Both
Presidents would realize the opposite of their stated goals. Wilson’s
legacy was the rise of Hitler and Stalin, the entrenchment of colonial
rule, a global recession and the deprivation of liberty at home.
Bush is blamed for making America feared and despised across the
globe, giving rise to Islamic-based governments, creating an enhanced
terrorist threat, and abandoning constitutional protections for
Americans. Both Presidents staked their political fortunes upon
their foreign campaigns, which initially saw their poll numbers
soar only to see them plummet once a gullible public finally came
out of its war-induced intoxication.

When
George Bush looks in the mirror is Woodrow Wilson looking back?

May
23, 2006

John
M. Peters [send him mail]
is a practicing attorney in Michigan.

John
M. Peters Archives

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