Woodrow W. Bush: Been There, Done That
by Morgan Reynolds
to compare GWB to? Nixon? There are similarities in terms of reckless
Republican domestic policies but it’s not a tight fit on foreign
policy. The realpolitik of the Nixon-Kissinger team who inherited
the Kennedy-Johnson Vietnam mess differs substantially from the
millenialism of…why yes, Woodrow Wilson, that’s the one.
are plentiful. Woodrow Wilson was a southerner, the first elected
since Zachary Taylor in 1849. The former Princeton professor and
president and New Jersey governor had "…a self-regarding arrogance
and smugness, masquerading as righteousness, which was always there
and which grew with the exercise of power," historian Paul
Johnson wrote. In 1912 Wilson won with 41.8 percent of the vote,
the lowest winning percentage since Lincoln’s 39.9 percent in 1860.
Wilson then won the 1916 election on a neutrality platform, although
Wilson embraced force whenever he believed, as he always did, that
he had truth, justice and the American way on his side. He intervened
militarily, for example, in Mexico (1914), Haiti (1915) and the
Dominican Republic (1916).
was not an international expert and so he told friends before his
inauguration in 1913, ‘It would be an irony of fate if my administration
had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.’ Yet this tender moment
of modesty was exceptional. In 1912 he wowed the public with the
vision (hallucination?) thing: "I believe that God planted
in us the visions of liberty…that we are chosen and prominently
chosen to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall
walk in the paths of liberty." It would be politically incorrect
to bloviate the same rhetoric today but, as a born-again believer,
it would hardly surprise if Bush confided as much privately.
gets worse. Wilson famously said that the world must be made safe
for democracy but today’s neocons and Bush’s speechwriters have
lots more to crib from. Ol’ Woodrow said that we shall fight "for
democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have
a voice in their own governments…a concert of free peoples as shall
bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself
at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes,
everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride
of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged
to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her
birth and happiness and the peace she has treasured. God helping
her, she can do no other."
Love that lost blood and treasure. One of his worst lies, however,
was Wilson waxing on at Mount Vernon, of all places, claiming, "We
are in this war to fulfill the promise of [the founders’] vision;
having achieved our own liberty we are to strive for the liberties
of every other people as well." Maybe I’ve missed something
but at least Bush hasn’t placed his foreign policy in the original
tradition of no entangling alliances and nonintervention.
"servant-nation" theory failed rather badly, condemning
millions to the horrors of the twentieth century. "Wilson transformed
the worthy principle of liberty for us into the limitless and bloody
promise of liberty for all," historian Richard Gamble writes.
"And he aimed this policy at Central Europe with devastating
and lasting consequences." I wonder, can the limitless Bush
and company produce comparable unintended consequences in the Middle
East and Asia?
not because public opinion won’t embrace the invade-and-occupy strategy
for long. The benefit-cost ratio worsens daily and that implies
resource constraints soon will bind. Even the warmongers at the
Weekly Standard sense this. Its lead editorial this week,
titled "An Administration of One," slobbers all over the
"grand strategy" speech in England in which "the
president made the promotion of democracy his central theme."
Funny, I don’t remember that to justify invading Iraq. Oh well.
Yet editorialists Robert Kagan and William Kristol lament "just
how little the president’s own advisers understand what’s at stake
in Iraq." Bush "has placed himself at the level of Reagan
and Truman," although Bush has an odd problem: how to explain
"his strategy to his own cabinet and commanders and insist
that they begin implementing it."
he can erase doubts and rally his team by invading Syria. Then on
to Iran? Then he’d probably be promoted to the level of Woodrow
Wilson. Let’s hope constraints bind before the editors put Bush’s
leadership on a par with Saint Abraham.
Reynolds [send him mail],
retired professor of economics at Texas A&M University and former
chief economist, US Department of Labor, lives in Hot Springs Village,
© 2003 LewRockwell.com