The View From 1776
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Barack Obama and Woodrow Wilson
There is a striking parallel between the naivete of Senator Obama and President Woodrow Wilson in their expectation of imposing a liberal-progressive model of peace upon a fractious world.
Senator Obama’s faith that his personal diplomacy with our sworn enemies will transform them into reasonable and peaceful partners is as old as American liberal-progressivism. Its most celebrated expression was in the policy of the Democratic Party’s progressive president Woodrow Wilson, pronounced in his April 2, 1917, message to a special session of Congress.
President Wilson, responding to Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare and the sinking without warning of three American ships the previous month, declared:
The world must be made safe for democracy…we shall fight…for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and justice to all nations and make the world itself at last free…
That universal dominion of right and freedom was to be implemented, in President Wilson’s expectation, by the post-war League of Nations. Wilson went to Paris after the war to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, confident that his great personal popularity in the United States and in Europe would convert the world to his vision of peace through civilized diplomatic negotiation of foreign policy conflicts.
Inevitably, the League of Nations was a dismal failure that could only protest fecklessly when the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931 and when Fascist Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1935 , setting the stage for World War II. The root problem, of course, was that the League had no military forces of its own to enforce its resolutions (nor does the UN today).
The UN’s few successes in stopping aggression have only come when the United States took the lead and committed large military forces to the effort. Diplomacy alone in the UN General Assembly and Security Council results at best in unenforceable resolutions condemning aggression or build-up of nuclear arms.
Aside from the fact that Woodrow Wilson’s rhetoric sounded not unlike that of President George W. Bush with regard to Iraq and that Wilson was promoting entry of the United States into World War I, rather than surrender in Iraq, his sentiment was fully congruent with the liberal-progressive policy espoused by Senator Obama in his primary campaign speeches and in his recent speech to socialist throngs in Berlin.
Underlying liberal-progressive views about human nature and foreign policy, despite differing circumstance, are the same for Senator Obama and his liberal-progressive supporters as were the views that supported President Wilson’s naive policy.
Both based their faith upon an unrealistic assessment of human nature and upon their abilities to effect world peace through popularity and personal negotiation with antagonists, without regard to the harsh realities of conflicting national interests.
In the liberal-progressive paradigm, all peoples are benevolent and governed by reason. This implies, dangerously unrealistically in practice, that the Axis powers in World War I, and Islamic jihadists today in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, truly desired peace and stable relations with the United States and Israel.
Seeing themselves as supremely intelligent and rational, liberals find it inconceivable that other people might not willingly and happily accept their conclusions and their leadership.