Woodrow Wilson Redux?


Novelist and military historian Caleb Carr, who has been known to take some pretty stupid dystopian flights of fancy, has an interesting piece in The New York Observer regarding the possible return of Wilsonian foreign policy and why that would be a bad thing:

"I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!" Woodrow Wilson once railed; and although [Paul] Wolfowitz?s statements about Iraq and the Middle East are more soft-spoken and rambling, they often have the same sense of high moral purpose?and the same low estimation of the aspirations and abilities of the local populace. Like Latin Americans in Wilson?s day, the people of the Middle East are generally people who have lived under post-imperial petty autocracies for so long that they have almost forgotten that any other type of government exists. And, again like those Latin Americans of a century ago, they look primarily to religion to ease the burdens of repressive regimes.

Indeed, there is entirely too much about the Middle East of today that might attract a Wilsonian missionary. The President-Who-Should-Have-Been-Preacher never did manage to "teach the South American republics" much of anything, except that they didn?t understand what he was talking about?and, after enough harangues and bullets, no longer cared to even try.

Can President Bush, following Mr. Wolfowitz?s ideas, do better with Muslims than Wilson did with Latin Americans? It seems unlikely, since neither man seems ready to drop the didactic tone, with its attendant belief that the native population in question is made up not of men and women, but of ignorant children. And whatever small chance Mr. Bush and Mr. Wolfowitz might have at success seems further doomed by still another factor that played a central role in giving the lie to Wilson?s supposedly beneficent policies: the voracious appetite of international American corporations.

I'm far from convinced that "American corporations" will play a make or break role in post-Saddam Iraq, but Carr's analysis is worth checking out. That he was pro-war adds to the mix.