George Woodrow Wilson Bush

I’ve long noted the irony that neo-conservatism is the furthest thing from conservatism. In fact, it is the logical successor to Woodrow Wilson’s imperialistic vision.

John Ikenberry uses the just-past 150th anniversary of Wilson’s birth and impending 88th anniversary of his 14 Points speech to reflect on the legacy of the 28th President of the United States. He observes that,

George Bush is only the most recent president to simultaneously draw upon and push off against the Wilsonian vision. Depending on who you listen to, Bush is either a direct heir of Woodrow Wilson or the ultimate anti-Wilson. Bush’s neo-con advisors have been described as “Wilsonians in boots.” But the Bush administration has had no use for international law and collective security which is the heart of Wilsonianism.

Then again, as noted foreign policy expert Matthew Yglesias observes, “George W. Bush perfectly authentically represents the first, imperialistic version of Wilson and Wilsonianism.” Indeed, one suspects Wilson himself would have long since recognized the practical futility of international organizations affecting his international vision. As Ikenberry observes, “Wilson used military force in an attempt to teach [constitutional government to] Southern republics, intervening in Cuba, the Dominion Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua.”

The impulse behind those interventions and the Iraq War are similar. They were theoretically and morally sound yet overly ambitious in practice. There’s simply no serious debate but that representative democracy is conducive to peaceful international relations and human rights. Historically, however, armed intervention by foreign powers has yet to prove an effective means of establishing it.

While most supporters of Wilson and Bush would quickly declaim any notion that their foreign policy vision are similar, it’s hard to discount the parallels.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Latin America, United Nations, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    Indeed, one suspects Wilson himself would have long since recognized the practical futility of international organizations affecting his international vision.

    Is that really “affect,” to pose as, to seemingly adopt what one isn’t really committed to?

    Or “effecting,” as in bringing about?

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m using it in the standard dictionary sense:

    af·fect1 /v. əˈfɛkt; n. ˈæfɛkt/

    1. to act on; produce an effect or change in: Cold weather affected the crops.

  3. MSS says:

    …neo-conservatism is the furthest thing from conservatism. In fact, it is the logical successor to Woodrow Wilson’s imperialistic vision.

    I am glad to know that I am not the only one!

    I refuse to call these folks “neoconservative.” First of all, imperialism is hardly a “neo” idea, and their intent on radical transformation through the barrel of a gun is anything but conservative.