Blogs > Cliopatria > George Woodrow Wilson Bush

Mar 26, 2005 6:00 am

George Woodrow Wilson Bush

I was reading H.W. Brands's little biography of Woodrow Wilson last night. Since Bush often sounds so much like Wilson--and acts like him, too, in his willingness to send troops to countries to make them reform--I thought it would be useful to read up on Wilson.

Brands makes an interesting observation with some relevance to Bush. Brands describes Wilson as being almost wholly ignorant about foreign affairs when he became president. He had rarely traveled abroad. He was unconcerned with foreign affairs. He expected and wanted to be a domestic president. He famously said that it would be the height of irony if he found himself preoccupied wit foreign policy.

Sound familiar? But it gets better.

Brands says that in the absence of real knowledge about the world Wilson fell back on a kind of primitive moralizing as a guide to action.

This is downright scary in the parallel to Bush, isn't it?

The book came out in June 2003. So it is possible that Brands was deliberately intending his book as a warning about Bush. And the book is part of the series edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., so it wouldn't be surprising to discover that it included a subtle attack on Bush, whom Schlesinger openly disdains.

But all the same--hasn't Brands got a point worth pondering?

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Oscar Chamberlain - 4/7/2005

I think it's a bit unfair to say Kennedy "botched" it. Certainly his administration began with striking failures, but his use of the aftermath of the Cuban Crisis to push for a partial Test Ban Treaty suggests someone who was learning to balance the ideal and realpolitik.

We'll never know if that learning would have continued or if that would have been an isolated success. Some say he would have pulled us out of Vietnam. I'm dubious of that. But there's at least a chance he might have waged war in a manner less costly to the US.

His death cut short his chances for new successes as well as new failures, and an evaluation of his competence must take that into account.

HNN - 4/4/2005

I am ready to concede that Bush made the right call in Afghanistan. I fully backed his war there and think that we have achieved about all that we can, though more money and respources should have been put into the effort (How about paying farmers not to grow opium?)

But Iraq has been a disaster and I don't believe even if it works out well in the short term that it will have been worth the cost. We have alienated the rest of the world, soiled our own principles, created more terrorists (as Rumsfeld has acknowledged), at a cost of more than 10,000 American casualties.

Meantime, we have been ignoring much of the rest of the world and as a superpower we can't do that for long without inevitably paying yet another price.

Wilson went into Mexico to teach the Mexicans to elect good men. Didn't work out. He wentn into Haiti and Nicaragua, too. Didn't work out.

Just where were his successes?

Versailles ended in a moribund League of Nations. And because he oversold the war with exaggerated rhetoric the public recoiled afterwards when the secret deals between the Allies were revealed, thereby undermining internationalists.

Only FDR of the 20th century idealists got the balance right between idealism and realism. Wilson, JFK, LBJ--all botched the job with dire consequences.

Ed Schmitt - 3/30/2005

My only question is, what U.S. history topic has Prof. Brands NOT written about in the last ten years? How does he crank out all those books?

Owen Roberts - 3/29/2005

Oh, That wretched "good"--always the enemy of "perfection." Or do I have that all mixed up?

Jonathan Dresner - 3/29/2005

Woodrow Wilson accomplished a great deal, as well -- the League of Nations, victory in WWI, initiating a series of international discussion which resulted in arms control treaties and even the Kellogg-Briand anti-war agreement -- but ultimately none of that kept us from getting caught up in more wars, nationalism, imperialism, etc.

Weimar Iraq?

Owen Roberts - 3/28/2005

I'll ponder that point as I think about the democratic elections in Iraq, the new-found freedom of women in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new women governor in Afghanistan, the possibility of real elections in Egypt, Khadafi's "voluntary" relinquishment of his nuclear program, Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, 5 years of not dealing with Islamofacist thugs like Arafat, the orange revolution in Ukraine--you get the idea.