There has been some mention recently that George W. Bush is beginning to sound like Woodrow Wilson, especially after his inaugural speech yesterday in which he more or less came out and said that our goal as a nation was to seek the spread of democracy and freedom the world over so as to make ourselves safer here at home. Roger Kimball looks at this goal and wonders if it's perhaps reaching a bit too far. He says,
I applaud the president's stalwart war on terrorism. That, I believe, is a difficult but winnable conflict. The idea that America's freedom and security depend upon the replacement of tyranny with liberty the world over strikes me as a campaign against evil itself. That conflict, alas, is likely to be less easily won.
Now, I think he is correct in thinking that we cannot expect such a thing to occur overnight. But if we simply dismiss the idea (which he is not) as impossible, then we surely will not see it come true. To return to Bush's speech, I was pleased to hear him say he wanted to seek such change, and never mentioning that we would do so at the point of a gun. One of my favorite lines was the moment he told the repressed in the world that when they rose up, we would stand with them and not their oppressors, as we have so often done in the past for realist or pragmatic reasons.
How many people try to make the case against the war in Iraq by saying we were the ones to prop Saddam up in the first place? It is a truism, for the most part, but takes nothing away from the attempt to correct that mistake now. In many respects, Bush is only cleaning up the mess his father made in 1991. Regardless, he did not back down when the world community said "stop." He has gambled his Presidency (and won) on the Iraq "gambit" and as messy as it looks at times, it is and will be a success in the long term, in my opinion.
If one looks back at Wilson and what he tried to do after World War I, you can see such idealism at work. Wilson's mistake was not his attempt to create The League of Nations, as some might have you believe. His mistake was agreeing to a hugely destructive treaty that bankrupted Germany at France's insistence. This is why the Senate would not ratify it. In many respects, this is what destroyed Wilson. I don't think a League would have stopped Germany's rise in the 30's, but only because it was inevitable due to the effects of the Treaty of Versailles. The League was certainly a better structure than the current U.N. Wilson had a reason for his calls for liberty the world over. he knew that democracys do not make war against each other. And Bush shares this outlook. In it, he sees our safety.
I guess what I am saying is - it's called vision. Some men have it and some do not. And I see no reason why idealism cannot play a role in such vision. Yes, one must look at reality. Yes, one must calculate what is best for the country as a whole when President. But sometimes, yes, the President must make unpopular decisions for the betterment of the people who hired him to do so. Bush has had this vision and it is colored by idealism. For that I applaud him. And even though I do not think his bold vision is attainable in the near future, I see no reason why we should not work towards such in the hopes that the long term is far better than today. But that's just me. That is all.