FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Wilsonian and Neoconservative Myths

by GABRIEL KOLKO

Innumerable commentators have made comparisons between President Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism and his alleged missionary zeal with the ideas of the neoconservatives now so influential in the Bush Administration. But any analogies are essentially inaccurate and they all ignore the crucial historical context.

Wilson developed his ideas, with the help of Colonel Edward House, wholly as a direct response to Lenin’s lofty and spectacularly successful rhetoric for a new internationalism to replace the folly of the nations that had brought on the First World War. Prior to the bolshevik challenge Wilson’s notions on the international order and America’s goals were largely economic-based on British free trade doctrine–and quite banal.

Both Wilson and Lenin developed their ambitious theories as a form of political propaganda to reach the masses over the heads of traditional rulers and win their allegiance, with conscious emphasis on brevity and simplicity.

Hence Wilson’s 14 Points, which was extraordinarily brief-though longer than some of his advisers wanted- calling for self-determination and a radical departure from conventional power politics and the initiation of a new era of self-rule and democracy. Wilson’s momentary non-conformity was based on expediency rather than conviction.

There is no Wilsoniam system based on a reasoned approach to the international order, but largely empty rhetoric intended to suit the political needs of the moment to counter the Bolshevik’s charismatic appeals throughout Europe to the war-weary masses. Had there not been a Lenin there was scant possibility that Wilson would emerge in the image of an idealist ready to denounce prewar and wartime treaties enshrining imperialist acquisition.

This superficiality, based on sheer opportunism, is the only thing that binds so-called “Wilsonian” goals with the slogans now emanating from Washington. Both are irrelevant illusions. The crucial difference is that the context is entirely different and there is today no powerful and infuential internationalist ideology in existence, either in the United States or elsewhere.

The fact is that the Bush Administration cannot use Wilson’s alleged idealism to justify its actions and that it is really wholly devoid of serious, realistic ideas. It has slogans and rhetoric, nothing more.

GABRIEL KOLKO is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914 and Another Century of War?. He can be reached at: kolko@counterpunch.org.

GABRIEL KOLKO is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914 and Another Century of War?. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail