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Tags: foreign policy | Wilsonian democracy

Wilsonianism: America's Foreign Policy Bankruptcy

an artists drawing of woodrow wilson
President Woodrow Wilson (Dreamstime)

Alexander G. Markovsky By Thursday, 03 February 2022 09:31 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

American foreign policy tended to be isolationist until early in the 19th century. Then, two factors projected America in world affairs: enormous economic expansion and the collapse of the European system of balance of power that maintained peace in Europe.

The watershed moment came in 1912 with the election of President Woodrow Wilson. Unlike John Quincy Adams, who had warned his successors against imposing American values on other nations, Woodrow Wilson sought to do just that. In his vision, all states would adhere to a universal system of law and be judged by the same ethical criteria as individuals.

Once moral principles had been equated with national interests, America, in terms of foreign policy, was no longer a nation — it was a cause. The imposition of moral principles made America’s involvement in affairs of other countries, including the force of arms, inevitable.

After the Second World War, America completely dominated the world economically, politically and militarily. It seemed like a perfect time to embark on implementing Woodrow Wilson’s moral utopia.

Indeed, every American president of the post-war period endorsed Woodrow Wilson’s moral universality, with a notable exemption of Nixon and Trump, and tried to outbid his predecessor in greater commitment to spill more American blood and treasure in misconceived wars.

President Eisenhower described America’s foreign policy as an extension of America’s moral responsibilities. “History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid,” he declared in his inaugural address on January 20, 1953.

On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, announced that "we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."

Lyndon Johnson went even further. In his Inaugural address on January 20, 1965, he asserted: “If American lives must end and American treasure be spilled, in countries we barely know, then that is the price that change has demanded of conviction and our enduring covenant.”

There was plenty of hypocrisy and naïveté of those oratories. Hypocrisy — in its approach to defending freedom and liberty in countries we know. America with its NATO allies fell short of the rhetoric and stood by helplessly watching the Soviet troops ravaging Budapest in 1956, building the Berlin wall in 1961, and invading Czechoslovakia in 1968.

When the blood of victims of Soviet’s atrocities was spilled on the streets of Budapest, Berlin and Prague, and screams of victims of Stalin's terror had been heard all over Europe, America exposed itself as being “the weak or the timid” when the vacuity of its pronouncements became evident.

Naïveté — in its approach to the “countries we barely know.” John Quincy Adams could not have imagined the sheer number and magnitude of monsters his ascendances would discover. Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, to name a few, where America paid “the price,” where lives ended, and treasure spilled.

After decades of bringing its children home in coffins from “countries we barely know,” America suffered disillusioned withdrawals, and a global crusade to replace authoritarian stability with democracy resulted in geopolitical failure.

The fundamental flaw of this policy was that American leaders declared an open-ended commitment to extend the country’s moral values to the rest of the world, ignorant that those values may appear repugnant and unsettling to many people that have never been part of Western civilization.

After 70 years of foreign policy rooted in imposing its values on poor countries that do not pass muster with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and providing a costly security shield to the scores of wealthy countries around the world, America finds itself overextended and overcommitted.

The efforts and sacrifices unprecedented in peacetime have led to what Walter Lippmann called ”foreign policy bankruptcy.” “A nation’s foreign policy is bankrupt,” Lippmann wrote, “when its strategic assets, its arms and alliances, are insufficient to cover its liabilities — i.e., its commitments to defend critical territory and vital interests.”

America’s heroic efforts to create a world order based on its values impoverished the country. It, now a debt nation, began to unravel from inside. Its values and historical heritage are under assault and crumbling.

The polarization of society is at the levels not seen since the Civil War. The foundation of our democracy — free and fair elections is an “illusion” to millions of citizens. The beacon of liberty is dimming.

America must temper its ambitions. Its reach must not exceed its grasp. It is time to turn inward.

Yet a political irony is that Wilsonian democratic fundamentalism is inbred in American DNA; even the recent Afghanistan debacle did not curb America’s appetite for foreign adventures.

The great dilemma of American statecraft — it can neither continue the current course nor withdraw from its commitments.

Alexander G. Markovsky is a scholar of Marxism and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a conservative think tank that examines national security, energy, and other public policy issues. He is the author of "Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.” Read Alexander G. Markovsky's Reports — More Here.

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Once moral principles had been equated with national interests, America, in terms of foreign policy, was no longer a nation — it was a cause.
foreign policy, Wilsonian democracy
Thursday, 03 February 2022 09:31 AM
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