In honor of the 150th birthday of Woodrow Wilson, John Ikenberry offers fourteen points about the man, his foreign policy, and his legacy. Point six is probably the most important:

Wilson’s vision embodied both impulses toward “liberal imperialism” (or, more politely, “liberal interventionism”) and “liberal internationalism” – an awkward and problematic duality that continues among liberals today.

The “liberal imperial” impulse was on display in Wilson’s earlier interventions in Mexico in 1914 and 1916. Wilson said that America’s deployment of force was to help Mexico “adjust her unruly household.” Regarding Latin America, Wilson said: “We are friends of constitutional government in America; we are more than its friends, we are its champions. I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.” Indeed, Wilson used military force in an attempt to teach Southern republics, intervening in Cuba, the Dominion Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

The “liberal internationalist” impulse was articulated later during the Great War in the Fourteen Points address and in proposals for collective security and the League of Nations. This sentiment was stated perhaps most clearly in the summer of 1918 as the war was reaching its climax. Wilson gave his July 4th address at Mount Vernon and described his vision of postwar order: “What see seek is the reign of law, based on the consent of the governed and sustained by the organized opinion of mankind.”



I think "liberal hawks" have been having a lot of trouble recognizing that George W. Bush perfectly authentically represents the first, imperialistic version of Wilson and Wilsonianism. It's not a farce or a corruption of a perfect ideal. It just is the ideal and it happens to be a rather corrupt one. Then there's this other, rather different set of Wilsonian ideas which I think are a good deal better. John Judis wrote a great book about this.

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