The Folly of Wilsonism

The Folly of Wilsonism, by The Editors of The American Conservative.

The secretary of state [Rex Tillerson recently] declared: “We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.” …

Tillerson apparently wants the United States to respond anytime noncombatants get targeted anywhere in the world by armies or governments engaged in war.

Not even Woodrow Wilson ever uttered a statement so Wilsonian in tone and breadth. The essence of Wilsonism stems from the 28th president’s discomfort with American overseas actions conducted in behalf of U.S. interests. But humanitarian interests — now that was a crusade worthy of his countrymen. Even before he took America into World War I, as he sought to put himself forward as an interlocutor for peace among the European belligerents, he made clear in sweeping language that he spoke for a moral authority far higher than mere nationalism.

Later, as war president, he boasted that U.S. national interests hadn’t entered his thinking. “What we demand in this war,” he said, “is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in. … All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest.”

It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now:

This gauzy humanitarianism was dangerous then, and it is dangerous now. When you include all the peoples of the world in your global project, you end up with an unmanageable foreign-policy remit with no end in sight. The world is a brutal place, full of senseless, horrific killing in multiple locations at all times. Despite Tillerson’s tall talk about protecting innocents everywhere, it isn’t possible. …

The humanitarian project, as a global policy, holds no reasonable prospect of success. More likely it will draw the country into folly and tragedy. Governments weren’t instituted for such purposes; they exist for the protection and wellbeing of their citizens. …

Donald Trump campaigned on a slogan of “America First.” His America First nationalism can’t mesh with Tillerson’s extreme Wilsonian internationalism. The president will have to choose. The country and the world are waiting.

hat-tip Stephen Neil