Woodrow Wilson as the Worst President

Article excerpt


Based almost entirely on his rhetoric, President Woodrow Wilson has become a liberal icon. Both he and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were dedicated to remaking the world. Only Roosevelt succeeded in doing so, but, as Jim Powell explains in "Wilson's War," Wilson probably was the more consequential president. For without Wilson's misguided decision to take the United States into World War I - despite the lack of any serious American interest in that tragic conflict - there probably would have been no Bolshevik revolution, and there certainly would have been no Nazi triumph or World War II. Even the Middle East would have looked dramatically different. As Mr. Powell points out, "bitter adversaries were forced into a new nation - Iraq - thanks to the Versailles Treaty made possible by Wilson."

Mr. Powell speaks bluntly. The conventional wisdom sees Wilson as a great progressive who called all mankind to better itself and inaugurate a new international order. To the contrary, writes the author: "Wilson made a decision that led to tens of millions of deaths. Far from helping 'make the world safe for democracy,' as he claimed, he contributed to the rise of some of the most murderous dictators who ever lived. No other U.S. president has had a hand - however unintentional - in so much destruction. Wilson surely ranks as the worst president in American history."

By the end of the 19th century support for classical liberalism - international peace, free trade, limited government - had been largely superseded by the forces of collectivism, militarism and nationalism. Nor was Wilhelmine Germany solely to blame. As Mr. Powell explains, dreams of "imperial glory" were widely shared. The strongest contestants in the growing arms race were the Entente powers, which spent far more than Germany and Austria-Hungary on the military.

Alliances spread, allowing an assassination in a Balkan state to touch off a murderous conflict among most of the globe's major powers.

But even after so many other nations jumped off of the geopolitical cliff, there was no need for the United States to follow. The author nicely debunks the reasons offered for America going to war. For instance, the United States had no interest in protecting the right of U.S. citizens to travel on armed merchantmen carrying munitions through a war zone, Woodrow Wilson's position in the submarine controversy.

Nor could even a victorious Germany threaten America. The allied powers were no paragons of moral virtue. There was the anti-Semitic despotism of czarist Russia. Democratic Britain was suppressing Irish self-determination. Indeed, far more people worldwide were oppressed by the Entente members than by the Central Powers. …