Magazine article The American Conservative

The Folly of Wilsonism

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Folly of Wilsonism

Article excerpt

In the midst of the commotion generated by the U.S. missile strikes against Syria's Al Shayrat air base on April 6, Rex Tillerson's statement at Sant'Anna di Stazzema, Italy, received less attention than it deserved. Visiting a memorial to victims of Nazi brutality in World War II, the secretary of state declared: "We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world."

Americans should pause to consider the breathtaking sweep of this statement--particularly in light of President Trump's missile attacks, launched in response to a chemical-weapons assault attributed to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Tillerson apparently wants the United States to respond anytime non-combatants 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. "I hope and believe," he declared, "that I am in effect speaking for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation... I would fain believe that I am speaking for the silent mass of mankind everywhere."

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. …

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