6/7/14

#28: Woodrow Wilson

Last week, I touched on the idea of internationalism or the idea that America should be involved militarily in other nation's affairs is not a settled debate even though many of today's history books and both political parties present it that way. In a way, I can't blame the author for this viewpoint since he wrote this book in 2003, at the height of the terror scare.

Since World War II and the start of the Cold War, most modern historians or politicians have presented the America First crowd as being a bunch of rubes or luddites. You'd almost think that the tendency of Americans to not want to commit blood and treasure to un-neccesary wars was an early 20th century phenomenon if you listen to many of the politicians from either party. The actual history of American's views on foreign involvement is much more complex than that.

America was founded by men largely weary of the constant state of warfare in Europe. In the treaties and war powers agreements that were common there, they saw a countries constantly having to commit to military conflicts which were not in there interest and subject to the whims of their allies. In some cases, these alliances would discourage war as they were supposed to, however in other circumstances, it would actually encourage it by giving a weaker nation the means to pull a stronger nation into war.

This led to many legendary arguments over whether to create alliances with France or Britain and whether to accept foreign help in the Indian wars as America expanded West.

The idea that we should be involved in our neighbors affairs (largely to keep Europe out of North America) became a commonly held idea with the Monroe Doctrine.

The strict isolationism except in cases of our direct interest started to decline with the many democratic revolutions in the Americas (should America automatically offer aide to democratic rebels or should we intervene only in our direct interest). It further declined with Teddy Roosevelt pushing the country into the Spanish War and some of our first pacific territories.

It was revived slightly with the immigration booms of the late 19th and early 20th century and the voices for non-involvement in World War I during Wilson's day.

We know the rest of the story. World War II and the Cold War immediately after made it "impossible" for us to not get into hundreds of conflicts around the world as well as many more soft power exercises where we'd help with the overthrow of various governments that weren't friendly to the United States.

However, isolationism is back in style and should be taken a little more seriously.
The USSR is dead and Russia is a shadow of the threat that it once was even if it can roll over its neighbors (which up until 25 years or so ago were part of its territory). China is on the upswing and will excersise more influence in its region of the world. This is an immutable fact and there is nothing that we can do about it.

Americans are weary of being involved in endless engagements in Afghanistan and recently Iraq which had no well defined explanation of what victory even was. Luckily, isolationism prevailed when the president and many in congress were pushing the idea of getting involved militarily in the Syrian religious civil war.

Hopefully isolation continues to prevail and we can focus on defense on the war on terror rather than foreign monsters to destroy as Adams liked to say. The gimmick of calling someone an "isolationist" because they don't want to be involved in other countries civil wars will continue to fade in time.

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