We are now in the dubious position of “celebrating” – if that is the word – the 100th anniversary of US President Woodrow Wilson’s departure on December 4, 1918 on the liner SS George Washington for the Versailles Peace Conference where he was confident he would dictate his brilliant solutions that would end war in the world for all time.
Historians and psychiatrists – including Dr. Sigmund Freud himself who co-authored a book on Wilson – have endlessly debated whether Wilson was sane and just deluded or raving mad. Freud clearly inclined to the latter view. And he had ample evidence to support him. What is most alarming is that, as Henry Kissinger – significantly not born an American at all – points out, all US presidents either share Wilson’s ridiculous messianic fantasies or feel they must pretend to.
During the supposed dark age of the Cold War from 1945 to 1989, the recognition that the Soviet Union was at least as militarily powerful as the United States imposed the disciplines of realism and restraint on US policymakers. But since the Berlin Wall came down, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved and the Soviet Union peacefully disassembled, that restraint has vanished.
Every US president since then really believes that the United States is unique in history and fated to remake the entire world in its own image. History is over, American triumph over the whole world is ensured. And since that globalist vision is inevitable, flawless, perfect and virtuous, it follows that every bombing campaign, every war, every imposition of economic sanctions, the toppling of every government and the destruction of every society that dares to disagree is divinely approved.
Half a century ago, I thought as an impressionable teenager back in my native Ireland that the fiasco of the Vietnam War was smashing forever that extraordinary American combination of innocence, arrogance and ignorance of trying to remake Southeast Asia in the image of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s fantasies of Texas.
I was of course wrong: The tale of the 21st century has been a descent of successive, equally manic, ignorant and crazed US presidents into one needless, wretched, nation-smashing bungle after another.
The unimaginably ignorant and stupid George W. Bush – also from Texas – went charging into Iraq and Afghanistan, unleashing a new cycle of endless wars.
In late 2008, I attended a diplomatic dinner at the State Department to launch then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s pride and joy – yet another Israeli-Palestinian “peace initiative” that everyone knew had not the slightest chance of getting anywhere.
Every veteran US, Arab, European and Israeli diplomat who attended the dinner recognized this. Yet all of them politely pretended to be impressed and enthusiastic while Rice, who clearly believed every absurd word she uttered, gave her presentation. In her childish enthusiasm she seemed to be more like a teenage cheerleader at American college football games. She had not the slightest doubt that she would succeed in a few weeks where generations and even centuries of diplomats and leaders from all over the world had failed. How American!
Barack Obama was cut from the same mold. He was farcically offered – and typically accepted – the Nobel Peace Prize after only one year in office and just compounded the damage.
Obama casually approved the destabilization and destruction of Ukraine, the collapse of US-Russia superpower relations to levels unimagined since the Cuban Missile Crisis and the destruction of Libya, Syria and Yemen. He even blithely approved an unprecedented $1.5 trillion nuclear weapons expansion program guaranteeing a ruinous arms race for decades to come. Yet he really believed he was a great force for peace. The bubble of his vanity and complacent self-regard was as impenetrable as Woodrow Wilson’s.
Many outstanding studies have been published about Wilson’s absurd vanities, ignorance and madness at Versailles in 1919 from the writings of British diplomat Sir Harold Nicolson (Peacemaking 1919) and the great Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace to Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan’s magisterial Paris 1919 and Gene Smith’s short and haunting masterpiece When the Cheering Stopped.
The bottom line is clear: Wilson did what he did not just because he was vain, ignorant and raving mad (He was also an ugly anti-black racist who re-segregated as much of the US federal government as he could): He did so because he was American.
Wilson created an independent Polish state in the heart of Europe and then gave it a free hand to conquer every neighboring nationality in sight: Just as George W. Bush embraced the Kurds and set off decades of unresolved wars across the Middle East ever since.
Yet successive generations of Americans never learn. And nor do the endless parade of their would be “friends” and “partners” like the Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Georgians and now Ukrainian neo-Nazis who eagerly embrace mantras of “liberty!” and free markets!” mindless of how soon their American protectors will tire of their new toys and throw them aside.
After World War II, another US president who admired Wilson launched the United States on its path of endless wars and global confrontations. Yet Harry S. Truman also recognized the awful absurdities and dangers of Wilson’s madness.
So it was Truman, a humble Midwesterner who plowed fields behind a stinking mule until he was almost 30 and who never enjoyed the “blessings” of American higher education who said, “There is nothing new in the world except for the history you don’t already know.”