Today [Sunday] marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s message to Congress asking for a declaration of war against the Central Powers. Thus the Great War began – a conflict that destroyed European civilization and set the stage for the rise of Bolshevism, Nazism, and the death of millions in World War II.
Wilson was the embodiment of the dominant ideological theme of the twentieth century: State-worship. In both the foreign and domestic realms, the great “progressive” President represented the twin aspects of statist ideology: war and the centralization of political authority. And his presidency was emblematic of the key link between these two aspects of the progressive ideology, as Murray Rothbard explained in a 1973 interview with Reason magazine. Every war in American history has been the occasion for a great leap forward in the power of the State to interfere in and regulate every aspect of our lives, he said, and a “huge increase in [government] power came out of World War I,” one that set the pattern up to the present day.
The entire focus of Trump’s foreign policy – analyzing what is in America’s (alleged) interests, rather than privileging the collective interests of “the West” as if they were identical to our own – is a dire threat to the old Wilsonian internationalist legacy that has dominated US foreign policy in modern times. Trump’s contention that NATO is “obsolete” sent them into paroxysms of fury. And while the Trumpian foreign policy vision, such as it is, doesn’t reject NATO outright, its definition of the “liberal international order” is much narrower than both the progressive internationalists and their neoconservative brethren find acceptable.
Despite considerable opposition from both parties, the Trump administration has already made the first moves to defuse rising tensions with Russia and forestall a 1914-like conflict. Trump has instructed the US military to focus on defeating ISIS rather than overthrowing Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, reversing US policy under the Obama administration: both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have made public statements affirming this new stance. Assad, backed by Russia, has been in Washington’s crosshairs since George W. Bush’s presidency: here is yet another flashpoint where conflict with Russia has been avoided.
Furthermore, Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Russia for meetings with Putin and other top officials in what could be the prelude to a comprehensive agreement with Moscow over such contentious issues as Ukraine, nuclear arms, and US sanctions. The meeting will take place some time this month.
Prior to Trump taking office, the US was headed straight for a conflict with Russia. The NATO alliance, moving steadily eastward to the very gates of Moscow, had been conducting a two-pronged war: conducting provocative military “exercises” mimicking a a frontal assault on Russian territory while also launching a propaganda war targeting Russia and its allies for “regime change.” The stage was set for another 1914, in which a single small spark somewhere in the Balkans or Eastern Europe could have set off a global conflagration. And America’s “progressives” were – and are – the main agitators for war.
In order to defend our legitimate interests while avoiding unnecessary conflicts, America must return to the foreign policy of the Founders, rejecting entangling alliances, abjuring the export of “democracy,” and pursuing a policy of nonintervention in the internal affairs of other nations. This is the path to peace – all others lead to perpetual war.