Now, Wilson has long been a villain to conservatives - and deservedly so. The superficial similarities between Bush's rhetoric and deeds and Wilson's has caused some to worry. Wilson's idealism and incompetence unleashed or hastened many of the horrors of the 20th century, abroad and at home. But there's a key difference between W and Wilson. While Wilson rightly championed liberty, he refused to ground his messianic zeal in American self-interest. Time and again he insisted America had "no selfish ends to serve" and that the United States was going to war solely because "the right is more precious than peace" - as if Americans should be ashamed of their self-interest. This made World War I a war of choice and do-gooderism more similar intellectually to Bill Clinton's efforts in Haiti and Bosnia than George W. Bush's in Iraq and Afghanistan.
George W. Bush grounds his doctrine in the soil of American self-interest.
We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny - prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder - violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat.
This has the priorities in the right order. We fight tyranny because it is in our interest to do so. We are morally justified in our task because the fight against tyranny is a noble cause.
This formulation will no doubt stick in the craws of self-described "paleoconservatives" who claim to be the heirs of the "real" conservative movement and who pull their hair and rend their clothes in protest of Bush's allegedly "neoconservative" radicalism. They might remind themselves that "hawkishness" in the name of liberty was the principle which birthed the conservative movement. The supposed "isolationists" these "paleos" celebrate were calling for "rollback, not containment" of the Red Menace long before the "neocons" were called hawks for wanting to increase funding for the National Endowment for Democracy. Some even endorsed the notion that nuclear annihilation was worth the price of liberty.
What conservatives understood then and what President Bush understands now is that America itself is a radical nation, founded on the revolutionary principle that self-government is simultaneously the best form of government and the most moral. And that lovers of liberty in all parties should seek to conserve that legacy. The circumstances we face today are new, but the principles are eternal. So, yes, George W. Bush is a revolutionary, but he is merely the latest in a long line of American Revolutionaries.