Jonah Goldberg
We’re all Wilsonians now. President Bush is doing exactly what his critics have always said he should do: He’s playing nice with the international community on North Korea, Iran and, whenever possible, Iraq. He’s not getting much credit from the Bush-is-always-wrong crowd. But then again, they don’t call it the Bush-is-always-wrong crowd for nothing. Still, Bush is embracing the international system, which liberals consider to be Woodrow Wilson’s gift to mankind. Wilson was the guiding spirit of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations (though, according to liberal mythology, America itself was denied entry into the promised land by those evil isolationists). To liberals, Wilsonian internationalism means playing nice with others.

Meanwhile, some of Bush’s strongest supporters are starting to grumble that the president has gone wobbly by giving up on a different Wilsonian vision. One branch of neoconservatives defines Wilsonianism not as getting chummy with cookie-pushers from state departments around the globe, but as the heroic push toward the democratization of the world. The Bush Doctrine, until recently, was hailed or derided as the greatest resurgence of Wilsonianism since Wilson himself. These neoconservatives are understandably vexed by Bush’s sudden embrace of diplomatic nuance.

Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute and editor of Middle East Quarterly recently denounced this “Clintonian” turn in Bush’s foreign policy. By Clintonian he means caving into the insatiable lust for the endless argy-bargy that sustains the international community.

The central tenet of those who refer to the international community as if it were some holy communion of angels rather than a yammering maw of bureaucrats is that it is always better to do wrong in a big group than to do right alone. Sen. John Kerry, a high priest in the Church of Internationalism, always grounded his most passionate criticism of Bush in the fact that the president failed to form a “grand coalition” on Iraq like Bush’s father had. The upshot seemed to be that invading Iraq would have been a good idea if only Chad and Uruguay were on board.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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