Echoes of 1919
Both critics and supporters of US President George W. Bush's post-September 11 vision of a new, freedom-loving Middle East have noted the strong similarities between the president and his predecessor Woodrow Wilson.
In 1917, the 28th president brought US forces into World War I with the promise that an allied victory against Germany and its allies would make the world "safe for democracy." Wilson's vision of a postwar world was a bit out of place in the war being fought on the killing fields of Belgium and France. Neither the Allies nor the Central Powers were fighting the war for ideological gain. Rather, the war was being fought to restore or upset the balance of power between European empires in Europe and beyond.
Yet Wilson had his vision. As he sent 1,200,000 American soldiers to war, he appointed a committee of 150 academics to prepare the peace. In 1918, he announced his 14-point plan for the postwar era. The last point, which called for the establishment of an international government with the power to guarantee each nation's sovereignty and independence, was the one that Wilson held to most strongly.
As historian Paul Johnson noted in his History of the American People, Wilson "became obsessed with turning [his vision of the League of Nations] into reality, as the formula for an eventual system of world democratic government, with America at its head." It was through the League of Nations, Wilson believed, that the war could indeed become a war to end all wars.
WILSON'S messianic view was harshly criticized by the British and French, by his domestic political opponents who controlled the Congress and by members of his own administration. The French and British, together with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee responsible for ratifying the Treaty of Versailles, all called for a scaled-back version of the plan.
They could see no advantage to an organization that would place the US and its allies on equal footing with Germany. Nor could they understand why a nation would go to war to protect the territorial integrity of countries that did not impact their national interests. Cabot Lodge specifically objected to the diminution of US national sovereignty inherent in the notion of transferring the power to commit US forces to war from the US Congress to an international body.
Cabot Lodge and French president George Clemenceau suggested that the US limit its objectives to guaranteeing the peace of Europe. They suggested the formation of an organization much like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which from its establishment in 1949 maintained the peace of Europe for the duration of the Cold War.
But Wilson refused to compromise and, as a result, his vision was defeated. The Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty and so the US never joined Wilson's League of Nations. For its part, the League proved incapable of preserving either the peace or itself.
In the 1920 presidential elections, Warren Harding won handily by promising to turn America away from Wilson's grand designs and return it to "normalcy." Harding's "normalcy" was quickly translated into a policy of isolationism. The US locked its doors and shuttered its windows, blocked immigration and ignored the world as Germany descended into fascist madness and placed itself under the leadership of a tyrant bent on global domination.
Today, as then, Bush's freedom agenda for the Muslim world is under attack from all quarters as the US shifts noticeably into a comparable isolationist mode.
Conservatives concerned about preserving the America's cultural identity are pushing for an end to illegal immigration from Mexico. The Democrats, in concert with former secretary of state James Baker's considerable camp of followers in the Republican Party and the State Department, are advocating an end of US support for its allies and supporters in Iraq, Israel and Lebanon in favor of an embrace of US enemies Iran and Syria.
THERE ARE many differences between the Bush and Wilson administrations, but three stand out in particular. First, by ignoring the real interests of the US and its allies in favor of utopian peace, Wilson's vision of postwar peace was a flight of fancy predicated on a rejection of reality. In contrast, by recognizing the threat that the global jihad constitutes for the Free World, Bush sought to shake the US and its allies out of their collective flight from reality in the 1990s and force them to contend with the world as it is.
But while Wilson's vision was unrealistic, he has to be credited for his unstinting devotion to it. In contrast, Bush never completely matched his visionary rhetoric to his actual policies. And today, increasingly abandoned by his supporters and undermined by his own advisers who reject his vision and insist on returning to fantasyland, Bush has apparently abandoned his own doctrine of war and peace.
OVER THE weekend, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that the administration stands united around her policy of appeasing the Iranian regime which is guiding the terror wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Lebanon, and beyond. In Rice's words, "The President of the United States has made it clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course [with Iran]. That policy is supported by all members of the cabinet and by the Vice President of the United States."
Rice's statement cannot be aligned with Bush's statement at his 2002 State of the Union Address and subsequent speeches, where he announced that one of the principal aims of the US war against the global jihad is to deny rogue regimes, specifically Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
As the president put it then, "We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
But then, since the September 11 attacks, for every rhetorical step the President has taken towards reality, he has taken two policy steps back to delusion.
WHILE UPHOLDING Islam as a religion of peace, the administration courted Islamic preachers of war. So it was that at the post-September 11 memorial service at the National Cathedral, the administration invited Muzammil Siddiqi to speak for Muslims. Siddiqi, who heads one of the largest mosques in North America, was the man who converted Adam Gadahn, the American Taliban, to Islam. As head of the Wahabist Islamic Circle of North America, on October 28, 2000 Sidiqi participated along with Abdulrahman Alamoudi – now in jail on terrorism charges – in a rally outside the Israeli embassy. There he proclaimed, "America has to learn. If you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come."
Until his arrest, Alamoudi presided over the training of Muslim chaplains in the US military. In 2004 Congress initiated a probe into ISNA's suspected links to terror groups. Several members of its board of directors were arrested and convicted of involvement with terror cells.
In embracing radical Muslim religious leaders and pro-jihadist Muslim organizations in the US rather than embracing and strengthening anti-jihadist Muslim activists and leaders, the Bush administration followed a pattern that has remained consistent worldwide. Rather than embrace liberal, pro-American and pro-democracy Muslims, the administration embraces America's enemies.
In Iraq, leaders like Mithal al-Alousi and Ahmed Chalabi were spurned in favor of Ba'athists like former prime minister Iyad Allawi and Iranian puppets like current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
AS FOR THE Palestinians, Bush has opted to ignore Fatah's involvement in terrorism, its jihadist indoctrination of Palestinian society and its strategic collaboration with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, Iran and Syria. By upholding Fatah, Bush blocked all possibility that an alternative, liberal and democratic Palestinian leadership could emerge. The same pattern has held in Egypt.
Whereas Bush's commitment to advancing his stated strategic aim has been far weaker than Wilson's was, the danger of abandoning the fight today in favor of isolationism and appeasement is far greater than it was in the 1920s. While Great Britain's embrace of isolationism and appeasement under the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments was a disaster for the British, who were high on Germany's target list, it is possible to argue that isolationism was a sensible policy for America.
There was no German threat to the US in the 1920s and 1930s. Today the situation is different.
Last week FBI Assistant Director John Miller said that most of the 2,176 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act search warrants approved in 2006 were used against terror suspects inside the US. Three days later, the FBI announced the arrest of the members of an American and Caribbean terror cell that was plotting to bomb JFK International Airport. Last month the FBI arrested a terror cell planning to attack Fort Dix.
Then there is last month's Pew Survey of American Muslims under the age of 30. The survey found that 26 percent of young Muslims in America believe that suicide bombings are justified. Only 40 percent believe that Arabs carried out the September 11 attacks.
Historical hindsight has judged the feckless appeasement and irresponsible isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s responsible for the catastrophe of World War II. Bush's doctrine of war and peace was aimed at preventing just such a reenactment of history.
As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaims that the countdown to the next Holocaust has begun while actively waging war against the US and its allies on all available fronts, the catastrophe that will follow an American relapse into isolationism and appeasement is undeniable.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.