Taken together, the Bush administration advanced a set of ideas about American dominance, security threats, political transformation, and the governance of international order. Many observers see echoes of Wood- row Wilson in the vision of a unied world order organized around de- mocracies and inspired by American ideals. Others also see aspects of Wilsonianism in the emphasis on the promotion of democracy and active efforts to speed the forces of history toward a triumph of Western institu- tions worldwide. But we need to look more closely at the ideas of Wood- row Wilson and the evolution of liberal internationalism during the twen- tieth century.
The Wilsonian Tradition in American Foreign Policy
Woodrow Wilson had a grand liberal vision of world order, but, ironically, he did not bring a developed view of world affairs or an ambitious foreign policy agenda to his presidency in 1913. Nor did he expect to be con- sumed by foreign affairs. “It would be the irony of fate if my administra- tion had to deal chiey with foreign affairs,” is what he told a Princeton University colleague before he went off to Washington to take the oath of ofce.15
Nonetheless, Wilson became the founding father of the liberal tradi- tion of American foreign affairs. He did it initially in speeches—speeches during the period of American neutrality and, later, in his justication of war with Germany. It was in a speech before a joint session of Congress in the spring of 1917 that Wilson declared that war against Germany was necessary so the world could be “made safe for democracy.” Indeed the entering intellectual wedge of Wilson’s liberal vision was the convic- tion—felt most emphatically about Germany—that the internal charac- teristics of states are decisive in matters of war and peace. Autocratic and militarist states make war; democracies make peace. In retrospect, this is the cornerstone of Wilsonianism and, more generally, the liberal interna- tional tradition.
Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points speech to Congress, delivered on 8 January 1918, is arguably the most important statement of American for- eign policy in the twentieth century. It was Wilson’s statement of Ameri- can war aims, but it was also a blueprint to reorganize world politics. The