Bush's response to 9/11 mirrors Wilson era

An article published in the latest issue of Diplomatic History examines the historical similarities between how George W. Bush and Woodrow Wilson conducted foreign policy. In Bush's global war on terrorism, he neglected to coordinate the ends and means of U.S. foreign policy. Like President Woodrow Wilson during World War I, Bush proclaimed historic American ideals as his goals. The Bush Doctrine appealed to Americans by affirming American ideals, but its success abroad depended on its relevancy to foreign affairs. The Bush Doctrine reaffirmed Wilson's ideological legacy: viewing the United States as an exceptional nation with a providential mission to transform world history. Because of this, Bush repeated the same mistake that Wilson had made over 80 years ago. "Wilson's earlier failure suggests that Bush's war for perpetual peace is more likely to result in unanticipated costs and unintended consequences," states the author, Lloyd E. Ambrosius. Bush failed to recognize that the United States, even with its preeminent global power, could not force other nations to embrace the values and institutions he expected to impose on them. This disparity between ends and means became increasingly apparent after 9/11. Yet, just as Wilson had pursued his vision of the League of Nations after World War I, despite the failure of his diplomacy in postwar Europe and the collapse of his presidency in the United States, Bush has persisted in his unrealistic quest for a new world order. "With the United States entangled in ongoing wars, the issues in this public debate are vital to the nation's and the world's future," states Lloyd E. Ambrosius. "They are not just academic."

This article is published in the June issue of Diplomatic History. As the sole journal devoted to the history of U.S. diplomacy, foreign relations, and national security, Diplomatic History examines issues from the colonial period to the present in a global and comparative context. It is published on behalf of The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Lloyd E. Ambrosius is the Samuel Clark Waugh Distinguished Professor of International Relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is author of Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition: The Treaty Fight in Perspective (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987) and Wilsonianism: Woodrow Wilson and His Legacy in American Foreign Relations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). He was the Mary Ball Washington Professor of American History at University College, Dublin, Ireland, and twice a Fulbright Professor at the Universities of Cologne and Heidelberg, Germany. Professor Ambrosius is available for questions and interviews.

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