At Versailles in 1919, delegates of four of the five victorious powers arrived with cold, clear ideas of what they must bring home.
Japan demanded and got Germany’s islands north of the equator and Shantung in China. Italy demanded and got the Austrian South Tyrol, but was denied Fiume on the Adriatic, and left embittered.
France got Alsace-Lorraine, African colonies, Lebanon and Syria. But, above all, Clemenceau wanted Germany driven off the west bank of the Rhine, forced to rebuild war-ravaged France, stripped of lands and people and so weakened she would never threaten Paris again.
Lloyd George got Tanganyika, Transjordan, Palestine, Iraq, the Kaiser’s fleet and a treaty guarantee Germany would never again be allowed to build a navy that could imperil the nation or empire.
What did America get? In his war message, Wilson had said, “(W)e shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest to our hearts for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world at last free.”
He had plunged us into the greatest war in history for abstract ideals. “We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.”
All very noble. We asked for nothing and got nothing, save 116,000 dead, a $25 billion debt and the ingratitude of Allies we rescued who mocked us as “Uncle Shylock” when we asked them to pay their war debts.
What causes one to recall this brief history is the clear echo of Wilsonian utopianism in the president’s press conference of April 13. Pressed as to what we are fighting for, the president, again and again, invoked Wilsonian ideals.
“We serve the cause of liberty,” the president said, “and that is, always and everywhere, a cause worth serving.”
“A secure and free Iraq is an historic opportunity to change the world and make America more secure.” “A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East will have incredible change.” “A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East is vital to future peace and security.”
“We’re changing the world.” That phrase or a variation recurred again and again.
“The legacy we are going to leave behind is . . . a legacy that really is based upon our deep belief that people want to be free and that free societies are peaceful societies.” “It’s important for us to spread freedom throughout the Middle East. Free societies are hopeful societies.” “We have an obligation to work toward a more free world. That’s our obligation. That’s what we have been called to do, as far as I’m concerned.” “And my job as president is to lead this nation into making this world a better place.”
Bush believes God has called him to liberate the repressed peoples of Iraq and the Islamic world, because freedom is God’s gift to mankind, and when men are made free, they do not war with one another.
Yet, as one looks to Najaf, Fallujah and Sadr City, this seems not only naive but delusional. Where did George W. Bush of Midland-Odessa and Crawford get these ideas?
History shows that the liberated often turn to oppressing their oppressors. Liberated from Saddam, the Kurds seized Kirkut and its oil fields and started kicking Arabs out. The Shi’ites await a Shi’ite-dominated Iraq. The Sunnis do not believe in majority rule. They believe in Sunni rule. When we liberate a people, we liberate not only its democrats but its demons.
When the ancien regime fell, there came the guillotine, the Terror and Bonaparte. When the Romanovs fell, Lenin crawled out of the rubble. When the Western imperialists departed Africa, despots seized power in almost every sub-Saharan nation. Democracy did not survive in one of 22 Arab states.
Why did Bush risk his presidency on a gamble that this time it would be different? He may be an idealist, but is he a realist? Does he comprehend the world he claims to be changing? Or is he inviting the brutal epitaph of Kipling?
Now, it is not good for the Christian’s health to hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles, and he weareth the Christian down;
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white, with the name of the late deceased,
And the epitaph drear: ‘A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.’