Friday, July 3, 2009

Russia and the US, 1917, & the Obama effect

I’ve been reading David Fromkin’s In the Time of the Americans. His subtitle indicates that he is going to emphasize FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall and MacArthur, but he is moving slowly. I’m on Page 200 (out of 706 pages) and he is discussing the challenge placed upon Wilson by Russia’s separate treaty with Germany. Lenin proposed that all nations quit fighting and agree to the borders that existed prior to the start of the war. Furthermore Lenin had published in Izvestia the “hitherto secret treaties between tsarist Russian and her allies, Britain, France, Japan, and Italy, outlining the rewards they would divide among themselves if they won the war. Whole empires were to be shared between the Allies in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific.”

Wilson found the Bolshevik position very upsetting and challenging because Lenin was proposing some of the same things he himself had proposed. But since that time, since the time that Wilson had proposed a cessation of warfare and a return to previous boundaries, American shipping had been sunk by German U-Boats, drawing America into the War.

Wilson didn’t care for the British and he didn’t believe in the Allied cause. He thought Britain, France, and Italy were fighting for booty and not for ideals. Not so the U.S. according to Wilson. Wilson made sure that the U.S. when it sent troops to Europe was not considered to be part of the allies but an “associate.” Pershing was forbidden to integrate America troops into British or French forces, although Pershing did agree to give the French 4 American brigades prior to the time a more substantial force reached Europe. But one can see that Wilson believed that the US was fighting for unselfish reasons while the Allies were not.

Lenin also believed in a greater cause. He and his Bolsheviks believed that the workers of the world would flock to his cause. It was a great shock when he got no takers. It was the clear indication that Russia, as led by the Bolsheviks, was on its own causing Lenin to make his separate peace with Germany.

Wilson was afraid that the U.S. would be “tainted” by the publishing of the “secret treaties,” but not so. A majority of Americans believed in Wilson’s idealism. European leaders (not European people) merely thought him naïve.

Not all Americans were caught up in Wilson’s rhetoric – not Teddy Roosevelt. He “argued in the autumn of 1917 that the United States ‘did not go to war to make democracy safe. . . first and foremost we are to make the world safe for ourselves. This is our war, America’s war. If we do not win it we shall someday have to reckon with Germany single-handed. Therefore, for our own sake let us strike down Germany.’

Fromkin comments, “Whatever its other virtues, this was not the spiritually uplifting message that America wanted to hear . . . .”

In the present time we could say that Bush sounded more like TR to the American people and the world, and we could also say that whatever the virtues of Bush’s ideas, they haven’t been what the American people and much of the rest of the world want to hear. Now we have the more idealistic Obama in his place. The world wants to believe in him, much as it wanted to believe in Wilson.

If we look at present day Russia we see that its Bush-like treatment of its buffer states isn’t working out very well. Even Belarus seems to want to shake loose from Russian control and that seemed to me to be the one nation that never would. Kyrgyzstan was about ready to kick the U.S. out, to close up their Airbase and forbid them the use of Manas. Reuters as we see is open to the idea that Kyrgyzstan was influenced by the “Obama effect.” It could have been something else that caused Kyrgyzstan to renew the lease at Manas, but it could have been the Obama effect.


The thing about the Wilson effect is that he was wrong. The later Neocons were in essence Wilsonian. They shared the same ideals. As long as we are in a war, let us export and insist upon Democracy. And we have learned once again that Liberal Democracy – not merely “democracy” for democracy that isn’t liberal can be anything. It can be Iranian democracy – isn’t exportable. Perhaps Islam can be advanced by force of arms but Liberal Democracy can’t.

It is a safe prediction that after the US forces leave Iraq, that nation will not progress into a Liberal Democracy. It may regress into warring factions much as the former Yugoslavia did, but it won’t become a Liberal Democracy. Bush, if he thought it would, was naïve, much as Wilson was time and time again when he thought to dictate “his” peace in Europe. David Fromkin gave his description of that peace, the peace of 1919, an excellent title when he called his book describing it, “The Peace to End All Peace.” Wilson’s naïve beliefs influenced a lot of people, perhaps more in Europe than in America, but Wilson was wrong and Teddy Roosevelt was right. We had to fight Germany again. Wilson was appalled at the horrors of Verdun and the trench fighting of World War One. What would he think if he knew that his naivety strongly contributed to Germany’s resurgence after his European Peace? What would he think if he knew that his naivety made a way for Hitler and for the Second World War which was far more horrendous than the first?

Today the world seems open to the kinder, gentler, US portrayed by Obama. And, interestingly, Russia’s buffers states, many of them, seem open to it as well. Does Russia really want to keep its buffer states? If so, perhaps it needs a kinder, gentler, leader.

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