chapter  3
16 Pages

Woodrow Wilson

ByJohn A. Thompson

Woodrow Wilson is commonly seen as the president who first made the promotion of democracy in other countries a central purpose of American foreign policy, and one which at times justified the use of force. However, a closer look at both Wilson’s thinking about the subject and his conduct of American policy complicates this picture considerably. Neither in thought nor in action did Wilson hold to a consistent position on the issue. The various views he expressed have to be understood in the context of his concerns at the time. In his earlier life as an academic, Wilson wrote a good deal about democracy but almost never with any reference to American foreign policy. Rather, he focused on the factors that had shaped the evolution of modern democracy, and the ways in which its workings, particularly in the United States, could be improved. Similarly, the extent to which his commitment to democracy affected his foreign policy can only be assessed by considering its place in relation to his other goals, both his tactical ones in particular situations and the broader strategic conception of the nation’s long-term interests that he developed.