- December 10, 2009
- 12 minutes read
15 Unlearned Lessons for Obama
Not everyone in the world idolizes American military power and US soldiers, as do most Americans. In truth, many in the world view them with fear and hatred. They are also seen by many as repressive and bearers of an immoral, destructive and implosive culture, that they detest and do not want, notes Dallas Darling.
(From Wilson’s Punitive Expedition)
Like President Barack Obama, when Woodrow Wilson entered the Oval Office, he resolved to “strike a new note in international affairs,” and to see that “sheer honesty and even unselfishness should prevail over nationalistic self-seeking in American foreign policy.”(1) And like Obama, Wilson strongly campaigned against US imperialism. The only problem was Wilson soon intervened in Mexico’s (and Haiti’s, Santo Domingo’s, Nicaragua’s, and the Dominican Republic’s) affairs.(2) As Obama prepares to address the American people about Afghanistan, and as he justifies sending more troops and “finishing the job,” he might want to consider Wilson’s Punitive Expedition into Mexico.
In 1910, Mexico’s president, Porfirio Diaz, was overthrown by the popular leader Francisco Madero. When President Madero moved to nationalize American businesses and oil companies, President Wilson acted on a plan proposed by various large US corporations that wanted to protect their stakes. With the support of Wilson and American businesses, Diaz was quickly deposed and replaced by Victoriano Huerta. But Huerta proved to be a brutal dictator. He also refused to borrow more money from Wilson and US business and started to align himself with British oil interests.(3)
While two new revolutionary leaders emerged, Venustiano Carranza and Pancho Villa, Wilson pressured Great Britain to stop supporting Huerta. Wilson then sent a naval flotilla to blockade Vera Cruz, so as to prevent a shipment of German arms from reaching Huerta.(4) In 1914, and before congressional approval, Wilson sent 7,000 US troops to occupy Vera Cruz over a minor naval incident. Although Wilson had envisioned a bloodless action, a battle ensued causing 65 American casualties. Over 500 Mexicans were either killed or wounded.(5) Bowing to US might, Huerta abdicated.
With Wilson’s support, Carranza gained control of Mexico. (Earlier, Carranza declined Wilson’s offer to send American troops into Mexico.) When Carranza refused to accept US guidelines for the creation of a new government, and when he centralized control over the nation’s oil and mineral resources, Wilson and several US businesses became outraged.(6) Wilson began supporting and arming Pancho Villa, Carranza’s lieutenant, who was now leading a rebellion. Later, when Wilson changed his mind and again backed Carranza with weapons and money, Pancho Villa felt betrayed. He retaliated against the US by raiding Columbus, New Mexico and killing 16 Americans.
Pancho Villa was wanting to draw Wilson and US troops into Mexico’s ongoing revolution. By sending US soldiers into Mexico to protect Carranza, Villa hoped to destabilize relations between Carranza and Wilson. Villa also knew that Mexicans would resent the presence of US soldiers and join his rebel army to fight against both Carranza and the US It did not take long for Wilson to send 12,000 US troops into Mexico under the command of General John J. Pershing. Neither did it take long for Wilson to militarize the US Mexican border with 150,000 National Guard soldiers.(7)
The Punitive Expedition, as Wilson called it, tried to capture Villa. It turned into a military debacle and soured relations between Mexico and the US Many Mexicans still harbored deep bitterness over the Mexican-American War, and for losing their land and being deported. Neither did American troops win the hearts and minds of the Mexican people. As resentment increased towards the foreign occupiers, Pancho Villa’s rebel army grew from 600 to 10,000. Due to popular pressure, Carranza was forced to make a stand and fought two skirmishes with US troops. Several US soldiers, mainly blacks, were killed. Many more were taken captive.
After the two battles, Wilson ordered General Pershing and his army to stand down. During this punitive pause, Wilson sought counsel as to what action to pursue. While General Pershing questioned Wilson’s orders, American troops became disillusioned. At the last minute, and while Mexico and the US stood on the brink of war, Wilson decided to quietly withdraw US troops back across the Mexican-US border. The Punitive Expedition cost a great deal of money, resources, and time (4 years), and Wilson never caught Villa. Mexican hostility towards the US only increased.
Unlearned Lesson 1: “It would be the irony of fate, if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.” (Quoted by Woodrow Wilson upon entering the presidency.)
Unlearned Lesson 2: US businesses and corporations should not control and govern foreign policy. More weapons and troop surges may allow companies to amass great wealth, but quite frequently they complicate matters, even destabilizing entire regions.
Unlearned Lesson 3: “We can have no sympathy with those who seek to seize the power of government to advance their own personal interests or ambition.” (Quoted by President Wilson after becoming president.) Big Stick and Moral Diplomacy, also known as punitive expeditions and economic and military imperialism, seldom works. Neither does American ethnocentrism and hypocrisy.
Unlearned Lesson 4: Have a clear objective and a sound strategy. Plan for other goals too, especially if the first one becomes unachievable. Also, in “finishing the job,” is the “job” good and just in the first place? The “job” should not mean perpetual war and occupation.
Unlearned Lesson 5: Hardly ever do foreign entities control indigenous revolutions and political movements or their results, let alone their wars. Those refugee camps, caused by outside and misguided military interventions and filled with hundreds of thousands of dying people without any hope, will come back to haunt you.
Unlearned Lesson 6: If foreign occupiers fail to win the hearts and minds of people, they will more than likely lose the war (and the peace and security). While “making the world safe for democracy,” be sure your own nation’s freedoms are not diminished.
Unlearned Lesson 7: Plan and prepare for blowback. Things and events usually go wrong and backfire. Outcomes will be much different than you expect, especially when the perpetrator (or perpetrators) cannot be found.
Unlearned Lesson 8: Not everyone in the world idolizes American military power and US soldiers, as do most Americans. In truth, many in the world view them with fear and hatred. They are also seen by many as repressive and bearers of an immoral, destructive and implosive culture, that they detest and do not want.
Unlearned Lesson 9: Respect national sovereignty and the right of people to pursue self-determination. At the same time, not everyone recognizes the same political boundaries. In fact, tribes and extended families transcend such artificially imposed borders. (Hint: The Rio Grande between Mexico and the US, and the Durand line between Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
Unlearned Lesson 10: Beware of the Imperial Presidency, along with an unequal amount, or disproportional, use of force. It can become very costly concerning material resources and human lives. Everyone too should equally bear the costs and sacrifices of the war regardless of their race, color and creed, or their political, economic and social status.
Unlearned Lesson 11: Before embarking on Punitive Expeditions, past injustices and wrongs over land seized and confiscated during illegal wars-which sometimes dates back several centuries-should first be resolved. Restitution and reparations should be attempted. Still, what one thinks to be Moral Diplomacy can essentially be Immoral Diplomacy.
Unlearned Lesson 12: Do not impose your vision of what things should be onto centuries-old civilizations. Many people are proud and devoted to their own cultures, religions, traditions, and governing ways. Always respect international law and human rights treaties your nation signed.
Unlearned Lesson 13: Do not abandon former allies. If you do, tread with caution. (This includes both foreign and domestic allies-your political base, namely the people who voted for you and worked on your behalf.) Before you embark on taking military action and bypassing Congress, at least seek advise from your own party and the American people.
Unlearned Lesson 14: History does not have to repeat itself.
Unlearned Lesson 15: Afghanistan and 2010 and 2012?
Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for www.worldnews.com. You can read more of Dallas’ Daily Digest at www.beverlydarling.com and wn.com//dallasdarling.)
(1) Appleby, Joyce, James M. McPherson, Alan Brinkley, Donald Ritchie, and Albert S. Broussard. The American Republic Since 1877. New York, New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2003. p. 448.
(2) Boyer, Paul S., Clifford E. Clark, Joseph F. Kett, Neal Salisbury, Harvard Sitkoff, and Nancy Woloch. The Enduring Vision, A History Of The American People. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1993. p. 739.
(3) Williams, William Appleman. Americans In A Changing World, A History Of The United States In The Twentieth Century. New York, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1978. p. 130.
(4) Boyer, Paul S., Clifford E. Clark, Joseph F. Kett, Neal Salisbury, Harvard Sitkoff, and Nancy Woloch. The Enduring Vision, A History Of The American People. p. 740.
(5) Ibid., p. 740.
(6) Brinkley, Alan. American History, A Survey. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill College, 1999. p. 769.
(7) Boyer, Paul S., Clifford E. Clark, Joseph F. Kett, Neal Salisbury, Harvard Sitkoff, and Nancy Woloch. The Enduring Vision, A History Of The American People. p. 740.