Last December, during a debate among the Republican candidates for the U.S. presidency, Senator Ted Cruz attacked the idea that the United States should pursue regime change in Syria. If Washington tries to topple Bashar al-Assad, Cruz warned, the jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) “will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests.” Cruz suggested a different plan: “Instead of being a Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter, we ought to hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take control of new countries.”
Americans are often faulted for their indifference to (or ignorance of) history. Yet a disparaging reference to Wilson, who served as U.S. president a century ago, can still score points during a political campaign.
Indeed, Wilson’s ideas are particularly relevant and contentious today. In the years before Wilson came to