Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy - Missionary diplomacy: negatives and positives



This account of missionary diplomacy suggests that there was no significant change from earlier (1898–1913) United States policy in Latin America. If anything, missionary diplomacy meant "missionaries" (U.S. diplomats, military and naval officers, and businessmen) sometimes working in distasteful and ill-conceived ways, certainly not destined to ensure the voluntary "conversion" of the flock. Woodrow Wilson's objectives for Latin America, emphasizing democracy and constitutionalism, were admirable in the abstract; but they did not accord with reality in the nations affected. Furthermore, Wilson's methods were paradoxical: he did not use democratic and constitutional means to achieve his objectives. As on other occasions during his service in higher education and government, personal combat consumed Wilson; his struggles with Huerta, Carranza, and Villa ultimately became tests of personal strength and honor. On such occasions he lost his sense of perspective and the ability to see varieties of opinion and alternative approaches.

Missionary diplomacy was not devoid of positive effects. The negotiation of a treaty with Colombia in 1914 to resolve the deep resentment over that nation's loss of Panama in 1903 is an example. In the treaty, the United States expressed "sincere regret that anything should have occurred to interrupt or to mar the relations of cordial friendship that had so long subsisted between the two nations" and proposed to pay Colombia $25 million. Partly because of opposition from Theodore Roosevelt, the Senate ignored the treaty while Wilson was president but approved it in 1921 after removing the expression of regret. Wilson's support for the settlement appears to have been based on a conviction that U.S. actions in 1903 were wrong, that the whole affair had contributed substantially to Yankeephobia, and that an apology and reparations were long overdue. But Wilson could take this stand because the Colombian treaty did not interfere with his basic objectives for Latin America.

Some historians, especially Mark T. Gilderhus, have pointed to Wilson's support for a "Pan American pact" beginning in 1914 as another effort to put United States–Latin American relations on the basis of "equality and honor," as promised in the Mobile address. The draft pact was a multilateral agreement to guarantee territorial integrity, political independence, republican government, arbitration of disputes, and arms control. Presumably, the United States would forgo the unilateral right of intervention in Latin America. Edward M. House, who did much of the planning for the proposal, saw it as a way to promote hemispheric peace, just as Wilson later envisaged the world role of the League of Nations. Efforts to secure agreement on the pact failed. Some of the larger countries, such as Chile, rejected the idea of guaranteeing territorial integrity before the settlement of existing boundary disputes; and, given the contemporary United States interventions, it was difficult to see the pact as anything other than a cloak for established policy. In fact, neither Wilson nor his advisers were willing to renounce the practice of intervention.



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