The New York Times notes (I seem to be using this feature a lot this week) that on this day in 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany and "make the world safe for democracy." Well, we had the war, and the Germans surrendered--but make the world safe for democracy? Not hardly.
I don't know if that's even possible nowadays. Maybe the last century was the American Century, but this one seems unlikely to belong to any one power, or superpower. We seem be heading into a time when various regional powers will exist--Russia, India, China, maybe Iran--and hopefully they'll get along without blowing each other up.
How many of those powers will be democracies? Good question. Russia seemed headed that way for a while, but not lately. China seems to be experimenting with considerable economic freedom for its people, but not political freedom. Iran? Anybody's guess.
And does all the world want democracy? Another good question. If you grow up in a rigidly structured theocracy like, say, Saudi Arabia, do you yearn for American-style democracy? Maybe not. Do the women yearn for drivers' licenses and equality? Maybe, maybe not. Democracy is not, I think, one size fits all.
What we can do is try to make the world safe for whatever system the various countries choose. And that means talking to one another--becoming polite acquaintances if not friends. Barack Obama has been criticized for saying he'd talk with the leaders of countries, like Iran, which aren't our best friends. But why be critical? Talking is surely better than showing off our missiles or, worse yet, using them.
Winston Churchill said a lot of good things over his long life. One of my favorites has always been, "Jaw jaw is better than war war."