A passage from George Kennan’s The Decision to Intervene is a useful reminder of the Wilsonian habit of plunging into other nations’ internal conflicts without properly understanding them. Here Kennan describes the Wilson administration’s thinking about intervention in Siberia:

Closely connected with this omission were the frequent references in the July 6 decision and its subsequent discussions of the American plan, to the German and Austrian war prisoners. These, it was to be inferred from the American documents, were the only opponents by whom the Czechs were confronted. The July 6 decision described the purpose of the proposed American-Japanese landing as aid to the Czechoslovaks “against German and Austrian prisoners.”…Nothing was said to suggest that these prisoners might be fighting ina cause, and under a command, entirely different from–and even hostile to–that of the Central Powers in the European war. Nothing was said to suggest that they were not the only forces opposing the Czechs.

In this way the United States government, disregarding the many reports in its possession that threw doubt on the validity of such a thesis, ultimately sponsored by implication the wildest and most alarmist image of a Siberia threatened with seizure by armed detachments of the Central Powers and saved from this fate, for the moment, only by the heroic Czechs. In this dramatic image there was no room either for the Bolsheviki, who were the real opponents of the Czechs in Siberia, nor the Russian Whites, who were their real allies. (p. 400-401)

Washington was encouraged in these “delusions” by many parties to the conflict, but Kennan notes that the reality was quite different:

Nevertheless, to picture the opposition by which the Czechs were faced in Siberia as consisting primarily of German and Austrian prisoners, instigated by their governments and fighting in the cause of their governments, was at all times a grievous distortion. (p. 402)

Kennan allows that the Wilson administration was the victim of misinformation, but he also blames the administration for what was effectively its horrible wishful thinking:

For men unwilling to face up to the awkward reality of Soviet power but desperately anxious to find a means of escape from the endless importunities of the Allied governments and of public opinion that they “do something” about Russia, the thesis that the Czechs, an Allied force, found themselves opposed in Siberia by the armed forces of the German and Austrian governments came as the perfect answer to all perplexities. (p. 403)

The same wishful thinking informed the administration’s view of the goal of the intervention:

The most likely answer to this question is that both Lansing and the President secretly hoped that the arrival of American and Japanese forces would elicit so powerful and friendly a reaction among the population that a pro-Allied political authority would be instituted throughout Siberia by spontaneous, democratic action. This might, in turn, lead to the prevalence of a new pro-Allied spirit in Russia proper, which in turn would either come to permeate the policies of the Bolsheviki or cause them to yield to other political forces more responsive to the political will. With all this, of course, the American forces would have had, under Wilson’s plan, no direct connection. Their only ostensible purpose would have been to help their Czech allies and to bring friendly aid to any sincere Russian efforts at self-government. They would thus not be vulnerable to the charge of having intervened in Russian affairs. (p. 404)