Politics and Public Opinion

Isolationist? Kinda

Earlier this week, Alex Della Rocchetta posted on a growing tide of isolationism in the nation (citing this Pew poll) and the imperative of stronger leadership from the president. Taking issue with Alex, Jonah Goldberg suggests that while there may be some other wrong-headed ism at work, those who wish to bail out of Libya, Afghanistan, or anywhere else aren’t rightly called isolationists.

Technically, of course, Jonah is right. There isn’t really a fortress America movement growing, and the usual anti-trade/anti-immigration/anti-interventionist mix is not on display. Ron Paul, as he correctly notes, is not a protectionist. But something is surely afoot, and it isn’t just mistaken attitudes about Libya, Afghanistan, or fiscal conservatism run amok. Nor is it just a problem inside the GOP. Still, ascribing Mitt Romney’s assertion that “it’s time for to us bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can” and Jon Huntsman’s suggestion that the United States should stop playing “traffic cop” in Afghanistan to bad priorities seems to me to be a misread. One could suggest that the case for intervention in Libya isn’t compelling, but Afghanistan should be another matter.

The heart of the problem rests with President Obama, to be sure. As I, Marc Thiessen, and others have written on many occasions, the president has done precious little to explain why we are fighting in Afghanistan, what are interests are in Libya, and what his view of America’s role in the world should be. Small wonder that people are confused about end games when the commander in chief himself appears not to have one. But that’s not the whole story.

When the center of gravity of the GOP appears to be shifting away from a robust defense of American leadership, American interests, and American allies in the world, it’s right to wonder whether there isn’t something more fundamental going on. And when those who label themselves disciples of Ronald Reagan start calling for America to look inward, to shy away from the world’s problems, to cut the military, cut commitments, and otherwise bug out from the international arena except when it comes to making money, it’s hard not to hear an isolationist duck quacking.

4 thoughts on “Isolationist? Kinda

  1. I think that one could agree with your assertion that the President has done little to explain our national interest in Libya aside from bending to the pleadings of some (some) of our NATO allies (none of whom, I might add, are willing to actually pony up and help with expenses).

    But I think the President has been very explicit in stating our reasons and intentions for occupying Afghanistan: ensuring that this state doesn’t revert into becoming a terrorist safe-haven. Likewise with his statements regarding America’s role in the world.

    Looking inward does not necessarily mean reverting from world affairs. Last time I checked, there were serious issues to be dealt with here concerning the economy (which authors of this blog are duly aware of), and dealing with these problems will require us to assert our leadership globally. Spending $2 billion a week on bombing a dictator that was until recently friendly with a number of high profile Senate hawks is not exactly a fiscally (or diplomatically or strategically) sound policy.

    And nation-building is, if you think about it, merely a pompous exercise in government power and central planning. Perhaps a deeper read into some of the GOP candidates views on political organization will reveal that attempting to prop up what is essentially an artificial state will only lead to more money being spent on fruitless enterprises and more blood being shed for those who, for all intents and purposes, are capable of fighting for their own freedom. None of this suggests isolationism. Not even ‘kinda’.

    The fears that some in Washington express over the revival of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan are real, and this problem needs to be dealt with through diplomatic, economic, and clandestine operations. But it has become increasingly apparent, to both those on the Hill and the American people writ large, that our current policy of occupying Afghanistan militarily has failed to deliver any meaningful results to our national interest or to global stability.

    I think a more pertinent question to ask is just what the authors of this blog define as American leadership and American interests.

  2. I think that one could agree with your assertion that the President has done little to explain our national interest in Libya aside from bending to the pleadings of some (some) of our NATO allies (none of whom, I might add, are willing to actually pony up and help with expenses).

    But I think the President has been very explicit in stating our reasons and intentions for occupying Afghanistan: ensuring that this state doesn’t revert into becoming a terrorist safe-haven. Likewise with his statements regarding America’s role in the world.

    Looking inward does not necessarily mean reverting from world affairs. Last time I checked, there were serious issues to be dealt with here concerning the economy (which authors of this blog are duly aware of), and dealing with these problems will require us to assert our leadership globally. Spending $2 billion a week on bombing a dictator that was until recently friendly with a number of high profile Senate hawks is not exactly a fiscally (or diplomatically or strategically) sound policy.

    And nation-building is, if you think about it, merely a pompous exercise in government power and central planning. Perhaps a deeper read into some of the GOP candidates views on political organization will reveal that attempting to prop up what is essentially an artificial state will only lead to more money being spent on fruitless enterprises and more blood being shed for those who, for all intents and purposes, are capable of fighting for their own freedom. None of this suggests isolationism. Not even ‘kinda’.

    The fears that some in Washington express over the revival of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan are real, and this problem needs to be dealt with through diplomatic, economic, and clandestine operations. But it has become increasingly apparent, to both those on the Hill and the American people writ large, that our current policy of occupying Afghanistan militarily has failed to deliver any meaningful results to our national interest or to global stability.

    I think a more pertinent question to ask is just what the authors of this blog define as American leadership and American interests.

  3. It is easy to find ways to declare an American interest in anything that happens around the world, so I am concerned that America ends up being the “garbage man” in support of its entanglements. Our country’s government has steadily entered into entangling alliances, well beyond trade agreements, since we were warned about it by Thomas Jefferson. These alliances have done much to commit us to act in the other party’s favor, and have done little to achieve the opposite. Maybe we should be a little more isolationist, or at least more non-interventionist. Our economic situation is a good reason to revisit the roles we play in various multinational bodies, and reassess our relationships and commitments with other countries. I think less in this arena would definitely be more.

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