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.