By John Isaacs and Matthew Reichert
Am I an isolationist if . . .
I support key international institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank that facilitate international economic cooperation and engineer collective action?
I feel safer knowing that the bilateral New START treaty with Russia reduces the global threat of nuclear weapons, and I believe that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a key element in containing the spread of nuclear weapons?
I back the Asian security alliances with Japan and South Korea?
I believe in free-trade agreements that assist American prosperity?
I deem the U.S.-China trade relationship essential to American and worldwide economic stability?
I strongly endorse the democratic movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere?
I support a reset of relations with Russia to ensure cooperation on a number of issues?
I hope that the United States undergirds European Union efforts to solve the economic challenges of debt-laden countries such as Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal?
I back United States and international efforts to negotiate with Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear weapons programs?
I urgently endorse persistent American efforts to ensure a safe, secure Israel existing alongside a free and independent Palestine?
But . . .
I am unwilling to sacrifice American lives to spread freedom and engage in state-building in far away lands where American security is not clearly at stake.
The answer is a clear-cut no . . . but the neo-cons are manipulating the debate over U.S. troops in Afghanistan and around Libya.
Too many neo-conservative leaders, Republican candidates, and reporters are tossing around the epithet “isolationist” to falsely characterize those who do not continue to support the indefinite presence of tens of thousands of American troops in Afghanistan, or who question the application of U.S. military force in Libya.
Part of the debate among Republicans emanates from the G.O.P. nomination race that has revealed a deepening schism in the Republican Party over the direction of American foreign policy and our willingness to employ military power to shape world events. The old doctrine that American military superiority should be utilized proactively to prevent the rise of a regional competitor, to preemptively strike against potential threats, and to implant freedom and democracy around the globe, is fading from the Republican mainstream.
Unfortunately, the shrinking militant interventionist wing of the party, mostly comprised from the old guard of neo-conservatism and led by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), seeks to adulterate the new discussion of pragmatic military non-interventionism in the G.O.P. with the label of “isolationism.”
The term “isolationism” has historically described a doctrine that repudiates not only military intervention abroad but international alliances and institutions, and foreign economic commitments.
It is clear that the McCain-Graham characterization confuses a temperate perspective of pragmatic military non-interventionism with the radically inward-turning doctrine of isolationism that reached its high point between World Wars One and Two.
Unfortunately, this misrepresentation has entered the mainstream, where its careless use by reporters and candidates threatens to undermine a prudent and timely discussion of the limits of American power.
A more accurate understanding of the “isolationist” doctrine is necessary to prevent a narrow group of militant interventionists from falsely redefining the foreign policy conversation. The misused term “isolationism” should be relabeled as foreign policy pragmatism.