A few years ago we were having a very high-profile, highly-visible debate about something called NAFTA. It was a proposed treaty establishing a trading bloc among the United States, Canada and Mexico. The pro-NAFTA and anti-NAFTA people were very sure of themselves as they argued back and forth about whether we should sign it or not. It wasn’t too long before people started talking about the “isolationist” faction that made an important plank in the anti-NAFTA side.
It seemed an innocuous label at the time. After all, if you’re an isolationist, shouldn’t you ‘fess up to being one? And there are good reasons for being an isolationist, or at least thinking about being one. “Foreign entanglements” is one of the troubling situations raised by George Washington in his Farewell Address.
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.
But make no mistake: However reluctant everyone may be to besmirch the words of our first President, the word “isolationist” is a deragatory term. It carries the connotation that the person being described, labors under an unworkably narrow worldview and will live to regret it. It’s not a flattering term; or at any rate, it isn’t used as a flattering term.
And there’s something a little unfair about that.
But here’s something else to chew on.
When someone from what we think of as the “right wing” embraces an isolationist platform — pick one: anti-illegal immigration, anti-legal-immigration, anti-trading-bloc, pro-tarrifs, anti-student-visa, anti-worker-visa, anti-Dubai-port-deal — we don’t have to wait very long before we hear the “I” word, do we?
I find that interesting.
There were a lot of reasons to oppose the Dubai port deal besides “isolationist” concerns. National security is a great example. It’s a perfectly valid point-of-view, and one widely held, that it’s mutually beneficial to do business with foreign countries — just keep those countries away from our port terminals when they have a history of doing business with the Taliban. So how well does the word “isolationist” fit? Sure, it overlaps. But an overlapping is not a fitting. Nobody’s out there saying Hillary Clinton is an isolationist, just because she opposed the port deal.
Here’s the bug up my ass: The “I” word is a perfect fit, like a hand sliding into a glove, to describe the hardcore left-wing effort to oppose the War on Terror and our operations in Iraq. Isolationists are exactly what those people are.
Some of them supported our operations in Afghanistan but insist the excursion into Iraq was an exercise in distraction from the stated goal. They insist that while Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, he was off-topic; therefore, by implication, they insist that all the other bad people in the world with ties to terrorism, are similarly off-topic until someone can offer a substantial, documented connection between the proposed target and undisputed, historical events of terror. And such historical events are to involve injury to the United States, and the United States alone, or else they will remain off-topic.
That’s isolationist. That’s the dictionary definition of isolationist.
Others among the anti-war left don’t even support the operation in Afghanistan. They worry about the image of the United States on the world stage, that our “hostile foreign policy” has caused other countries to “view us with contempt” and “squandered the goodwill” we had with “our allies.” This naturally raises a question about what kind of ally you have, when the ally is only your ally until you defend yourself, and then is your ally no more. But wisely, these anti-war zealots sidestep the question by simply refusing to engage it; they noisily debate only the things that give them traction, nevermind that real life stubbornly insists on debating all aspects of a policy, not just some.
In sum, they propose a policy where America improves its image — as perceived by other countries who would like us to shut up and go away. By piping down. Knuckling under. Let the snakes go ahead and take over the swamp.
There are still others who support the anti-war movement: Those who are concerned about our “civil liberties” and the “erosion” of same. It’s a valid concern. We lead the world in the freedoms we have, thanks to our unique concept of limited government. This leadership is chiseled into our Constitution which, letter-by-letter, remains unchanged since the 9/11 attacks. But this advantage is supported by our culture as well, and out of necessity the culture has gone through significant transformation. It’s just a fact that on September 10, 2001, you could do a lot of things, secure in the knowledge that the government would never find out about it. And that this is no longer true. Some of that is necessary, but nevertheless it’s a good time to stay vigilant.
It’s a balancing act. But it’s the position of those who take up the anti-war banner, over the concern for civil liberties…that it is not a balancing act. They only want to think about one side. Not that they deny the existence of terrorists who want to kill Americans. They simply declare it off the table. Not a relevant topic.
The word fits so well over the anti-war crowd, that I daresay if you show me a hundred anti-war zealots, I can show you a hundred isolatonists. Maybe a lot fewer than a hundred who would be willing to admit that’s what they are; but a hundred isolationists nonetheless. And I’ll bet a small amount of money that if you show me a hundred isolationists, I can show you a hundred anti-war zealots. I’ll bet a much larger amount of money that I could show you, let’s say, seventy or eighty.
Is anyone ready to dispute that?
No? Then how about applying the word that has become so deragatory, and such a synonym for dim-wittedness, knuckle-headedness, obliviousness, myopia, unwarranted hostility, immaturity, and general short-sightedness?
How does the word NOT fit the anti-war crowd? I’d be interested in any argument anyone would have to offer.