Seemingly everyone in Washington is being characterized as
an isolationist. That the word has apparently become such a slur is
revealing, largely because most of those accused of "isolationism"
appear to be anything but. Aside from Ron Paul, who has unashamedly
called for ending America's military engagements, disbanding NATO,
pulling out of the United Nations, and slashing "hundreds of billions"
out of the "military-industrial complex," it's next to impossible to
find a single prominent U.S. politician who is calling for the country
to reduce its preeminent role on the world stage.
No major political figure and certainly no presidential aspirant is
calling for the U.S. to end its membership NATO or other international
institutions; none are suggesting that the U.S. bring troops home from
East Asia, where more than 60,000 US troops are stationed, predominately
in South Korea and Japan; and few are talking about closing down
overseas U.S. military bases. Even in a time of economic uncertainty,
calls for greater protectionism or an end to trade agreements are few
and far between. If anything, expanding trade seems to be one area where
Congressional Republicans and the White House are on the same page.
When it comes to the defense budget, few political leaders are pushing
for military spending to be cut. Republicans balked at Obama's call for
$400 billion in Pentagon savings over ten years, accusing
him of insufficient fortitude in maintaining American defenses. Just
last week, the House, with only 12 dissenting GOP voices, passed a
defense spending bill that would increase the Pentagon budget by $17
billion. There seem to be more warnings today about incipient
isolationism than actual examples.
What the accused "isolationists" in the GOP and the Democratic Party are
really describing would be far more accurately defined as foreign
policy realism. The notion that the U.S. should be more restrained in
where it chooses to engage militarily, for example, is rooted in the
assumption not that the United States should never intervene but that
perhaps it should do so more selectively. The "isolationist" argument
that vital national interests should take precedence over notions of
humanitarianism or global leadership, such as those that led the United
States into Libya, is really about modifying the nature of America's
dominant positions in the world, not about ending it.
After ten years of foreign wars that have cost the country trillions of
dollars, resulted in thousands of American deaths, and provided minimal
benefit to larger U.S. security interests, it's hardly surprising that
polls show a majority of Americans agree with these arguments. The
Chicago Council of Foreign Relations annual survey of foreign policy
attitudes suggest that most Americans would prefer the U.S. adopt a
smaller overseas military footprint and share the burden of global
leadership more equally with its allies. In fact, less than one in ten
of those polled believe that the U.S. should "continue to be the world's
preeminent world leader" and 71 percent believe it should work together
with other countries to solve global problems.