No, Senator, They're Not Isolationists

What’s wrong with the GOP criticizing Obama’s undeclared war?

There's been a lot of talk about an alleged turn in American public opinion—particularly among Republicans—toward "isolationism."

In a recent debate among GOP presidential hopefuls, there was some discussion about ending the United States' commitment to the tribal warlords and medieval shamans of the Afghan wilderness. This induced John McCain to complain about the rise of a new "strain of isolationism" that hearkens back to "Pat Buchanan-style Republicanism."

McCain sidekick Lindsey Graham went on to notify Congress that it "should sort of shut up and not empower Gadhafi" when the topic of the House's potentially defunding the military—er, kinetic, non-warlike bombing activity over Libya—came up. It would be a mistake, he vented, for Republican candidates to sit "to the left" of President Barack Obama on national security.

So if you don't shut up and stop carping about this non-war war of ours, you are abetting North African strongmen. Makes sense. It's the return of Teddy Roosevelt-style Republicanism, in which arbitrary power (and John McCain's singular wisdom) matters a lot more than any democratic institution.

(Article continues below the video "Brian Doherty on the Forgotten History of the Antiwar Right.")

Sure, some on the far right and swaths of the protectionist, union-driven left oppose international trade agreements and endlessly freaking us out about foreign influences. But isolationists? Judging from our conduct in the real world of economy, we're anything but insular. So perhaps McCain simply meant noninterventionists—as in folks who have an unwavering ideological aversion to any and all overseas entanglement.

That can't be it, either. Maybe, like many Americans, some in the GOP are simply grappling with wars that never end and a war that never started. And with plenty of troubles here at home, it's not surprising that Americans have turned their attention inward.

We can't be in a constant state of war. Then again, Afghanistan is not a war per se, but a precarious social engineering project that asks our best and bravest (or, as our ally Hamid Karzai calls them, "occupiers") to die for the Afghan Constitution, which is roundly ignored—except for the parts codifying Islamic law, that is. But all these conflicts come with the price of endless involvement. We almost always win. But we never really go home.

For those who claim that Republicans are hypocrites for opposing Obama's wars—be glad. Perhaps your worldview has won. But however brittle or lie-ridden you may find the reasoning for the wars of the past, at least we got a reason in the old days. We also got a vote. Today we have a metafiction.

This week, we learned that Obama rejected the advice of lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department who questioned his legal authority to continue this nonmilitary military involvement in Libya without congressional authorization. Instead, the administration offered a string of euphemisms concocted to bypass the Constitution.

Without any tangible evidence that this conflict furthers our national interests or any real proof that we are preventing a wide-scale humanitarian crisis, it's not a surprise that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says we're "leading from behind"—which is, in fact, as stupid and deceptive as the case it doesn't make.

Are you an isolationist for questioning those who continue to weaken the Constitution—a McCain specialty? Are you an isolationist for questioning this brand of obfuscation? Are you an isolationist for wanting American forces to win and leave the battlefield rather than hang around for decades of baby-sitting duty? Does an isolationist support the deployment of armed forces in defense of the United States rather than a handful of European nations?

Hardly.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Blaze. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.

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  • The Ghost of George Orwell||

    We can't be in a constant state of war.

    What a quaint notion!

  • ||

    Besides, we've always been at war with Northafrica.

  • O'Brien||

    We have always been at war with East Asia. Northafrica is our ally.

    BarryD=doubleplusungood

  • Caption Contest!||

    Just shut up and kiss me you damn fool!

  • Fire Tiger||

    Bukkake Spittake

  • Ska||

    I might be old and half a cripple, but I could still beat the shit out of you, you giant pussy. Now stop with the BS boxing poses when there are cameras around.

  • Zuo||

    "Isolationism". John Sidney, this word does not mean what you think it means.

  • Zuo||

    John's head looks like a rotting grapefruit with a cheap combover.

  • ||

    Has anyone noticed how Mitch McConnell's face looks like a catcher's mitt with glasses?

  • ||

    "We can't be in a constant state of war. Then again, Afghanistan is not a war per se, but a precarious social engineering project that asks our best and bravest (or, as our ally Hamid Karzai calls them, "occupiers") to die for the Afghan Constitution,..."

    It's much like the central question was in Vietnam.

    For me, it isn't about whether we win or lose; it's about what's in the best interests of the United States.

    If pulling out and leaving Vietnman was in the best interest of the United States--and staying destabilized neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia--then whether we "lost" or "won" wasn't as important as whether leaving was in the best interests of the United States.

    Whether what we leave behind in Afghanistan is what we want is less important than whether staying is working against our best interests--and continues to destabilize Pakistan.

  • Sudden||

    "Our best interests" is a pretty subjective criteria. One thing I would hasten to add to that criteria is that too often that "realist" line of thinking only considers our best interests in within the geopolitical foreign policy sphere and fails to account for the impact and costs associated with the conflict. "Our best interests" can't be simply thought of in terms of how US intervention in country xyz effects relations with bordering countries abc and lmnop, but has to be considered in terms of the cost in blood and treasure and waging the wars and what the marginal benefit gained is relative the marginal input in lives and borrowed dollars. Of course, "our best interest" are often extremely shortsighted and fail to recognize that what we are doing today in the name of our best interests might very well be creating our next clusterfuck of a situation (funding the mujaahadeen in the 1980's pretty much founded al-Queda for example).

  • ||

    ...what we are doing today in the name of our best interests might very well be creating our next clusterfuck of a situation

    That's a perk, not a bug, of a debtor State, or a State where the major political parties embrace these crises as 'talking points' as a cover for their candidates' lack of substance.

  • MNG||

    +1

  • ||

    "...has to be considered in terms of the cost in blood and treasure and waging the wars and what the marginal benefit gained is relative the marginal input in lives and borrowed dollars."

    In addition to opposing Iraq for humanitarian reasons, that was essentially my opposition to Iraq--in realist terms.

    What we were likely to get out of it--was to serve the interests of a state sponsor of terrorism (Iran)....a country that really did have a WMD program!

    And the costs in terms of both American treasure and American lives (not to mention the cost in humanitarian terms to the Iraqis) just wasn't worth that "benefit".

    I think this is a side of realism that's often unappreciated.

    ...that it isn't just a way to justify various wars; it's a way to justify staying out of them!

    That's what the Powell Doctrine was really all about--it was a realist way to justify staying out of wars. We only got into really big trouble when we ignored it.

  • Sudden||

    What we were likely to get out of it--was to serve the interests of a state sponsor of terrorism (Iran)....a country that really did have a WMD program!

    I disagree, more or less, with your analysis of what we got out of it. In many ways, the Iraqi misadventure has been relatively successful in terms of achieving stated and implicit goals (removal of the govt, installation of a moderately democratic regime, counter threat to regional oil stability). In terms of its implications throughout the region, it may have temporarily strengthened the Iranian hand, but I believe that to be a fleeting side effect of the doldrums of the conflict circa 2005-2006. The situation there is markedly improved since and although its still hardly our Somali paradise, its a far cry from the shithole that it was. Since the situation there turned around, I'd argue that Iran's regime has been less comforted than they were even pre-2003. I recognize that student protests in Iran and the movement towards more liberty and accountability in the govt wasn't a direct outgrowth of Iraq and was apparent to some degree even prior to 9/11, but it seems to have strengthened over the last few years, and that may be in part due to bordering a country that is experiencing greater liberty today than has been known in the region before. What happened in Iran sent some shockwaves throughout the broader middle east, and although Iran wasn't able to topple its regime, its protest movement might have been a factor that emboldened the self-immolating protestor in Tunisia who set off a the greatest regional move towards liberty and opposition to tyranny we have seen since Solidarnos swept Eastern Europe decades ago.

    Beyond that, there was one realist justification for deposing Saddam that actually sounded like the most reasonable of reasons to me (and ironically posed by a neocon). Al-Queda's stated contempt of the US was in large part predicated upon the presense of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and the Arabian peninsula is the holiest area of Islam (al-Jazeera actually means "the peninsula"). Our troops were there at the invite of the Saudis in order to protect them from Saddam's Iraq, which had shown a desire to conquer oil fields of Kuwait and was considered to lust for control of Saudi oil. By vanquishing the primary military threat to the Saudis, we would be able to remove our troops and thereby limit the contempt of the more fundamental religous forces. Now, this is admittedly unlikely to happen, but with Saddam gone, the primary supplier of global oil is secure enough that if we are fortunate enough to get a Ron Paul-esque foreign policy, we'd have at least a greater measure of comfort where oil supply is concerned.

  • Sudden||

    I have to add, that even with what I consider to be some real benefits from Iraq, I still don't think it has been worthwhile from the cost standpoint. The benefits have actually been enormous to us and. more importantly, they may very well have played a role in the present resistence to tyranny taking root across the region. But the costs have been immense and given our political class' inability to reform the entitlement state, maintaining this level of involvement overseas will only lead to imminent financial catastrophe for us. The costs are so profound and so egregious because they are another bushel of straw on a camel already bearing multiple times its body weight in straw that even the greatest benefits would make it virtually impossible to justify from a realist perspective. And factoring in the enormous cost of lives among the Iraqi population really tips the scales in terms of cost/benefit. The costs were simply too profoundly high and absurd.

    But we have actually received significant benefits from that conflict, exponentially more than the Afghan conflict, eventhough the causus belli for that was actually valid (whereas Iraq was not under any standard just war doctrine).

  • ||

    "The benefits have actually been enormous to us and. more importantly, they may very well have played a role in the present resistence to tyranny taking root across the region."

    If the Arab Spring proves anything, it's that real democratic change has to come from the bottom up--and the Arab Spring almost certainly would have come to Iraq in time.

    It might be a Syria or Libya situation, where they had to fight for their freedom--but joining in that fight like we've done in Libya would have been far preferable to what we did in Iraq trying to change things from the top down.

    Arabs and Muslims I've talked to over the past 10 years are perfectly consistent in their condemnation of what the Bush Administration did in Iraq. Disgusted by it.

    Suggesting that what we did in Iraq inspired anything about the Arab Spring seems really far-fetched to me. The people of the Arab world were so disgusted by what we did in Iraq--that they sought to emulate it in their own countries?!

    There isn't anyone I've read in the Arab world who's saying that anywhere.

  • Sudden||

    I wasn't suggesting that anyone in the ME outside of the Kurds supported our policy in Iraq. I recognize that it was wholly unpopular throughout the region. But once Iraq stabilized and people began seeing some of the developments there, and the presense of some basic liberty, it became infectious. One need not agree with the circumstances that brought some development about to realize the resulting development itself is in fact desireable. They found other means to achieve the same ends, but they very well might not have yearned for those ends until they saw it in practice elsewhere in the region.

  • ||

    "Our troops were there at the invite of the Saudis in order to protect them from Saddam's Iraq, which had shown a desire to conquer oil fields of Kuwait and was considered to lust for control of Saudi oil."

    Our troops were there to protect the Saudi Oil fields from Iran.

    We went there to protect the Saudis from Iran after the Iranian revolution--which in no small part had a lot to do with the Cold War.

    Muslims in Saudi Arabia have a thing about infidel troops in their Holy Land, and Saudi dissidents assumed our presence there wasn't to protect Saudi Arabia from Iran--it was to protect the House of Saud from the Arabian people!

    It should be noted our support for Saddam Hussein was also meant as a counter-balance to Revolutionary Iran--and was also a function of the Cold War.

    But just because the Cold War ended, didn't mean Iran was no longer a threat. Just because we had no business playing into the hands of Al Qaeda by being in Saudi Arabia didn't mean Iran was no longer a threat.

    Just because Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, that didn't mean Iran was no longer a threat either.

    Why wasn't Iraq's significance as a bulwark against Iran considered?

    The answer is neoconservative pipe-dreams about democracy being infectious and unstoppable. ...it's the same error they made in Vietnam. Inflicting democracy from above at the point of a gun is a pipe-dream--whether it's in Vietnam or Iraq.

    And Iraq is no longer a counter-balance to Iranian power in the region. The only counter-balance Iran has in the region now is Saudi Arabia--and the Saudis are scared to death of their own Shiite population.

    Look at what the Saudis are talking about now!

    http://online.wsj.com/article/.....44642.html

    Until recently, the Iraqi legislature was dominated by a political party that called itself "The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq". ...which was founded by the Iranian government!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCIRI

    That's the democracy we were fighting for? That was of strategic benefit to the United States how?

  • ||

    It's funny and illuminating to watch the neocons and Obamabots make common cause with each other. Their motives may not be the same but they're butt-buddies anyway.

  • West Texas||

    I'd argue that their ultimate motives are totally the same: expansion of state power

  • some guy||

    Yep. Authoritarians all.

  • MNG||

    Conservative: "I do like isolationism! It just took a black Commander in Chief to prove it to me."

  • ||

    Progressive: "I do like interventionism! It just took a black Commander in Chief to prove it to me."

  • ||

    No, no, no, Sy! You don't get it -- for progressives/statists, it's purely a one-way logic!

  • ||

    *facepalm*

  • ||

    Yeah, because no conservatives criticized Bill Clinton for going into Somalia.

    If you're point was simply that conservatives (like liberals) are hypocrites, then no argument here, but bringing racism into it is not needed, nor is it correct.

  • oh, come on||

    GHWB got the US into Somalia. WJC made our involvement worse.

  • Hodor||

    Hodor!!!

  • ||

    I'm a Jeffersonian republican, and I agree. The only just cause for war is to defend the United States; frankly, anything else just turns into nation-building, and as great as it would be to invade every country to topple every authoritarian government and dictator in the world, it costs American lives and money, often on a civilizational scale. If Hu Jintao, the red Chinese, and their pinko mother-fucker friends ever threaten American territory, I'll be the first to enlist and tattoo "China can burn in Hell" into my forehead, but we don't owe the world anything, and it's not our fucking responsibility to police it.

  • ||

    This is why when cock-gobbling dipshits of McCain's ilk start spewing bullshit about the supposed isolationism of libertarians, I can't take the fuckers seriously -- it's untrue, it's disingenuous, and they're faux-republicans. Leftists/Democrats are on a whole different level, however -- I picture them as walking turds whenever I see them talking the same shit on TV, as they don't even deserve consideration as members of the same species as me or you.

  • some guy||

    Turds serve a vital purpose to all life. Not only must waste be removed from any living body for it to continue, but said waste is often a valuable source of food or fertilizer for other organisms. Please do not disrespect this valuable natural resource by comparing it to a politician. Turds are not capable of evil, nor greed, nor corruption, nor ambition. This truly sets them apart from those who lead us.

  • MNG||

    Conservative: "Wars are supposed to be directed at people of color, not by them!"

  • ||

    That's either a troll mocking MNG, or MNG's gone completely fucking ape-shit reparded and insane. Or it's MNG joking. Please, for fuck's sake, tell me you're joking (both posts)?

  • cynical||

    True, that's why Republicans didn't give Clinton shit over Somalia and Yugoslavia, prompting their next presidential candidate to claim he supported a "humble foreign policy" and an end to "nation building".

  • Hodor||

    Hodor!!!!

  • TWylite||

    I'm an extraventionist: we need to invade countries that had nothing to do with any of the world's problems, just to keep every one on their toes and a little afraid of us. So let's invade Switzerland and annex Sweden! We can merge these countries since their so close alphabetically, then IKEA can start making precision watches with no numbers, just pictures of their generic instruction manual cartoon guy doing different typical daily routine things to indicate the time of day.

  • Zuo||

    Well if we actually were acting in "national interest" wouldn't it be better to invade and annex actual useful countries like Sweden and Swiss? Canada would be a good start. Let's liberate those losers from their monarchist opressor.

  • Sudden||

    Can't we just trade them Obama for Harper? Harper ain't the cats pajamas, but he's a marked improvement from our current head of state.

  • Sudden||

    Mmmmmmm.... meatballs and fondue. Excellent proposal.

  • ||

    Progressive: "Wars are supposed to be directed by people of color, not at them!

    Really, "MNG", its too easy to flip one accusation of racism into the reverse, especially when progressives are just as adamantly opposed to color-blindness as the KKK. Try another schtick.

  • RyanXXX||

    Seriously, the Viet Cong should have done this country a favor and finished off John McCain.

    The guy is just a vending machine of bad ideas

  • RyanXXX||

    Another point: McCain is a much bigger threat to my freedom than the Viet Cong ever hoped to be

  • ||

    Up to a million and maybe more have reportedly died in African civil wars between the Hutu and Tutsi people groups (bordering on genocide) over the past 20 years, with little or no Western concern, much less involvement. On moral grounds alone, it seems that it would have made more sense, if we collectively believed that lives need saving, that Rwanda would have presented a better location for intervention. Yet, some have it in their collective minds that to topple the relatively stable regime led by Colonel Gaddafi (regardless that he likely reigns as an elitist tyrant) and replace it with a cadre of unknowns seems like a good thing. Granted, it could prove good. However, it could also end up like PLO democracy, where after the second election cycle, we might witness the Libyan equivalent of what Hamas did in Palestine. I'm a conservative and a warmonger... but please, let's choose our battles.

  • DLM||

    And what economic assets does Rwanda have that are worth being overly concerned about?

  • ||

    That's my point... no more than Libya.

  • oh, come on||

    You don't understand how interventionism works. First, the media has to gin up sympathy. Even the brave "war correspondents" of today don't want to go to a country like Rwanda which doesn't have any comfortable hotels to stay in. No media coverage, no public sympathy, no intervention.

  • ||

    Is this the same douche bag that penned this wonderful article? http://reason.com/archives/201.....l-delusion . "If only it stopped there. Paul isn't a traditional conservative. His obsession with long-decided monetary policy and isolationism are not his only half-baked crusades. "

  • ||

    We're the only country capable of and trusted with projecting power anywhere in the world. As a result, everyone--including us--expects us to do it whenever there's a general feeling that we should.

  • ||

    The Eurofaggots bitch that we don't give a shit if we don't, and we're a colonial empire when we do. Fuck them. Fuck them 100,000 times over. Fuck them, fuck the Africans, and fuck the Asians. I honestly couldn't give less a shit about any of them anymore.

  • ||

    They bitch and moan, but they also continue to spend less and less on their militaries. They clearly are okay, in practical terms, with letting us police the world.

  • ||

    I've had rocks thrown at me by British soccer cadres while standing talking on my cell phone because "YOU FUCKIN YANKS DESERVED 9/11 YOU FUCKIN AMERICANS FUCKIN INVADED IRAQ AND COMMITED WAR CRIMES U SHUD ALL DIE IN GUANTANAMANMANANAMNAMO BAY".

    Disarmed, limpdick, morally depraved mother-fuckers -- let them burn.

  • ||

    Almost got skull-fucked by a mob of Limeys once (separate trip) because "in america u fuckin idiots can owns guns???? you fuckin dragged us into wars and stuff -- and we saved u in ww2!!!" -- it's amazing what alcohol can do for clarity, showing their real opinions of the world

  • ||

    They whine, but they've also totally submitted.

  • oh, come on||

    Rather than getting mad, just consider that the Brits are forming joint military units with France. With France! Think how humiliating that must be to a Brit.

  • ||

    As God-Emperor, I would decree a new motto for both the Department of State and the Department of War (renamed, of course):

    Leave us alone, and we won't light you up.

    In Latin, of course.

  • ||

    Can I be the Minister of Narco-Porn in your new state?

  • Mark||

    You can either fund it or not fund it. That's all the power to declare war gives Congress - the power to provide or not provide funding.

    Congress has no power to tell the Commander-in-Chief what to do or not do with US forces. That power lies with the Commander-in-Chief.

    I don't disagree that US participation in this Libyan thing is bizarre, unfocused, and of dubious benefit to American interests. However, congress has long overstepped its authority with regard to the use of force. The president has no requirement to ask permission.

    I would take the time to explain what a declaration of war is in the context of the time in which the constitution was written, but I realize that Reason's real disagreement is with the use of military force itself - not the really the constitutionality of the Libyan excursion. For as long as the Libertarians hold their irrational disgust for the military and an active national defense, the Libertarians will be the loons who never win any meaningful national office. Ever.

    Again - yes, this Libyan adventure is idiotic, but the War Powers Act is not the way to shut it down.

  • The US Constitution||

    "Congress has no power to tell the Commander-in-Chief what to do or not do with US forces. That power lies with the Commander-in-Chief."

    Please read Article 1 Section 8 of me!

  • ||

    "You can either fund it or not fund it. That's all the power to declare war gives Congress - the power to provide or not provide funding."

    Excellent point, Mark.

    That's how Vietnam ultimately ended. First Congress refused to fund American GIs in Vietnam, and then Congress refused to fund the South Vietnamese when they were overrun by the North.

    I'd only add that there is one more control Congress has--they can impeach.

    Short of that, the American people may have something to say about this come 2012 as well.

    We can impeach the president ourselves in a year and a half!

  • Crystal Jewelry||

    This time Obama's rejection is right!

  • زفات||

    thank you

  • iraq kills||

    http://antiwar.com/casualties/ - 4466 killed
    libya - 0

    pan am 103. justice is served.

  • قبلة الوداع||

    ThaNk U

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