Foreign Policy

Again With the Isolationist Smears

Even interventionism is sometimes too isolationist for today's on the go interventionists

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It doesn't take much to be smeared as an isolationist by leading Republicans. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who appears to be running for president again, and former vice president Dick Cheney — not to mention Sen. John McCain, Gov. Chris Christie, and other members of the GOP establishment — can always be counted on to drag out that insult whenever they sense a threat from anyone not as hawkish as they are. If they thought that 30,000 U.S. troops should be sent somewhere, and someone recommended sending only 10,000, we could count on Perry, Cheney, et al., to condemn the other person as an appeasing isolationist.

Let's be clear: Someone who simply doesn't want America drawn into foreign conflicts is not an isolationist. The proper word is "noninterventionist." "Isolationism" suggests withdrawal from the world. But noninterventionists don't seek that. The most principled noninterventionists — we libertarians — promote the individual's freedom to trade and move across political boundaries without any government obstruction whatever. The wish to isolate the government from foreign wars does not translate into a desire to isolate the American people from commerce and other peaceful exchange. You'd think more folks would understand that elementary insight. Only someone who thinks government is the be-all and end-all of existence would commit this glaring error.

Perry and Cheney's target du jour is Sen. Rand Paul, who also may be running for president. Paul's message on foreign policy is muddier than it ought to be and certainly less clear than that of his father, former U.S. representative Ron Paul. Rand Paul has made welcome criticisms of National Security Agency (NSA) spying and Barack Obama's autocratic murder-by-drone, but his message on Iraq is mixed: he says that he "would not rule out air strikes" or sending weapons to be used against the Sunni Muslims of the newly declared Islamic State in western Iraq and eastern Syria. On the other hand, he opposes sending troops. Yet even this is murky. He says, "I think it's a mistake to put ground troops into Iraq and the main reason is that the people that are taking over large swaths of Iraq are now allied with the people who we were helping in Syria." In other words, he went on to explain, the mission would be "confusing." But this implies that if the Obama administration were not opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a U.S. deployment to Iraq might be something to consider.

He also says Americans shouldn't fight for Iraq if the Iraqis themselves won't fight for it. Doesn't that  suggest Americans should be willing to fight if the Iraqi army stood its ground? Further, he implicitly endorses massive military aid to Israel by calling on the Obama administration to cut off all aid to the Palestinians without even mentioning the $3 billion that American taxpayers send to Israel every year. Much of that money goes to enforcing Israel's military rule over millions of Palestinians in their own Israeli-occupied territory.

That is not noninterventionism — unless you mark on a steep curve. But almost anyone would look like a noninterventionist next to Cheney, Perry, McCain, Hillary Clinton, and the rest of the war party. Let's keep in mind, however, that no one calls for sending U.S. troops back to Iraq.

Rand Paul aside, the critique of "isolationism" is based on a specious argument. Cheney and others caricature the position as one which holds that what happens outside the United States will not affect Americans. That's not the argument I hear made by those who are at least skeptical of, if not outright opposed to, American intervention.

The war party believes that the 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor refute the noninterventionists. Here they display either their historical ignorance or their willingness to engage in demagoguery — I'm betting it's the latter. No one who knows anything about the al-Qaeda or Japanese attacks could possibly believe that the U.S. government had pursued a noninterventionist foreign policy in the years preceding each event. Look it up. That the war party pretends otherwise shows how scared it is of scrutiny.

The noninterventionist case boils down to this: U.S. aggression abroad makes enemies and provokes blowback. That's the lesson of Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

This column originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  1. You’d think more folks would understand that elementary insight. Only someone who thinks government is the be-all and end-all of existence would commit this glaring error.

    Unfortunately, that seems to be most people.

    1. Only someone who thinks government is the be-all and end-all of existence would commit this glaring error.

      Or someone trying to illegitimately discredit his primary political opponent’s position, by lying through his teeth.

      1. The nice thing about this, however, is that they’re spending their time talking about Paul and giving him free publicity before he’s even declared. Guys like Perry (who imploded in 2012) aren’t going to win when they spend all of their time talking about their opponents instead of selling voters on themselves.

  2. Further, he implicitly endorses massive military aid to Israel by calling on the Obama administration to cut off all aid to the Palestinians without even mentioning the $3 billion that American taxpayers send to Israel every year.

    And, why Richman, must he mention it? When was the rule established that every mention of Palestinian perfidy must be equaled on some cosmic scoreboard with a boilerplate mention of Israeli misadventure? Vu ist geschrieben, Sheldon?

    1. I find it always appropriate to mention Israel when foreign aid comes up. They are the single largest recipient of US foreign aid, and therefore a poster child.

      1. the single largest recipient of US foreign aid

        Not to be pedantic but…*points to Afghanistan on a map*

        1. Wow. Why the fuck are we giving money to Russia?

          1. Probably Drug War assistance money. They also add in the cost of Peace Corps when they present these totals.

            1. We use their airspace to transit supplies into Afghanistan, too, in part because we lost some of our access to Pakistan.

    2. Everyone knows that politicians that give writeoffs to solar but not petrol are just doing God’s work.

      1. My bad. God’s libertarian work.

        Hear Israel, smell a neocon.

    3. Yeah.

      It’s almost like Israel is the largest – and only – Democracy in the Middle East [if we discount Turkey at the moment as not very Democratic], and our most reliable ally in a turbulent and important region.

      No reason for aid money, though, and plainly “the Palestinians” just have to be relevant to that, despite

      A) Being of no geopolitical importance, apart from their use as a cause celebre for Arab world internal political distraction from domestic problems – which American aid cannot reduce, naturally.

      B) Such aid going at least as much to their exploiting ruling class as to the Palestinian people.

      C) Said Palestinian ruling class and supporting Arab nations being basically hostile to the US.

      Frankly, I’d rather he explicitly endorse that military aid as a damned good idea, but I’ll take what I can get.

  3. But but the Japanese bombed our naval bases in order to more easily take over the pacific, and they wanted that because they hated our freedomzzz!

    1. FUCK YOU WHALE AND FUCK YOU DOLPHIN!!!

  4. “You don’t want the US to bomb every country that even looks at us funny?? ISOLATIONIST!”

  5. Lately I’ve been thinking, an “isolationist” would be someone who doesn’t even want to trade with other countries, and I don’t know anyone outside of Pyongyang who seriously feels that way.

    1. That is exactly what it means – it is the 19th century stance that valued economic protectionism and non-involvement in foreign conflict. The ideal was a self-sustaining economy where nothing is imported or exported.

      How that equates with libertarianism, I have no idea.

  6. The most principled noninterventionists ? we libertarians ? promote the individual’s freedom to trade and move across political boundaries without any government obstruction whatever.

    “We subset of libertarians”, you mean.

    The idea that libertarian theory demands non-intervention is not universal or axiomatic from first principles, and it’s not an idea I share.

    Go on, try and tell me I’m No True Libertarian, and I’ll throw Hayek, Mises, and even Rothbard [his economics, at least] back in your face.

    (Remember: States are not people, and the right of persons to not have aggression initiated on them doesn’t translate perfectly to a State.

    An “innocent” State, neither attacking nor oppressing anyone, would be one that there was no proper reason for a libertarian to support using force against – but the States that are relevant to questions of the use of force by other States are precisely, here in the West at least, those that are attacking or oppressing others.

    This makes the use of force against them arguably defense of another, which is not at all precluded by any libertarianism I’m willing to associate with*.

    * I’m not sure it’s precluded by any sort at all, but someone probably has tried the idea.)

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  8. This article is a good reminder that conservatives can be just as big a bunch of douchebags as liberals.

    On immigration, drugs, and foreign policy, they are absolutely clueless and without anything remotely resembling consistent logic.

    I argue with a few of them sometimes on discussion forums. They are every bit as stubborn, closed-minded, and full of groupthink and confirmation/selection bias on this issues as liberals are on guns, affirmative action, economic policy, and so on.

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