War

Why Do Reporters Think 'Isolationist' Is a Neutral Term for People Less Inclined to Wage War Than Dick Cheney?

|

Office of Thomas Massie

"Cheney Urges House G.O.P. to Abandon Isolationism" is the headline above a story in today's New York Times about a meeting between the former vice president and Republican congressmen. In the article, reporter Jonathan Weisman refers to "rising isolationism" and "isolationist voices on the rise" in the Republican Party. In all of these cases, the i-word is used without quotation marks, as a supposedly neutral description of a foreign policy position taken by certain Republicans. Yet I have never come across anyone, let alone a Republican, who describes himself as an "isolationist" or is happy to be described that way. Isolationist is an epithet that people who are quick to clamor for foreign intervention use to tar their opponents. Had Weisman matter-of-factly described Cheney and his allies as "warmongers," his editors surely would have insisted that he use a less judgmental term. So why do they think isolationist is acceptable in an ostensibly evenhanded news report?

This is not the first time the Times has carelessly tossed around the i-word, and other news outlets are guilty as well. The error is twofold. First, using the term isolationist this way implies that violence is the only way to interact with other countries: If we are not invading them or dropping bombs on them, we might as well be cutting off all contact, including trade, travel, and diplomacy. Second, the people whom the Times describes as "isolationist" are not automatically opposed to military action; they just set the bar higher than Dick Cheney does.

Who are these "isolationist voices"? The article mentions three: Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Not one is accurately described as an isolationist.

Massie may be the least interventionist of the three. According to this 2012 campaign profile, he "opposes War in Iraq," "opposes War in Afghanistan," "opposes nation building," "opposes war unless declared by Congress," and "supports a non-interventionist foreign policy." Here is what he said after the meeting with Cheney, according to the Los Angeles Times:

I still remain skeptical. I don't think two beheadings justifies a war. I think justice is warranted, but I don't think war is warranted over two YouTubes.

And here is how Weisman summarizes Massie's position on war with ISIS:

"Constituents in my district are very war weary, and I'm war weary," said Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a libertarian-minded Republican who is closely allied with Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, and his father, Ron Paul.

To win his vote for an expanded military campaign against ISIS, Mr. Massie said, "the president would have to complete an almost impossible task, which is to convince me that he has an exit strategy and that when we're done with this third war in the Middle East, we'll be better off than we were before the third war in the Middle East, financially and politically."

These are not the words of a man who categorically opposes military action. They are the words of a man who is appropriately skeptical of the justification for this particular war.

Rand Paul, another "isolationist" mentioned by the Times, actually supports war against ISIS, albeit with congressional approval, and he has long emphasized that he can imagine circumstances in which the use of military force is justified. He supported military action in Afghanistan after 9/11, and so did his father, whom the Times also counts as an isolationist. The elder Paul voted to authorize the use of military force against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, although he regretted that the war dragged on for so long. (Who didn't?) Wariness of war is not pacifism, and it is a far cry from isolationism, which suggests a withdrawal from the world much more dramatic than declining to blow up certain bits of it.

NEXT: Blocking Google Glass, Drone, and Wireless Microphone Snoops: Cyborg Unplug

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I am not an isolationist. I’m a non-interventionists.

    Stop lying!

    1. Don’t you think that in establishing a Dichotomy of “Interventionists! vs. Isolationists!”…

      …no one gets to complain when they grant you your wish?

      1. I don’t follow.

        There is a difference.

        And who would complain if the proper term was used? Don’t get what you are saying.

        1. what is “interventionism”?

          1. Dictating terms to other nations.

            1. To quote Black Hawk Down = “Killing IS negotiation”

              What is “intervention”?

              is it a very small, limited number of foreign policy postures?

              Is ‘coercive diplomacy’, “Intervention”?

              Is ALL diplomacy “Intervention”?
              (All bilateral international relations presume some asymmetry of power)

              Unless you define ‘intervention’ in extremely narrow ways, i fail to see how you don’t confine yourself to a False Dichotomy that is more or less open to the charge of ‘isolationism’.

              The point would be that it invites the charge

              1. I answered your question. Intervention is dictating terms to other nations. Non-intervention is not doing so.

                An isolationist wants no interaction between nations to include economic interaction.

                A non-interventionist can do business with other nations without making demands or threatening force.

      2. WTF are you talking about?

  2. Like liberal, isolationist was not always an epithet. Rothbard uses it unironically to refer to the Old Right who opposed FDR’s love for getting American conscripts soldiers killed in foreign wars.

    With that out of the way, the idea that the United States, a state with hundreds if not thousands of military bases depending on how you count them in dozens of foreign nations could ever be considered isolationist whether it storms into Iraq or not is so bizarre that only the state-adoring media could float it.

    I’ll give Cheney this much: it takes real balls to call people onto the carpet for their reluctance to go to war after what he pulled.

  3. To win his vote for an expanded military campaign against ISIS, Mr. Massie said, “the president would have to complete an almost impossible task, which is to convince me that he has an exit strategy and that when we’re done with this third war in the Middle East, we’ll be better off than we were before the third war in the Middle East, financially and politically.”

    Racist obstructionism! It’s no wonder the president can’t move the country forward.

  4. Ya, but Dick did a really great job at Halliburton. So cut him some slack!

    1. Then he should go back and work in industry instead of trying to be evil grandpa to the nation.

      1. Being at Halliburton is, itself, playing the evil grandpa.

  5. I think even the term non-interventionist is innaccurate, because some of these people aren’t opposed to intervening diplomatically or with economic sanctons. They are just against military intervention.

    1. They just suffer from warboner ED.

      1. +2 bathtubs on a hill overlooking fallujah.

  6. Yeah, for my money, it’s pretty much impossible to be truly “isolationist” in today’s interconnected, global-trade world.

    Pull up the drawbridge and be Fortress America? Where will the kabillion ships from China unload their shit? Maybe some dot on the map in South America or Asia or Africa could be “kind of” isolationist, but any area with phone service and an airstrip?

    Not so much…

  7. Thomas Massie looks like Joe Machi’s dad….

  8. Had Weisman matter-of-factly described Cheney and his allies as “warmongers,” his editors surely would have insisted that he use a less judgmental term.

    It’s the Times Jacob, they wouldn’t have said shit about him calling Cheney a warmongerer. Now if he had the balls to appropriately give Obama the same description…

  9. I’m less inclined to wage Dick Cheney than war.

  10. Wariness of war is not pacifism

    Actually my Funk & Wagnalls Std. Ref. Encyclopedia lays out what appear to be 6 degrees of pacifism, from the mildest, which is indeed just a gen’l preference for peace over war, to the most stringent, whose practitioners wouldn’t even try to duck a blow.

  11. *Wariness of war is not pacifism*

    No, but it is sure starting to look like “surrender-ism”. So are you and all the other “war-weary” folks “capitulationists”?

    I wonder if the mullahs will let you keep your iPads?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.