That Old Isolationist Smear


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 Americans draw 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 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.

Sheldon Richman  is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog “Free Association” and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation