They call us isolationists

By Michael R. Allen
web posted November 15, 1999

Those of us who consistently oppose the American government's imperial activities are tagged with labels, most of which are not meant as compliments. The most common word used to describe us is 'isolationist,' though it hardly describes anyone who believes that American citizens have every right to trade with whomever they wish.

A term which I prefer to use is 'noninterventionist,' though its appeal is academic -- it isn't likely to become a rallying cry for a political movement. Still, it accurately captures what opponents of the state really favor: the prohibition of US intervention into foreign affairs.

The popular label 'isolationist' persists, due to both President Clinton and GOP leaders hurling it at each other's foreign policies. Though it surely cannot be used to describe either Clinton or the Republican party, it is an awkward fit for the noninterventionist. Uttering it evokes emotions surrounding Word War II and the Holocaust. Since it has been cleverly modified by statist historians to lump Old Right stalwarts like Robert Taft with genuine pro-Nazi groups, it is not a label that many readily accept.

Unfortunately, great American ideas are persistently called 'isolationism.' This is an unfair way of discrediting opponents of wars, but still an effective one. It is up to noninterventionist to reclaim these ideas by redefining the label put on us.

Pat Buchanan's response to critics of his foreign policy and his largely brilliant book, A Republic, Not An Empire, is eloquent:

"They call us 'isolationists.' Well, if they mean I intend to isolate America from the bloody territorial and ethnic wars of the new century, I plead guilty. It is the first duty of a statesman: to keep his country out of wars that are not his country's quarrel."

Buchanan's newly-announced bid for the Reform party's presidential nomination is a test case of public attitudes towards the re-emergence of noninterventionism as a political force. As Michael Barone noted on a recent episode of The McLaughlin Group, Buchanan refutes every aspect of US foreign policy since World War II, a political act Barone admits is brave. But so far, most mainstream commentators are slinging mud at this 'isolationist' presidential hopeful.

New York developer and loose cannon Donald Trump has made himself into a sort of point man on anti-Buchanan sentiment. Trump has actually called Buchanan a "Hitler-lover," indicating that the perception of 'isolationist' as anti-Semitic or Nazi still exists.

Until the clouds lift over noninterventionist ideas, Americans will rarely hear them in mainstream forums. Pat Buchanan, however flawed he is, is doing a great service as he uses his prominence to advance old, sound ideas. Whatever happens to his candidacy, he will have exposed millions of Americans to ideas that had been deemed forbidden.

By directly confronting the connotation of 'isolationist,' noninterventionists have already reclaimed the core of their movement. If they persist in vocally redefining the term, it will have less impact as a charge against them. Isolationist as an insult is likely to exist indefinitely, but as its misuse diminishes its potency will wear away.

Eventually, what currently passes for informed debate on foreign policy might change. In the meantime, interventionists are hard at work in keeping the debate closed. Consider this ridiculous Hobson's choice, put forward by Charles Krauthammer:

"Engagement that squanders American power and treasure on peacekeeping? Or engagement that concentrates our finite resources on potential war fighting in vital areas such as the Persian Gulf, the Korean peninsula and the Taiwan Strait?"

What about just staying home, sir? After all, there is nothing shameful about domestic life in a flourishing America -- life that would be much more happy if the federal government would throw away the trappings of empire.

Unfortunately, America will not be told of its other options as long as realpolitik types like Krauthammer dominate public discourse. Messengers of the possibilities that would exist for an America that disengaged from foreign entanglements will continue to be assailed, as Pat Buchanan has discovered. Other messengers will be too fearful to come forward, after witnessing what has happened in the past.

We will be called 'isolationists.' We will be vilified. However, we must always present the content of our ideas, no matter what everyone else labels them.

Michael R. Allen is the founder and editor in chief of monthly politics and culture journal SpinTech Magazine.

Current Issue

Archive Main | 1999

E-mail ESR



1996-2020, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.