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January 31, 2006

State of the Union Fiction: Curse of Isolationism
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Bush referred a half-dozen times tonight to the dangers of an American retreat to isolationism.  He's adopting a strategy of trying to paint his critics as favoring a retreat to inward-looking policies and a renunciation of America's role in the world.

This is pure hogwash:

- Bush's Critics are Overwhelmingly Internationalists, Not Isolationists - As Charles Krauthammer wrote in 2004:  " Isolationism is an important school of thought historically, but not today.  .  .  Classical isolationism is not just intellectually obsolete; it is politically bankrupt as well. Four years ago, its most public advocate, Pat Buchanan, ran for president of the United States, and carried Palm Beach. By accident."  The most outspoken opponents of the Bush Administration's foreign policy are, on the contrary, committed to multilateralism, to international development, and to global institutions.

- In his 2000 campaign, Bush skated near an isolationist platform -  Though Bush professed opposition to isolationism, it was Condi Rice, not her democratic counterparts, who argued in 2000 that the US should not do nation-building and should not be a police force for the world.  He thought the scope of the Clinton Administration's international involvements - many of which revolved around replacing dictators and building democracy in places like Bosnia and Haiti - was too broad.

- For Nearly a Century, Isolationism has been a Republican,  not a Democratic Platform - Pat Buchanan had a long string of predecessors.   This article details the history of Republican isolationism - and Democratic internationalism - dating back to the 1930s and going up to the Clinton and Bush Administrations. 

Flashes of Isolationism are Linked Directly to Bush's Own Policies - To the extent that ordinary Americans are tilting toward isolationism, polls show that such attitudes are linked directly to Bush Administration policies in Iraq.  If it surges, the isolationism Bush rightly dreads will have been born of his own misguided policies, his breach of the public trust, and the strain he has put on the military.

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Comments

The isolation charge is clever, for two reasons:

1. Bush knows that a growing complaint or worry among a majority of Americans is that we are feeling "isolated" in the world. There is a sense that everyone is against us, that we have foolishly squandered our inheritance of global good will and that we are now beset on all sides by rising anti-Americanism, in degrees ranging from mild derision to fear to outright hatred. Bush is attempting to slough off the negative emotional resonances of "isolation" onto the views of his opponents, and to characterize his own approach as one of healthy engagement.

Of course, many of Bush's critics would counter that the main cause of our current isolation is a global power-balancing pushback against US policies, prompted by concerns among both friends and enemies about a new era of assertive US militarism, our reluctance to pursue cooperative multilateral and international strategies, and our seeming contempt for international standards and rules. These critics would argue that by becoming less enamored of our military, and more cautious about "engagements" of the military kind, we would actually become less isolated and could rejoin the fraternity of progressive nations.

2. The other clever thing about using the isolationism charge is that Bush knows that the chief traditional antagonists of isolationism are Wilsonian Democrats, who still blame Republican "isolationists" for wrecking Wilson's post-WWI agenda, and revile the "America First" isolationists of the pre-WWII era as appeasers at best and crypto-fascists at worst. Surely Bush is hoping to elicit a Pavlovian response to the "I" word from "muscular Wilsonians", who will fall into his trap of warlike me-tooism and one-upmanship.

By the way, I don't think one could honestly say that Bush ran on anything like an "isolationist" program in 2000. He ran on a vague realist/idealist mishmash that he called "a distinctly American internationalism" - a something-for-all-Republicans stew of broad strokes, cutely oracular oxymorons and banal slogans of which Condi Rice appears to have been the chief architect. On the substantive side, the program called for, among other things, greater engagement with Asia, a strengthening of NATO, increased military spending, and and a vigorous assertion of American "leadership". These are hardly the marks of American isolationism. About isolationism itself, Bush said:

America’s first temptation is withdrawal – to build a proud tower of protectionism and isolation.

In a world that depends on America to reconcile old rivals and balance ancient ambitions, this is the shortcut to chaos. It is an approach that abandons our allies, and our ideals. The vacuum left by America’s retreat would invite challenges to our power. And the result, in the long run, would be a stagnant America and a savage world.

Bush did, it is true, call for less "nation-building". But surely once we begin to describe mere skepticism about nation-building as a sufficient condition for isolationism, we have wrenched the latter term far away from its usual meaning.

The defenders of the "forward strategy of freedom", "Muscular Wilsonianism", "armed democracy promotion", "neoconservatism" and the allied doctrines of both the left and the right seem determined to stigmatize all other approaches as "isolationist". But this is intellectually dishonest. The opposite of isolation is engagement. But clearly one can follow a policy of healthy engagement in world affairs without pursuing a revolutionary agenda of aggressive ideological messianism. Similarly, one can be gregarious and sociable in one's personal life without being a belligerant proselytizer.

The whole first half of the speech was filled with straw men: Dems are isolationists, protectionists, don't want to wiretap Al-Qaeda etc.

If these are their campaign themes, I'm not too worried. I just hope the Dems are better prepared this year.

If these are their campaign themes, I'm not too worried. I just hope the Dems are better prepared this year.

I hope so to Cal. But I think it is important to bear in mind that the point of relying on distortion and hyperbole as a campaign tactic is to force your opponents into wasting valuable time and energy playing defense. The campaigner hopes the opponent will just not be able to resist defending himself at length against the charges. The trick then, it seems to me, is to respond to distortions by ridiculing them and laughing them off briefly, by simply and repeatedly pointing out their existence as an ongoing and dishonest tactic, and by then using the opportunity to go immediately back on offense. You say something like "Well, there he goes again. My opponent continues to rely on distortion to deflect attention from the fact that scores of Americans are dying each month in Iraq, and scores more are wounded, as a direct consequence of policies he has supported, and he has absolutely no plan for getting our kids out of there and bringing them home!"

Rove and other Republican strategists have mastered the arts of exploting vulnerabilities in the psychology of the left. They know that many on the left are guilt-ridden and defensive by temperament, and they use that to drive them into picking at unfair rhetorical slights like scabs. That only reinforces the neutral observer's perception that the Republicans have touched a sore spot, and are on to something.

Right-wingers love to hurl accusation of treason, un-Americanism, disloyalty, etc. at their opponents on the left. They are often successful in raising cries of hurt and outrage from their targets, charges of unfainess and meanness, lenghthy declamations about why we are not really disloyal traitors, and demands that the accusers cease and desist from these obnoxious and hurtful charges. This allows the accusers to mount a patronizing high horse and graciously allow that "my opponents (you know, *wink*, those big whining cowardly babies on the other side) are not really disloyal traitors."

The whole ritual only reinforces the notion that the opponent is weak and vulnerable, and that a country lead by them would tend to be weak and vulnerable as well.

I think you really missed the point. Get out of the beltway.

The isolationist tendency is a popular movement, not an elite movement. Core constituencies of both parties are deeply isolationist in their instincts. For the GOP, it's the Helms crowd. For the Dems, it's the labor unions and the blacks.

There's a real risk that these groups could enter coalition with either the peace movement or the anti-globalization movement to significantly bad effects.

Isolationism is somethign that may sway voters again. That's the danger. It would mean that engagement in other places (Iran and Africa come to mind) It would mean that trade agreements would be harder to pass. It would mean that foreign aid programs would be harder to move too.

More later, but I actually agree completely with the last poster. It is a real danger, but it is not centered in the intellectual critics of Bush policies or among Dems on the Hill, but in - to my 4th pt in the post - ordinary people who are appalled at the consequences of Bush's leadership.

But who would ordinary voters be a threat to?

Say the republicans put up a new presidential candidate who talks better -- why wouldn't they vote for him? And then the actions stay the same....

I've heard so many talks about how Bush is the one who leans toward isolationism and that democrats are proponents of establishing and participating fairly in global institutions. Obviously there are many here who feel that Hillary Clinton's skewed views on trade agreements seem to be better than the conservative but primarily non-partisan candidate found in John McCain. When people say that the democrats are supportive of non-isolationist policies, the almost certainly refer directly to our participation in the UN regarding Iraq and the War on Terror. Then again, they are against free trade between North and South America, as well as China. This is ironic considering that Clinton, the 'poster-boy' of the nearly revived Democratic party, took over 20 million dollars in illegal campaign contributions in exchange for trading rights and nuclear technology.

As for whether or not Republicans are the only ones displaying isolationist tendencies...the Bush administration has worsened America's position in the world's eye, any honest American can admit that, whether or not they agree with his policies. We would have not undertaken this global war on terror with over 20 countries helping either militarily or at least with resources if Bush was an isolationist. You cannot call him a hypocrite simply because he does not conform to what the UN dictates. And lets not forget that the main debt (about 2/3) to the UN is owed by America, with which much of the debt money was spent during a Democrat's term in office, especially Clinton's two.

What must be realized is that since isolationism is such a debated topic and that pros and cons exist, whether it be primarily in military or economic forums, there is bound to be hypocracy or at least different opinions and actions that each administration, regardless of what party rules the oval office, brings.

Personally, I think that an isolationist policy in the modern world needs to be revised from what much has been thought about the topic throughout this blog. First off, I am nearly positive that a first world country (US) can survive long, or well, if economically we close our borders. In terms of foreign aid, foreign development, military assistance...what would happen if the US withdrew all of these in favor of an isolationist policy but maintained economic ties with east Asia and both the Americas, as well as parts of Europe. Many people complain that America only donates 1% of their GDP yearly in foreign aid, but what they purposely do not mention is that this amount of money actually surpasses 90% of countries around the world in strict monetary amounts. If we withdrew and reinvested this significant sum of money, the world around us would grow bitter and resentful beyond belief, especially after realizing that America's influence is necessary in the world community and acts of terrorism and disrepect (which I know America takes part in too) are destructive and propose only a downward spiral. If Indonesia were without 20 million that America gave in relief funds, they'd be much less well-off and the UN would complain incessently. We stopped giving money to the Palestinian authority and have you seen how people around the world, and democrats in America, become enraged that American's do not spend their tax money on supporting a regime that has America's and Israel's destruction as part of their principal doctrine.

When it comes to the perspective of the self-centered internationalist I just love both the clarity and completeness of their thinking.

New, proven as false, but touted anyway, theories of Supply and Demand, unfortunately all false, and also, unfortunately, demonstrably so. For over 35 years these "theories" continue to be spouted by high level "gubbamint" types all the time.

The beautiful part of it is that, whether they are appointed by democrats or republicans, they always say the same thing.

Let me help them. Yes, by allowing foreigners to participate in the American market place the domestically located seller (of real estate) experiences an increased demand and higher potential price of sale than, in say, Communist slave labor using China.

Yes, the American International Trade Importers do obtain many consumer products at dirt cheap rates and continue to low ball and destroy domestic competition which uses American labor.

This MBA standard overhead cost reduction and maximization of profit approach, does yield significant cash flow incentives for such importers. As we know the MBA holding portion of the population is now approaching about 100,000.

As the rest of us number 300 million, it is obvious that the direction of economic policy has been decided upon by democratic means.

Back to the chase, this leads to further pressure upon domestic parties to attempt to compete against Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and to a slightly lesser extent Latin American labor markets.

The only problem is Americans live neither in thatched huts, bohias, nor trees as the competing work force does,....yet. Their cost levels are too high, they dress in store bought clothes, live in houses, own cars, don't subsist on bananas grown in the back yard and only eat rice about twice a month.

All this must immediately change; the fellatio rendering banking bozo backed by bush has spoken!

Hence the wonderful illegal alien problem, which so neatly reduces the domestic manufacturer's cost structure, while simultaneously putting the double screw on the tax payer, for all the governmental program burden, which instantly is impressed upon the lower and middle class.

Love that cost shifting strategy! And look at that wage! A whole 5 friggin bucks and change, in a society where it costs close to 16/ hour to stay ahead of the rent, car, food and doctor bills.

But those wealthy, we make better than 90K a year house representatives, will never pass a live-able wage. They want to hold out the path to socialism as their solution.

They "struggle" with the idea of moving that cruddy wage to 7.50 when they know it won't do a damn thing for anyone, but generate photo opps.

Such wonderful social programs, as State Health Care plans, ESL programs, new construction for schools to cover stresses placed by illegal immigration, new hospitals needed because of the same, job training, new EEO override quotas which screw indigenous peoples out of their access to higher education because of "BAKKE Syndrome".

Dammit can't you see the benefit in all this? What is the matter with you, aren't you patriotic?

Just looking at the Health Care Issue, if the average person cannot afford the doctor, how in the hell are all of us going to pay for all the bills of everybody AND the huge governmental bureaucracy which will be used to "administer" it.

Take a look at Medicare and Medicaid, as screwed up as that is, "Health Care for jeman" will be worse.

The same wizards, like Clinton, Reagan, Bush Sr. and now Bush Jr. all like to tout a global economy approach, but only as it operates domestically.

Try going to Mexico, England, Germany, Brazil, or just about anywhere, and buy a house as a private citizen. Guess what that is not allowed. Hence for U.S. citizens, who have drunk from the diversity cup until sick of the crap cannot flee, and most importantly cannot lower their cost levels as far as housing is concerned. Even at retirement age, when it might be possible to "slip away".

A little lop-sided? Not at all, just ask the gubbamint yoyo he will tell you how it is better for you to be limited in your options because then his are expanded.

OK let's look at trade again. We will make a game of it! What is the only industrialized nation on the planet without domestic content manufacturing laws?

Which country routinely allows, despite having the largest and best armed forces on the planet other countries to rip off it's inhabitants intellectual property?

Right again, the good ole U.S.A.. Can you now see a bought and paid for government?
Can you now see who is exerting the influence?

You guessed it, you are truly "in it". What does that mean? Anywhere else on the monopoly board, the access is either arranged, by virtue of political dealing (meaning huge political contribution and therefore access) or, (for the rest of us) if you want to sell it there you must make it there.

Ever wonder why Ford had to put it's automobile factory in Germany, and Volkswagen still sends finished imports over here?

And who can blame them, with the EEO laws, you can predict what would happen to their product quality by the time a diversity wand was waved over their new factory. They had one here about 20 years ago, closed up, went back to Germany and immediately their financial problems disappeared.

How's that for food for thought? If you have to use the EEO process you better get a protected market is one interpretation.

Yep, it sure is not only better, it is fairer here in the U.S.A., which is why there were riots in Seattle the first time and the second time there was enough security in plain view that if you broke wind in the crowd you were going to jail. How is that for for a fair trade talks atmosphere and citizen participation in government?

Smell that FREEDOM!

OK, OK lets look at capital formation and its availability in association with fostering that "good ole American" ingenuity. Ask any business owner of a non-minority business about getting growth financing.

Hell, see if they can even get accounts receivable financing. The choke hold is really in the best interest of you fellow Americans, the more you struggle against it the more your wind pipe gets crushed. So, please, for your own good, just listen to George's, Bill's and Hillary's line of crap.

Now, lets look at export financing, you know, the guy at the other end of the road, despite all the hamstringing by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the foreign government, decides he wants to actually buy something American. In association with that purchase, he wants financing. Well he is not gonna get it here from an American Bank.

Contrast that to the same situation involving a German National. The German Banking system is set up for EXPORT financing. The result is greater wealth for German business, bigger business opportunities and more national prosperity.

The people who are clamoring for isolationist policy enactment are aware of the totally screwed nature of the playing field.

They are pursuing a single card solution because it would take so damn many corrections to the farce of policy and position, which will never occur, that they say screw it. Obviously they are wrong, wrong, wrong, because George's and others' puppets say so.

The balance of trade is indeed the major contributor in the matter. Why? The money is leaving the country. The wealth is leaving the country. The incomes of the major taxpayer body is getting slashed.

Simultaneously, because of diminishing tax burdens on the wealthy, lack of taxable manufacturing base remaining, the working stiffs get a more disproportionate load.

Finally, in a more opulent manufacturing-rich society there is a larger Gross National Product, higher paying jobs, more tax base and therefore the ability to pay off that damn intergalactic sized national debt.

That debt financing need causes the government to give the international lenders all the "sweeteners" they demand in terms of trade concessions. It is a never ending cycle of bad fiscal policy which subsequently causes bad political and trade policy which then leads to more bad fiscal policy.

And that is reality as I see it? How about you?

By the way, the previous blog entry was not government financed or influenced in any way so it bears a passable resemblence to truth.

Stephen G. Dees Sr.

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