A number of isolationists (or to be polite, “noninterventionists”) vocally object to being labelled as “isolationists” and their preferred policy being called such. They claim there’s a big difference between the two.
Such a masquerade is understandable, given that isolationism is an abysmally failed and utterly discredited policy which has failed everytime it was tried, costing over 2,400 American servicemembers their lives the last time it was tried. But don’t let anyone fool you: so-called “non-interventionism” is just another name for isolationism.
And if tried today, it will fail just as miserably as it has every previous time. And you can take that one to the bank.
“Non-interventionists” object that they’re not “isolationists” because they want to “travel” and “trade with other nations”. But so did the original “noninterventionists”, i.e. the original isolationists.
Those sorry wastes of human genetic material had no problem with the US trading with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Japan during the pre-Pearl-Harbor period. They were all for it. Like the “non-interventionists” of today, they were saying “don’t fight Germany, Italy, or Japan; trade with them. Don’t fight them, and don’t impose any embargoes on them, either.”
Their only isolationism pertained to military matters. Like the “non-interventionists” of today, they wanted the US to stay out of any and all wars, not ally itself with any country, not come to the aid of any victim of aggression, not do ANYTHING (militarily or otherwise) against odious genocidal regimes like Hitler’s Germany or imperial Japan, and not even provide any aid like Lend-Lease programs or even sell any weapons to attacked countries like Britain.
But they did not oppose trading with Germany, Italy, or Japan, talking to them, or travelling to these countries. Their “isolationism” extended only to the military sphere.
Similarly, the “non-interventionists” of today are all for trading with Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and other odious regimes, and for travelling there. Their “isolationism” extends only to the military sphere.
In other words, their views are exactly the same as those of the original “non-interventionists” (read: isolationists). They just don’t want to be called isolationists. But the foreign policy they advocate IS isolationism – and no amount of denial will change that fact.
Now, some of you may ask, “What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with non-interventionism/isolationism?”
To start with, EVERYTHING.
Non-interventionism/isolationism is a miserably failed, utterly discredited policy that has failed everytime America tried it, and will fail abysmally again if tried again, no matter what so-called “noninterventionists” may tell you about its supposed benefits.
It was first tried in the 1790s and the 1800s as France and Britain went to war with each other in 1793 (with a brief interlude between 1802 and 1803) and President Washington proclaimed neutrality (without using the word). Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison tried a “noninterventionist” foreign policy course – only to fail abysmally, because neither France nor Britain had the slightest respect for America’s “neutrality”, and the US didn’t even have a military to speak of to enforce that neutrality.
Therefore, with impunity, both France and Britain tried to drag the US into a war with each other. French ambassador Edmond Charles Genet (“Citizen Genet”) recruited Americans to serve in the French Navy and organized privateer attacks out of American ports; he even reportedly threatened to appeal to the American people directly on this, bypassing President Washington. The British were hardly better behaved; they repeatedly harrassed and attacked American ships, confiscated them and the goods they were carrying, and kidnapped (“impressed”) numerous American sailors to serve in the Royal Navy. What’s more, in the Jay Treaty, the US essentially agreed to tolerate such practices.
Ultimately, those politicians’ insistence on clinging to a failed, dogmatic foreign policy and risk-averse attempts to “avoid war” led precisely to war. To two wars, exactly: first, an undeclared war with France (1798-1800, the “Quasi War”), and then, a declared, full-scale war with Britain, on land and at sea, from 1812 to 1815.
By desperately trying to avoid alliances and avoid war with Britain, the Founding generation practically guaranteed war with both, and managed to get war with both. They didn’t understand that neutrality was not an option, and that the only choice was between war with France and war with Britain, neither of whom behaved well at the time.
“Noninterventionism” was tried in the run-up to WW1, and it failed abysmally. The US initially stayed out of the war, but the Germans showed no respect for America’s neutrality, ruthlessly sinking ships carrying hundreds of American citizens. Then, the German government decided to poke America even further by allying itself with Mexico and offering the Mexicans an opportunity to reconquer Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. This would ostensibly bleed the US while keeping it out of WW1.
(Pity for the Germans, the British intercepted the message and forwarded it to the US, where it was published in the press. THIS, and not some “Wilsonian interventionism”, is what triggered America’s entry into WW1.)
Isolationism was also tried in the run-up to Pearl Harbor. Again, it utterly failed. The so-called “non-interventionists” of the day managed to delude themselves (and the majority of the US electorate) that the US could stick its head in the sand, be neutral, not fight Germany, Italy, or Japan, and still be secure. They deluded themselves and others that “the crocodile won’t come to eat us.”
Yet, their “noninterventionist” policy utterly failed, as country after country, closer and closer to the US, fell to the Germans and the Japanese, and finally Japan, after subjugating half of Asia, turned against the US and attacked Pearl Harbor. The crocodile finally came to eat the American people as well, and it ate 2,400 brave American sailors.
“Noninterventionism” failed again. After such an embarrassing failure, it was so utterly discredited that it would not be seriously considered by anyone until the 2000s.
Today, neo-isolationists, masquerading as “noninterventionists”, are claiming that the US should adopt a “noninterventionist” foreign policy, while simoultaneously denying that it’s isolationism, despite the obvious fact that it is. (After all, who wants to be linked to an utterly failed foreign policy? 🙂 )
They say, “Don’t worry, we can afford to withdraw all of our troops from all foreign countries, terminate all of our alliances, stop defending any foreign countries, ignore Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, leave these issues for other countries to solve, and we’ll be perfectly fine, and no one will threaten us. The oceans will protect us. None of those countries will ever attack us if we just leave them alone.”
What’s wrong with that? To start with, EVERYTHING.
While America’s allies should “do more” to provide security, their capabilities are much more limited than America’s. There is a limit to what they can do, and it’s even more acute than the limits of America’s power.
While the European Union has a larger GDP and population than the US, the EU is a flimsy collection of 27 different states without a common leader, military, or foreign policy. Moreover, European countries are in financial straits even more dire than those in which America finds itself. Greece’s and Italy’s debts exceed their GDP’s; France’s debt equals 88% of its GDP; Britain’s, 80% of GDP.
The limitations of allies’ capacity to take up the slack is even more acutely visible in the Pacific Rim.
The biggest threat to that region’s, America’s, and its Pacific allies’ security – China – has a far larger economy, population, territory, industrial base, industrial production capacity, quantity of mineral resources, standing military, and military budget than Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand COMBINED.
Not to mention the fact that China has at least 1,800, and potentially up to 3,000, nuclear weapons, while none of these countries have a single nuke or ballistic missile and, with the sole exception of Japan, none of them have a missile defense system of any kind.
And the fact that China is now developing two 5th generation stealthy fightertypes, while none of these countries have any, the fact that China has an aircraft carrier (and is building more) while they have none… the list goes on.
Even if all of these nations overcame their mutual animosities and all worked together to defend themselves against China, they would still utterly fail and be easily subjugated by China – which is exactly what China, with its hegemonistic ambitions and its fervently nationalist leaders, soldiers, and citizens aims to do.
Even if all of these nations, currently troubled by China’s aggressive behavior and bellicose rhetoric, joined together to defend each other, they would still be nothing but mere speedbumps for the People’s Liberation Army (the Chinese military).
The only country which can stand up to the Chinese (and Russian) juggernaut and defend these countries – and the world’s sealanes, on which the entire world economy, including that of the US, depends – is the United States.
Furthermore, if the US dumps its allies, many, if not most, of them, will develop their own nuclear arsenals. (66.5% of South Koreans already want Seoul to do so, given the North Korean threat.)
You may ask “but why does that matter? Who cares if China subjugates all of these countries, what Iran and North Korea do, if they acquire nukes? Who cares?”
The answer is: because it will directly impact America’s economy and national security.
North Korea now has two types of ICBMs (Taepodong-2 and KN-08) capable of targeting the US and is able to mate nuclear warheads to them. One nuclear warhead detonated above the US would create an EMP strike crippling the entire US. That is a direct threat to US security.
If North Korea overruns South Korea, that will give Pyongyang a new platform from which to launch aggression against the US and other countries in the Pacific Rim.
If China attacks key American economic partners like Japan, the world’s third largest economy and one of America’s biggest trade partners, that will directly and negatively impact the US economy.
If China gets its hand on the rich oil and gas resources in the South China sea, those resources will be denied to the US and its allies.
If China turns the Western Pacific into its internal lake as it desires to, American merchant ships will not be secure there. That will directly impact the US economy.
If China continues to expand its already-large nuclear, ICBM, and SLBM/SSBN arsenal and build more aircraft carriers and submarines, that will only increase the direct threat that China poses to the US.
If Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large chunk of America’s oil and 30% of the world’s oil goes, this will immediately, directly, and negatively impact America’s economy and national security.
If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, other Persian Gulf states will race to do the same, and we will see a nuclear arms race in the region of the world in which we can least afford it. And a nuclear- and ICBM-armed Iran will pose a direct threat to US national security.
No, the US cannot afford to just withdraw its troops from the world, retrench behind oceans, cut its defense budget and its military, and pretend that the crocodile won’t come to eat it. This would be like an ostrich sticking it’s head in the sand while exposing its butt. And that butt will eventually be kicked.