November 25, 1999
wrote last week about the disappointment Steve Forbes has been in
his foreign policy statements essentially embracing Cold
War nostalgia and Great Power clichés about the continuing
need for the United States to be wary of enemies and especially
to pursue a needlessly provocative policy toward China. Last week
George Dubya weighed in with what was billed as a major
statement of his vision for American foreign policy.
The most disappointing aspect of the speech is the intellectually
empty beating of the dead horse of some mythical yearning for Fortress
America that the international crusaders seem to descry as a foreboding
threat to their desire to find a new crusade with which to prove
once again America's greatness. In this Dubya trots out pretty much
the same straw man President Clinton, Sandy Berger, Steve Forbes
and other keepers of the imperialist flame describe.
The United States, in this version of the correlation of domestic
political forces, is at the height of its power and potential to
do good in the world. Yet certain narrow-minded, probably bigoted,
overly nationalistic, foreigner-hating shortsighted jingoists want
to create a "proud tower'' of isolationism and turn the country
into a hermit republic that takes no account of and has no commerce
with the world beyond its borders. We must beat back these dangerous
(although seldom identified unless named Pat) elements who would
only bring on a "shortcut to chaos,'' and "a stagnant
America and a savage world'' as Dubya put it.
Perhaps we can understand the impulse
to denounce but never to engage the straw demon of isolationism.
Most of these people were educated in American colleges where, unless
they encountered extremely unusual instructors, they absorbed the
conventional wisdom about America's role in the world. The country
kept to itself during the 19th century but under the Sainted Woodrow
it began to grow up, to mature, to take its proper place in the
world of nation-states.
Yes, there were a few reactionary elements who resisted the enlightened
path of joining the League of Nations after the War to End All Wars.
And before the Blessed Franklin got us into WWII there were some
scattered America First types who couldn't understand that America
was ordained to save the world and lead the world into the paths
of righteous engagement. But they disappeared after Pearl Harbor
and aside from a few neo-Nazis they haven't been heard from since.
All you need to know about them is that they were wrong. It is certainly
not necessary for a student of American history actually to read
or otherwise encounter any of the material they put out.
The keepers of American foreign policy have been remarkably successful
at casting any and all opponents of any imperialist adventure as
benighted, ignorant furriner-haters who do not need to be taken
seriously. Hardly any American college student has ever read anything
put out by the America First Committee or even been informed that
it included any elements beyond Ku Klux Klan types. So it's not
surprising that they continue to believe that they can defeat the
critics with simple demonization rather than by engaging their actual
The problem well, so far it's
only been a minor problem for those who want to continue
the endless search for dragons to slay and enemies to engage is
that with few exceptions the knuckle-dragging isolationist image
doesn't fit many of the critics of endless engagement. Most of us
have been curious about other countries from an early age and have
avidly sought out opportunities to travel and to meet people from
other lands. Some of us advocate not only complete free trade
unlimited, unregulated commerce and travel, unencumbered by bureaucratic
barriers and nuisances like passports and visas but support
open borders and immigration limited only by economic opportunity.
Actually, my bow to reality on the immigration issue is that I would
set up welcome stations on the borders where newcomers would be
checked for infectious diseases or membership in terrorist organizations
(real ones, not opposition political parties in tyrannies). Then
they would be asked to sign a promise not to apply for any help
from the government (i.e., taxpayers of long standing) for a certain
period of time five years, ten years, 200 years, I'm open
to negotiation on pain of instant deportation. Those willing
to accept these conditions would be welcome.
When I catch the image the constant interventionists want to paint
of backward, foreigner-hating isolationists, then, I have a hard
time recognizing myself or most critics of the American Imperium.
Instead, my experience is that most of them are open-minded, inquisitive
lovers of liberty and diversity who somewhere along the intellectual
road stumbled into the insight that war and mobilization tend not
to be the most fruitful environment for liberty and diversity to