The ‘Isolationist’ Slur Won’t Go Away

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The Cato Institute’s Justin Logan at POLITICO argues “Washington’s war hawks are gearing up to scare you with another phantom devil: isolationism.”

…“isolationist” was designed as a slur and remains one. No one calls himself an isolationist. It’s always intended to link the target with the ignominious record of Americans in the 1930s who were slow to recognize the threat from Nazi Germany. But the term itself was coined around the turn of the 20th century by the imperialist A. T. Mahan to disparage opponents of American overseas expansion. As the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Walter McDougall showed, America’s “vaunted tradition of ‘isolationism’ is no tradition at all, but a dirty word that interventionists, especially since Pearl Harbor, hurl at anyone who questions their policies.”

Coincidentally, perhaps, the third thing you should know is that the people trying to create anxiety about isolationism favor an interventionist military policy that has fallen out of favor with the public. After the twin disasters of Iraq and now Afghanistan, they are pawing the ground for more wars in Syria and Iran…

And that’s what’s really going on here — using rhetoric to remove any sensible alternative to America’s expansive grand strategy.

Here’s how you can tell the isolationist label is a slur and not descriptive: Washington’s war hawks have even called Obama an isolationist! Well, sometimes they modify it and choose “neo-isolationist.” In that sense, the isolationist slander does not have anything to do with an ideology that favors pulling away from the world in foreign policy, commerce, culture, immigration and everything else. Instead, it means one who disagrees with the foreign policy prescriptions of the accuser.

As Robert Golan-Vilella wrote at The National Interest, that label “only begins to make sense if your default assumption is that the United States can and should be intervening everywhere, all the time.”

“The problem is the default assumption for many in our political elite,” Matt Duss writes, “seems to be that the United States has the right—nay, the duty—to get into everyone’s business, everywhere, all the time. Anything less represents an abdication.”

But Logan makes perhaps a more important point here: the hawks who throw this label around at anyone who disagrees with their expansive foreign policies are trying to use this ad hominem rhetoric to promote more of their own reckless wars. Or, as Logan puts it, “to remove any sensible alternative to America’s expansive grand strategy.”

See here for my previous post on the isolationist slur.

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