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Realist Isolationism

Americans are ready to come home.

by James Leroy Wilson
March 16, 2006

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Realist Isolationism

"Isolationists" is the name given those who oppose American involvement in overseas squabbles. President Bush devoted a substantial amount of his State of the Union speech several weeks ago criticizing the isolationist view. This was so out of place as to leave one scratching one's head. After all, isolationists don't have much influence these days. Aside from Pat Buchanan's role in The McLaughlin Group, they are virtually non-existent in the mainstream press. Further, the rival in Washington D.C. to the President's neo-conservative, idealist vision of liberating and democratizing the world is not isolationism, but a moderate realism.

Realists slant away from unilateral war and toward international cooperation. They  strive for America to be first in power and moral influence, but doesn't seek to dominate the world through force. Realists weigh the costs, as well as the benefits, of war; they don't presume that the USA will prevail because God on its side. Realists may have a long-term hope for liberty and democracy throughout the world, but will not sacrifice American power, prestige, and wealth to make it all happen right now.

Isolationists are different. Less concerned with America's "place" on the world stage, they do not seek to use war and diplomacy to make the rest of the world a better place, but would rather leave it alone. They value American sovereignty and American security above all, and believe that our interfering in the affairs of other countries is the cause of, not the solution to, problems like terrorism.

Isolationism, as I understand it, can be summarized in four values:

  • American Sovereignty - the nation's security shall not be compromised by, nor its laws subservient to, international treaties. America calls the shots for America.
  • Non-intervention - In turn, America won't call the shots for other countries. No more military overthrow of foreign dictators or occupation of foreign countries. No more giving of "foreign aid" to corrupt overseas politicians. No more entangling alliances that forces Americans to defend the security of other, often wealthy nations like South Korea and Germany.
  • Protectionism - The protection of American jobs, usually through high tariff rates that raise the price of foreign goods to the point where more people "buy American."
  • Anti-immigration - The level of both legal and illegal immigration is excessive, and its ramifications range from depressed wages, to increased government spending, to cultural disunity. If left unchecked, we may soon see a push to cede the American Southwest back to Mexico.

The isolationist agenda is roughly two-thirds agreeable. Isolationists are dead right about sovereignty and non-intervention. The more authority we surrender to ever-more distant bureacuracies, the less free we become. And foreign entanglements have only cost America life, liberty, and property, and have never enhanced the nation's security. The isolationist position on protectionism, on the other hand, all that agreeable, except that tariffs are indeed "less bad" than most taxes. But even then, they still do harm. Tariffs that protect one industry can and does lead to increased costs for other industries; saved jobs in the one leads to lost jobs in the others. And the anti-immigration position is halfway agreeable. It is a mistake to use government force to "protect" a culture, but a mass invasion really does depress wages, and our political order really can be in jeopardy if the immigrants seek to change our laws or our boundaries for religious and nationalistic reasons.

Isolationism's greatest strength is its resistance to guilt manipulation, ideological dogma, and political correctness. Isolationists see the Constitution evaporating as our laws conform to, for example, WTO standards. They wonder about the hundreds of billions wasted in "securing" and "rebuilding" a country we attacked that never posed a threat to us. They recognize that "free trade" agreements like NAFTA are frauds and failures. They realize that epithets like "appeaser" and "racist" are yelled at them by people who have run out of rational arguments.

It is unlikely that a radical isolationist would get far politically -- if nothing else, he would be constantly and viciously smeared. And even if he does gain power, the political resistance to his agenda would be enormous. (It is unlikely, for instance, that America will leave the United Nations anytime soon.) But now is the time that a realism with isolationist tendencies or, better, a realist isolationism, can gain a major following. Bush's policy, which Steve Sailer among others has called "invade the world, invite the world," has failed. Americans are ready for a change.

What would that change look like? Well, perhaps real immigration reform is too radical, but enforcing the immigration laws already on the books would be popular. Instant withdraw from the 100+ countries we currently occupy may not be practical, but quietly negotiating a reduced presence in NATO and the Korean Peninsula could be done. America might still send emergency aid to foreign countries in the wake of severe natural disasters, but decrease or eliminate its annual subsidies to pay for the social engineering of foreign cultures. The bureaucrats and the military-industrial complex may be too powerful to defeat, but defense spending can still stand some moderate cuts. Hawkish words on the "War on Terror" may still be expected, but our country can still be made safer by withdrawing from Iraq and reducing our aid to Israel and several other countries in the Middle East.

President Bush overreached, believing that he and his army could save the world. The time is ripe for a reversal of that tide. Many Democrats and several former supporters of Bush today are not questioning the wisdom or the intentions of invading Iraq, only the Bush Administration's competence. They still maintain an idealist orientation, even if they consider themselves smarter and more realistic than the President. But America's real interests lie in adopting the opposite course entirely. The first President who sets us on an isolationist course will probably not be judged an isolationist at all, but he will have an understanding of the futility of wars like Iraq's.

Americans are tired of Bush, tired of this war, tired of the delusional beliefs behind his foreign policy. I predict that the most "anti-war" of the two major candidates in 2008 will win the election. Perhaps Bush was right to feel threatened by isolationists after all.

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