TAMPA, September 3, 2013 – Just one day after President Obama requested a debate in Congress on military intervention in Syria, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has already trotted out the usual bludgeon against any call for restraint. Bomb Syria or you are an “isolationist.”
“Right now, I would say, if the vote were today, it would probably be a no vote. I’m hoping by the time next week comes around and hopefully the president can make his case that he will be able to get a majority of the House of Representatives. Right now, it would be very difficult and also we have an increasing isolationist wing in our party, which I think is damaging to the party and to the nation.”
Only in America is the word “isolationist” used to describe reluctance to initiate wars of choice. In every other context, that word has a far different meaning.
China had two major periods of “isolationism,” the first starting in the 14th century. For China, isolationism meant cutting off foreign trade, shipping, immigration and emigration. China entered another period of isolationism under Mao Zedung, again closing its borders and cutting off all commerce with the outside world, other than the Soviet Union.
Japan also had its isolationist period between the 17th and 19th centuries. Isolationism for Japan meant prohibiting trade, immigration, emigration and correspondence with the outside world. It had nothing to do with a reluctance to go to war, much less with a reluctance to get involved in wars that had nothing to do with Japan.
The isolationist policies of China and Japan were considered repressive and backwards, forcibly isolating their citizens from the benefits of trade and friendship with other nations and cultures.
That’s why noninterventionists’ opponents choose to call them “isolationist;” to smear them as backwards and against “progress.” There is even a connotation of selfishness that attaches itself to those who do not support wars of choice. This is ridiculous, of course, but words can be powerful.
The UK Parliament just voted down military action against Syria. Of the other 190 nations of the world, only France joins the United States in supporting a strike.
When the Bush Administration invaded Iraq, only three other nations contributed troops.
The United States now spends more on its military than the next ten nations combined. They have 900 bases in over 100 countries. No nation on earth or in human history comes close to that military footprint.
Is every nation on earth besides the United States “isolationist?”
Despite not being attacked by another nation’s military in over seventy years, the United States has been almost constantly at war.
The active wars combined with maintenance of the massive overseas military establishment has been the single largest contributor to the federal government’s $12 trillion in public debt.
It has also skewed American manufacturing towards producing weapons and armaments, rather than products that enrich the lives of American citizens.
These are just a few consequences of the decision during the last century to abandon the foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson and “go abroad looking for monsters to destroy.”
As the debate in Congress heats up, Rep. King will certainly not be the last one to call those arguing for restraint isolationist. Hopefully, the American public will be more discerning than most media and recognize that friendship and trade with all nations combined with military restraint is not isolationism. It is the opposite.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.