From Globalism to Isolationism
ONLY a dozen years have passed since President Kennedy in his inaugural address spoke of America as “the watchman on the wall of freedom”: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” Since that time the pendulum has swung to the other extreme and the burden most Americans are willing to bear in the world today appears slight indeed. According to a Harris poll taken in May 1969, for instance, only 8 per cent of Americans recorded themselves as being in favor of sending troops if Israel were threatened with extinction by a Soviet-supported Arab attack; the corresponding figures for West Berlin and Italy were only slightly higher. And President Nixon himself has announced the new direction of American foreign policy as one of encouraging a much greater degree of self-reliance in the small nations of the world.
The reasons for this radical shift-a shift from interventionism to isolationism-will be studied for a long time to come. The Vietnam disaster has no doubt contributed to hastening the process of American disengagement from the policy of globalism, but it is likely that the process would have occurred anyway, sooner or later.
The United States was drawn reluctantly into a leading role in world politics in the aftermath of World War II. It undertook that role without much enthusiasm, without real experience, and without strong support from public opinion. The anti-Communist passions of the early 50′s were hardly a firm basis on which to build a global policy. There was no long-range perspective; measures were taken on an ad-hoc basis, in response to the actions of the other side. A sustained effort to pursue a global policy needs a sense of mission, perseverance, and a ruthlessness that are uncharacteristic of American society in general. Small wonder then that the neo-isolationist mood has found such widespread acceptance among virtually all sectors of American opinion in such a relatively brief period of time.
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