On the Road to Isolationism?
With the death of Communism and the waning of the cold war, a three-sided strategic and moral debate over the future course of U.S. foreign policy has emerged. The anti-Communist coalition that won the “long, twilight struggle” has splintered; erstwhile colleagues in the formulation and execution of the Reagan Doctrine find themselves at cross-purposes. Traditional isolationism, long associated with the Old Right, has been resuscitated through a Hatfields-and-McCoys wedding to the neoisolationism of the Vietnam-era New Left. And as if that were not enough, a new argument has erupted about the viability of realism (in either its classic European/Realpolitik form or its modern American/Niebuhrian construction) as a guide for American action in the world. The parallels to the 1930′s are unmistakable: “back to the future” may well define the foreign-policy debate in the 1990′s.
Perhaps the most curious of these related phenomena has been the isolationist renaissance. Once regarded as having been consigned to the murkier nether regions of our public discourse, isolationism (or, as its exponents prefer, the new nationalism or “nonintervention-ism”) has once again become a significant voice in the argument over the national interest and the national purpose. (It may seem passing strange that people who drive Hondas, shave with Braun razors, watch Sony TV’s, prepare their pesto sauce in Cuisinarts, sip Perrier, Corona, and Glenfiddich, and listen to Deutsche Grammophon recordings should be susceptible to the siren songs of autarky; but, as the metaphysician Yogi Berra said when a Jew was elected mayor of Dublin, “only in America.”) It is even possible that the next two presidential elections will be fought in part on ground defined by the renewal of the old McGovernite call to “Come home, America.”
About the Author
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and the author most recently of God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (HarperCollins).