The Spectacle Blog

A Note on Isolationism

By on 9.8.11 | 2:03PM

Last night, GOP presidential hopefuls paused ever so briefly to discuss foreign policy, American security and discuss the future of our military adventurism at Wednesday evening's debate. My esteemed colleagues here at the Spectator have already done a bang-up job covering the ins and outs of last night's talking points, but I wanted to drop my two cents before it's all said and done.

Expanding on Joseph Lawler's thought...perhaps, when Quin Hillyer hosts my former senator from Pennsylvania on his radio show tonight, he might ask what Rick Santorum meant when he accused Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul of embracing a "a very isolationist view of where the Republican Party should be headed." Are they isolationist because they want to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan? Is he suggesting that bringing American troops home after 10 years at war is somehow is defeatist? I was left slightly unclear.

In contrast, he offered an impassioned call for Republican voters to "stand in the Reagan tradition" of spreading American values around the world. The audience in attendance at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library decided to sit on their hands despite the Gipper shout-out. Perhaps hoping to stir his sluggish spectators, Mr. Santorum went on to accuse Obama of "only [going] along with the Libyan mission because the United Nations told him to get involved." Well, that's not exactly correct.

In fact, he's got it totally backwards.

The United States requested UN resolution 1973 to achieve international backing for the NATO-led airstrikes. Does his bold endorsement of the Libyan mission, in contrast to Bachmann and Perry's respective refusal and reticence of Operation Odyssey Dawn, suggest he thinks they're equally isolationist?

The former senator needs to understand the critical difference between "isolationism" and what I would term "strategic non-interventionism" advocated by some of the other candidates up on stage. First of all, isolationism more appropriately pertains to international trade and immigration, as opposed to Neville Chamberlain's laissez faire take on the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Economic protectionism is a hallmark of traditional isolationism -- it's generally defined by import quotas, export bans and obscene tariffs on foreign goods.

In contrast, non-interventionism refers to the government's abstinence from interfering in the affairs of other countries. (See, for instance: Washington, George; Jefferson, Thomas; Adams, John Quincy, etc. throughout America's earliest statesmen.) Classic, American non-interventionism combines a robust disillusion with entangling alliances and bellicosity with the advocacy of free international trade and the free movement of people. Detractors' use of the isolationist slur has always been, and will remain, inappropriate.

Something for Mr. Santorum to consider if he decides to stay in the race.

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