The Force is strong with the isolationists this week.
This is not the time for armchair isolationism.
Most Republicans don’t want to become, again, the party of isolationists.
Nations such as China, Russia and Iran would see this as the triumph of a political coalition between the peace party of the left and the rising isolationists of the right.
Calling someone an isolationist isn’t a devastating quip or even an accurate descriptor. Rather it’s the answer to a question that’s been looming over the bombadiers of yesterday’s right: How do they effectively label their fellow Republicans who oppose action in Syria? The old Iraq pejoratives—”unpatriotic,” “quisling”—are no longer effective. “Realist,” “moderate,” and “skeptic” sound downright reasonable. But “isolationist”—there’s a word with a whiff of the right-wing fringe. So-called isolationists like Sen. Robert Taft wrongly opposed American involvement in World War II. (Taft also opposed the internment of Japanese Americans, but let’s not let nuance intrude here.) Thus we get writers like Stephens drawing a tortuous line between Taft and Republicans who oppose intervention in Syria today. Concerned that America is taking al Qaeda’s side in Syria? You’re in the tradition of those who turned a blind eye to Hitler. The vast majority of conservatives who question the current military action don’t want a return to Fortress America. But it’s far more convenient for writers like Stephens to hurl the I-word than to acknowledge that many on the right feel chastened by the mistakes of Iraq and are leaving the interventionist block party in droves.
But this presents a further problem: Large majorities of the American people are opposed to intervening in Syria. Screaming “Isolationist!” is meant to relegate someone to the fringe; it can’t be applied to more than 60 percent of the public. So Americans are said to be falling for isolationist rhetoric because they’re “war weary.” There’s something like condescension embedded in the “war weary” formulation—if only Americans would wake up and start thinking clearly, they’d come around to supporting more bombs over the Middle East. For more on why the public isn’t, in fact, war weary, read Robert Samuelson’s excellent refutation.
Even some on the left have started using the word “isolationist.” Over at the New York Times, Timothy Egan has produced the blog-post equivalent of an inebriated stumble around a bar, shouting slurred bon mots and throwing punches at everyone he perceives to be a conservative, from President Bush to Liz Cheney to, of course:
The isolationists in the Republican Party are a direct result of the Bush foreign policy.
Liberals have invested so much time and blood pressure in hating the Tea Party wing of the GOP that they can’t acknowledge that many of its members agree with them on certain issues of national security. So the isolationist label gives them a convenient out: These guys may be anti-war, but they’re not rationally anti-war like us.
There is now the very real possibility that the resolution to attack Syria won’t pass Congress and that House Republicans will be responsible for its demise. Yesterday Reid Smith observed that neoconservatives were sliding back to the left side of the political spectrum. If the GOP prevents us from getting involved in Syria—if the so-called isolationists win the day—perhaps we’ll see a migration of some neocons back to the Democratic Party, or at least to a homeless, nebulous political center.