Following up the last post — at the Los Angeles Times, Andrew J. Bacevich asks “What Isolationism?

IN HIS STATE of the Union address on Tuesday, President Bush worked himself into a lather about the dangers of “retreating within our borders.” His speech bulged with ominous references to ostensibly resurgent isolationists hankering to “tie our hands” and leave “an assaulted world to fend for itself.” Turning inward, the president cautioned, would provide “false comfort” because isolationism inevitably “ends in danger and decline.”

But who exactly are these isolationists eager to pull up the drawbridges? What party do they control? What influential journals of opinion do they publish? Who are their leaders? Which foundations bankroll this isolationist cause?

The president provided no such details, and for good reason: They do not exist.

Nonexistence is of little consequence to the Right, of course. They do love their boogeymen over there. Witness the mythical “liberal elite” that is the cause of all evil in America. It doesn’t exist, either, yet belief in it fuels much of rightie politics.

Bacevish, a professor of international relations at Boston University, continues with some interesting observation of isolationism in American history and its opposite, the Wilsonian tradition. He concludes,

Can America be America absent Wilsonian ideals? Perhaps not. But an America intoxicated with its self-assigned mission of salvation while disregarding prudential considerations will court exhaustion, both moral and material. Our present circumstances may not dictate a full retreat. But they do require a revived appreciation of what we can and cannot do. Contriving phony charges of isolationism to dodge tough, practical questions is not only dishonest, it is reckless and irresponsible.

Irresponsible! My goodness, can that be? On the Right, the only “responsible” discourse starts with “I love Dear Leader.”

But this reminded me of something Glenn Greenwald said yesterday about the SOTU speech:

The award for most ambitious statement in the speech would have to go to this passage:

    Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal: We seek the end of tyranny in our world.

Is that really our foreign policy goal now – “the end of tyranny in our world”? This sounds a lot like something which third-grade students or beauty pageant contestants say when asked what their greatest hope for the world is. It also sounds like something which justifies and, if followed, guarantees endless wars.

And you know that in earlier times if a Democratic president had said something about “the end of tyranny in our world,” the Right would have been up his ass about it a split second later. Conservatives have been deriding “Wilsonianism” for decades. But now that their boy is more Wilsonian than Wilson, that tune has changed.

Which is why I think Steve Soto is right when he says Democrats can move to Bush’s right on national security. They can do this not by taking the Clinton-Lieberman road and supporting a Wilsonian war, but by getting real.

Richard Wolffe and Holly Bailey write in Newsweek (web only)

The president’s strategy of defeating terrorism with democracy faces fundamental challenges in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iran. In all three places, terrorists and militants have attracted more popular support, not less, through the ballot box.

Democrats have a rare opening to be more hawkish than Bush on terrorism. They could argue, like Jordan, that the current goal must be to fight militants and terrorists—not to move towards more democracy. They could argue, like Bush himself in 2000, that the job of the U.S. military is to win war, not build nations. …

… five years in office have left the White House straining under the weight of its own contradictions. Iraq was never meant to be a war about terrorists or democracy. It was a war launched to disarm a dictator with weapons of mass destruction. By lumping the two together out of political necessity, the White House seems to have lost focus on the single goal that voters really care about: killing off Al Qaeda.

I’m not sure Bush was ever clear in his own mind what the Iraq War was meant to be, but never mind. This is right; this is exactly what the Dems should be doing.

Update: See also Matt Y.

3 thoughts on “Wilsonianism

  1. It is time for realism not vaccuous rhetoric. Bush has pushed this” mission” so far that we now have a half trillion dollar army in Iraq getting in their humvees driving to the local sheik’s house to deliver toys and getting blown to pieces driving out the alley when they leave. Watching the Bob Woodruff coverage- the media shows pictures of the ‘heros’ with children playing up the warm and fuzzy and forgetting this is about WAR people, and armies kill people and get killed( and so do journalists). This is not about doing social work in a third world country and you can do social work alot cheaper than sending an army to do it( not to mention you don’t tick off the locals as much). We need reality not straw men in straw speeches.

  2. Pingback: End of Silence - Random musings from a geek dad » More SOTU fallout

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