In an op-ed last year in The Washington Post, former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl warned of “the danger of repeating the cycle of American isolationism.” That summer, Post columnist Charles Krauthammer heralded “the return of the most venerable strain of conservative foreign policy: isolationism.”
New York Times columnist Bill Keller then fretted that “America is again in a deep isolationist mood.” This November, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens will publish a book subtitled The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder.
What makes these warnings odd is that in contemporary foreign policy discourse, isolationism—as the dictionary defines it—does not exist. Calling your opponent an “isolationist” serves the same function in foreign policy that calling her a “socialist” serves in domestic policy. While the term itself is nebulous, it evokes a frightening past, and thus vilifies opposing arguments without actually rebutting them. For hawks eager to discredit any serious critique of America’s military interventions in the “war on terror,” that’s very useful indeed. [Read more]
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