Thursday, February 09, 2006

Isolationism by Another Name

A hat tip to Stephen Green at Vodkapundit for the kind words about my blog, and also for this item, posted by Rich Lowery at "The Corner" a couple of days ago.

According to Mr. Lowery, there's something of a debate emerging on what conservative foreign policy should be after George W. Bush. Rich detects an air of frustration among some conservatives over the War in Iraq, and the wisdom of trying to "democratize" other Middle Eastern countries. He refers to this "movement" (perhaps a premature description) as "to hell with them hawks." In other words, it was proper to invade Iraq and get rid of Saddam, but we should have withdrawn immediately, and left the country to its own devices. Ditto for any sort of military action against Iran.

As an example of this sort of thinking, Lowery cites Fred Barnes's recent comments on FNC. Noting escalating protests over the Danish cartoons in the Middle East, Fred decided that this is not a fringe protest, but a representation of "mainstream" Islam that will never fully embrace western values, culture or democracy. In other words, the battle for Islamic hearts and minds has already been lost, so "to hell with them."

Of course, such thinking is nothing new; it's simply the latest variation on the isolationism that conservatives have periodically embraced for more than a century. Unfortunately, as the world's only remaining superpower, we lost that option a long time ago. Besides, as Steve Green so accurately describes it, the "victory and retreat" strategy carries unacceptable risks, particularly in the Middle East.

"Of course, we might find that we had to re-invade Iraq in five years. Or let the Turks in, to "protect" the Kurds. Or that Iran would annex the oil-rich Shia regions. We might find that someday we'd have to invade Iran – with no friendly land bases nearby. Today, we have a violent and dysfunctional Iraq, but the "to hell with them" scenario just leaves a hole in the map to be filled in by al Qaeda and their ilk."

"There's another danger, too. What little cohesion exists among hawks today could easily fall apart. I don't care if the next President is a Republican or Democrat, so long as they're a hawk. Otherwise we would face another round of the Clinton Administration's do-nothing mentality. Back in the '90s, at least we could plead some kind of ignorance. Ten or twelve years ago, the Crazies attacked us far away, in Africa or Saudi Arabia or in foreign waters. Yet by failing to respond, we taught al Qaeda how to attack us here at home."

As the liberators of Iraq, we have a responsibility to defend the country from internal and external threats, and help the Iraqi people move toward a democratic system--just as we did in post-war Germany and Japan. There are limits to what we should do in Iraq--and how long we should remain--but the idea of knocking off Saddam (or any other dictatorship) and then sailing home is simply a non-starter.

A better idea is to encourage democratic movements in countries like Iran, and work hard for regime change. When the Solidarity movement began in Poland, it seemed inconceivable that a group of shipyard workers would eventually bring down Soviet communism and free Eastern Europe. Today, there are millions of Iranians who are tired of the mullahs and are looking for a new government, but they need support and encouragment from the west; President Bush said as much during his recent State of the Union address. Going isolationist (again) is not the way to win friends or produce regime change in Tehran, Gaza City, or Damascus. Similarly, we can't bring lasting change by mounting a military campaign, declaring victory, bringing our troops home, and simply hoping for the best.

2 comments:

Mrs. Davis said...

Was abandoning Somalia an act of isolationism?

If we defeat China in a war, will we then be responsible for its democratization? Pakistan? Venezuela? Saudi Arabia? If we don't want to try to democratize the enemy after the war, should we not enter into war?

We have been trying to help countries democratize for the last 50 years without first going to war with them. Why should we democratize those who go to war with us. Is that the reward for losing badly?

I see no reason why we should not take a country like Iran that supplies us a causus belli, defeat them in war and leave then to their own devices to recover pour l'encouragement autres.

A different America? Possibly, though I'd suggest the post WWII US was the different entity. But different times suggest different policies. And America has never made a particularly good imperial power.

Spook86 said...

I wouldn't call our withdrawal from Somalia an example of isolationism; it was equivalent to Reagan's retreat from Beirut in 1983--cutting your losses at the end of a poorly planned (and ill advised) military operation.

In the famous words of Colin Powell, "if you break it, you own it" (at least for a while). Defeating an adversary, then leaving them to their own devices is an invitation to trouble--as evidenced by Germany after World War I, or Russia after the WWI military setbacks that led to the Bolshevik Revolution. Go home too soon, and you may find yourself fighting the same enemy again in 20 years.

However, there is a limit on what we can/should do in Iraq or any other country we defeat. Our pullout from Iraq should begin this year, and we should have a "goal" (not a timetable) of getting most of our folks out over the next 3-4 years, as permiited by the internal security situation and the regional environment.

By helping a defeated adversary rebuild and establish a new government, we can produce a sea change that benefits our own national security. Japan's democratization after WWII is an excellent case in point. Military victory, followed by occupation, rebuilding and political reform forever shattered the remnants of Japanese militarism, and produced a stable, prosperous U.S. ally in a potentially voliatle region in the world.

Again, there are limits to what we can do and how long we should stay. For example, we still have about 5,000 U.S. Army personnel in Japan, 60 years after WWII. That makes little sense, other than to provide a jumping-off point for operations in a more likely combat zone, namely the Korean peninsula.

In summary, the hard job of nation-building in a defeated adversary is often necessary and imporant, despite the risks entailed. Finally, I'd disagree with your thoughts on an America as an Imperial Power. I'm not sure I'd describe us as a "poor" imperial power, just a different one. With ample resources here at home and two oceans to protect us, there was never a need for a far-flung American empire, with the possible exception of the post-WWII era. Many of our early colonies were acquired by accident (Spanish-American War, for example). When we suddenly found ourselves with colonies in the Philippines, Guam, etc., the reaction was more of "what now," versus "what's the best way to plunder/exploit them?"