The Old-School Liberal

“Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom” — Friedrich Hayek

Non-Interventionism ≠ Isolationism

Posted by Poorsummary on December 2, 2007


Non-interventionism

Bruce Miller of The Blue Voice confuses non-interventionism with isolationism:

“Let me start this by saying as I’ve said in a number of posts before that most warnings about ‘isolationism’ are fake, straw-man arguments. At least outside of Ron Paul’s political corner, there are no actual isolationists in American politics…If you listen carefully to what Ron Paul and similar isolationist rightwingers are saying, their brand of nationalism is coming from a very similar place. They want to discard normal diplomacy, foreign aid, even the threat of economic and trade sanctions from the set of foreign policy tools available to the United States. They are not far from the neocons in that essential focus. As the Overstreets described the perspective 43 years ago, “What we might need to do abroad, in military terms, could be done by a well-placed bomb or a regiment of Marines.”

Bruce mischaracterizes Congressman Paul’s foreign policy. Paul does not advocate “pulling back out of the world” altogether, but merely eliminating US military intervention unrelated to our national security. Whenever he talks about the success we’ve had by leaving Vietnam, he also talks about the stability that has come from our actively trading with them:

“We now trade, invest, travel, and communicate with a unified, western-leaning country that is catching on rather quickly to capitalist ways. This policy, not military confrontation, is exactly what the Constitution permits and the Founders encouraged in our relationship with others.”

I don’t know what Bruce means by “normal” diplomacy, but Congressman Paul does not “discard” diplomacy from the set of foreign policy tools available to the United States, but rather shuns imposing ineffective embargoes and making dangerous military threats.

Whether or not Ron Paul is an “isolationist” is a matter of debate that continues to arise. Until we can agree on a definition for “isolationist,” any debate on the matter is meaningless. According to Wikipedia (a decent source for gauging the general public’s interpretation of the word):

“Isolationism is a foreign policy which combines a non-interventionist military policy and a political policy of economic nationalism (protectionism). In other words, it asserts both of the following:

1. Non-interventionism – Political rulers should avoid entangling alliances with other nations and avoid all wars not related to direct territorial self-defense.

2. Protectionism – There should be legal barriers to control trade and cultural exchange with people in other states.”

Ron Paul is a free-trader, and a strict opponent of any barriers to control trade. According to this definition, Paul is clearly a non-interventionist, but not an isolationist. Do those that call Paul an isolationist misunderstand his position, or disagree with this definition? Or is it that they have an easier time discrediting “fake, straw-man arguments” than objectively discussing the position for what it is?

There may be plenty of legitimate reasons to question Ron Paul’s foreign policy. Confusing it for something it is not is not one of them, and stifles rationale dialog. The correct definition of “isolationism” is a matter of semantics, but, in the interest of intelligent debate, let’s be clear about the terms we’re using.

See Ron Paul’s response to McCain’s accusations of being an “isolationist” here.

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