This morning Mara Liasson at NPR reported on the “new isolationism” in the GOP, and Adam Sorensen at Time pegged Jon Hunstman — Obama's first ambassador to China — with the “isolationism” label.
“Isolationism” has long been a vague term, used mostly as a slur against people opposing foreign military adventures. Today, I think, we can mark the term's descent into permanent and utter meaninglessness.
Look at Liasson's evidence of “new isolationism” in the GOP: Michele Bachmann opposing U.S. intervention Libya's civil war, and Newt Gingrich's call to wrap up our 10-year and 8-year occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here's my favorite line from Liasson's report: “Isolationism in the Republican field is no longer confined to Ron Paul.” Again, what can “isolationism” mean here other than “opposition to war against Muslim nations”? Paul believes, more or less, in open borders. He is the firmest free trader and tariff opponent in Congress. But someone can support — and applaud — the free interchange of people, money, goods, and ideas among nations, but if he doesn't also want to trade fire with other nations, he's an “isolationist”?
Liasson said Hunstman showed an isolationist streak by saying we should exit Iraq because “we just can't afford it.” So, you either believe in unaffordable permanent occupations with no obtainable defined purpose, or you're an isolationist?
From Time's Sorensen, Huntsman earned the isolationist badge for his calls to cut military spending and end our intervention in Libya, as well as this response on Afghanistan:
“If you can’t define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we’re wasting our money, and we’re wasting our strategic resources,” Huntsman says in a new interview with Esquire. “It’s a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it’s now or years from now, we’ll have an incendiary situation.”
From this, Sorensen posits Huntsman might be the “mainstream Republican isolationist” in the field.
Hunstman was an AMBASSADOR TO CHINA! He speaks Mandarin. He was deputy assistant secretary of Commerce and ambassador to Singapore. His degree from U Penn is in international politics. He was deputy U.S. Trade Representative who launched the Doha free-trade talks. Wikipedia tells me he is or has been on the boards of “the Pacific Council on International Policy … the Brookings Institute Asia Policy Board, the Asia Society in New York, and the National Bureau of Asian Research.”
But he could be an “isolationist” if he wants us to do less bombing, policing, and shooting in the Muslim world?
I asked Sorensen, on Twitter, about his word choice, and he offered a better alternative to describe Hunstman's stance: “noninterventionism.” I'll take that.
Otherwise, Radley Balko captured the current usage of the term: ” 'Isolationist' smear is usually directed at people who prefer trading with foreigners over killing them.”
— Jonah Goldberg has a blogpost on the same question, and he treats it much more systematically than I do. A warning: do NOT click on the link at the bottom of his post, or you'll end up in a deadly permanent feedback loop. Free Bonus: Here's me talking about this topic on MSNBC, back before anyone thought we might start bombing in Libya: