Once upon a time Republicans were isolationists and Democrats were internationalists. Then, after Eisenhower became president, the parties began swapping roles. Recently, with the advent of the Gulf and Afghanistan Wars, the Democrats have emphasized their distrust of foreign adventures.
Now we see the Libertarians joining this discussion. They are clearly intent on re-establishing an America-First mentality among conservatives. Ron Paul has been the most vocal in this endeavor. Yet he is far from alone. Many of those who claim that freedom is their over-riding concern also wish to free us from overseas adventures.
Paul insists that we should not be spending our dollars abroad. He further argues that countries, such as Iran, should be able to set their political agendas without interference from us. As he as put it, if we would not appreciate external pressures, why should we inflict these on others?
John Stossel too has advocated a new isolationism. He has encouraged our government to get out of Afghanistan on the grounds that we have been there long enough. Besides, our efforts at nation building have clearly failed; hence we should learn our lessons and come home.
At a recent gathering on young libertarians, Stossel quizzed John Bolton about these matters, and when Bolton argued for finishing the job we started, the audience erupted in agonized booing. These young ideologues felt compelled to express their disdain for international military actions as forcefully as they could.
When Bolton was then asked when he would withdraw from Afghanistan, he replied, “When the job is done.” To this Stossel responded that we had already provided the ungrateful Afghans with enough blood and treasure. Why not let them settle their own problems by themselves?
But that was not—and is not the issue. We did not go to Afghanistan in order to help the Afghans. We went in order to protect ourselves from further terrorist attacks. The question regarding when we should leave therefore comes down to when we can be sure we are safe.
Setting a date at which we should leave is not about the cost, in lives or dollars, but about conditions on the ground. If we leave prematurely, what happens if there is another 9/11? Worse still, what if Afghanistan provides a staging area for an atomic attack on New York, Washington—or Atlanta?
What will the nouveau-isolationists say then? The young do not remember the price paid for refusing to stop Hitler before the wehrmacht began rolling. Nor do they recall that we did not stop fighting the Nazis until they were decisively defeated.
When you are attacked—and we were attacked—you do not stop defending yourself until the enemy desists. The radical Islamists are not trying to kill us because we interfered with their self-government. To the contrary, we are seeking to dismantle their infrastructures because they are trying to kill us.
Only ideologues—or those with a death wish—refuse to recognize who started what. Only they insist that we set time limits on self-defense.
If the rest of us listen to them, the time will come when we will not have to spend money on military activities—because we will have been defeated.