No, Sen. Mccain, the GOP is not iso­la­tion­ist

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

Sen. John McCain, whose life is a con­tin­u­ing ex­em­plar of the Amer­i­can heroic ideal, re­gret­fully has got it quite wrong when he says that grow­ing GOP op­po­si­tion to the Libyan and Afghan wars is ev­i­dence of iso­la­tion­ism.

He said: “I was more con­cerned about what the can­di­dates in New Hamp­shire the other night said. This is iso­la­tion­ism. There’s al­ways been an . . . iso­la­tion strain on the Repub­li­can Party — that Pat Buchanan wing of our party. But now it seems to have moved more cen­ter stage, so to speak. . . . If we had not in­ter­vened, [Col. Moam­mar] Gad­hafi was at the gates of Benghazi. He said he was go­ing to go house to house to kill ev­ery­body. That’s a city of 700,000 peo­ple. What would we be say­ing now if we had al­lowed for that to hap­pen?

“[Ron­ald Rea­gan] would be say­ing: That’s not the Repub­li­can Party of the 20th cen­tury, and now the 21st cen­tury. That is not the Repub­li­can Party that has been will­ing to stand up for free­dom for peo­ple all over the world . . . or whether it be in our en­dur­ing com­mit­ment to coun­ter­ing the Soviet Union.” It is the Repub­li­can Party of Eisen- hower/Rea­gan in­ter­na­tion­al­ism. For­mer Gov. Mitt Rom­ney’s and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s ex­pres­sions of doubt re­gard­ing con­tin­u­ing Afghanistan and Libyan war poli­cies are com­pletely in line with the prag­matic in­ter­na­tion­al­ism of the post-World War II GOP.

At the end of Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower’s two terms, he proudly de­clared that on his watch, Amer­ica had not lost a foot of in­ter­na­tional ground nor a sin­gle Amer­i­can com­bat death. Sim­i­larly, Ron­ald Rea­gan’s two terms brought down Soviet com­mu­nism, held the line through sur­ro­gate wars in Cen­tral Amer­ica, al­most blood­lessly re­moved com­mu­nists in Gre­nada — suf­fer­ing as our pri­mary troop loss dur­ing his two terms about 250 Marines killed by a truck bomber in Lebanon.

How­ever, af­ter a de­cent in­ter­val, Rea­gan with­drew our troops. He judged that keep­ing troops in a lo­ca­tion where they could do no good would be an act of pride, not ra­tio­nal pol­icy. Nei­ther great in­ter­na­tion­al­ist pres­i­dent com­mit­ted our coun­try di­rectly to bloody wars, though both were pre­pared to do so if nec­es­sary.

Rea­gan’s de­ci­sion to place Per­sh­ing nu­clear mis­siles in Europe was man­i­fest ev­i­dence of his will­ing­ness to risk war on be­half of our broad in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ests. The gam­bit suc­ceeded with­out blood­shed, as it turned out.

In 1956, for ex­am­ple, when Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del Nasser na­tion­al­ized the Suez Canal and our great al­lies Bri­tain and France along with Is­rael in­vaded Egypt to re­take the canal, Eisen­hower firmly op­posed that war and ruth­lessly forced our NATO al­lies to re­move their troops.

Point­edly, how­ever, Eisen­hower did send out the word that if the Sovi­ets in­ter­vened, he would or­der Amer­i­can mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion. Decades be­fore the War Pow­ers Act was en­acted, the pres­i­dent — out of re­spect for the leg­isla­tive branch — asked for and re­ceived from Congress au­thor­ity to go to war in the Mid­dle East if the Sovi­ets came in first. The Sovi­ets never did. That is an ex- am­ple of pru­dent and prin­ci­pled Amer­i­can in­ter­na­tion­al­ism.

How­ever, Ron Paul is part of the iso­la­tion­ist tra­di­tion and, as a re­sult, has no chance of be­ing nom­i­nated by the GOP pri­mary elec­torate. Even Pat Buchanan cor­rectly does not claim to be an iso­la­tion­ist. Dur­ing the Cold War, he was a great cham­pion of ef­fec­tive Amer­i­can in­ter­na­tion­al­ism. Af­ter the fall of Soviet com­mu­nism, he judged that the threat was less — and so also should be our en­gage­ment. That is not iso­la­tion­ism — it is merely dif­fer­ently judg­ing the util­ity of Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion.

So too, one may op­pose cur­rent ef­forts in Afghanistan and Libya and not be iso­la­tion­ist. I sup­ported both the Afghan and Iraq wars (as did Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Rom­ney and most other GOP can­di­dates) as nec­es­sary re­sponses to the ris­ing threat from rad­i­cal Is­lam af­ter Sept. 11, 2001.

But al­most two years ago, I was one of the first GOP in­ter­na­tion­al­ist-ori­ented com­men­ta­tors or politi­cians to con­clude that the Afghan war ef­fort had served its ini­tial pur­pose, but it was time to phase out the war. As a puni­tive raid against the regime that gave suc­cor to Osama bin Laden, we re­moved the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment and killed as many al Qaeda and Tal­iban as pos­si­ble.

But as the pur­pose of that war turned into nation-build­ing, even GOP in­ter­na­tion­al­ists have a duty to re­assess whether, given the re­sources and strat­egy, such pol­icy is likely to be ef­fec­tive (see about a dozen of my col­umns on Afghan war pol­icy from 2009-10).

Now many oth­ers in the GOP and in the non-iso­la­tion­ist wing of the Demo­cratic Party are like­wise judg­ing fail­ure in Afghanistan to be al­most in­evitable. That is not a judg­ment driven by iso­la­tion­ism. Nei­ther are we — along with Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert M. Gates and al­most the en­tire uni­formed chain of com­mand — iso­la­tion­ist when we see no na­tional in­ter­est in Libya.

This is not iso­la­tion­ism. It is a ra­tio­nal ef­fort at judg­ing how best to ad­vance Amer­i­can val­ues and in­ter­ests in an ev­er­more with­er­ingly dan­ger­ous world.

Tony Blank­ley is the au­thor of “Amer­i­can Grit: What It Will Take to Sur­vive and Win in the 21st Cen­tury”.

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