Isolationism (noun): a foreign policy virus that sickens nations.” – The Lonely Realist
Google Sudetenland, 1938.” – Senator Angus King (I ME)

As TLR has repeatedly noted, the embrace of isolationism by successive 21st Century Presidents has been disastrous counterproductive America-destructive. Efforts to sever the U.S. from its foreign entanglements have dug America into progressively deeper holes, encouraging aggressors – namely, the Axis of the Sanctioned. Isolationist rhetoric weakens America’s deterrence abilities, sending ambivalent messages to friends and foes and incentivizing America’s enemies to fill the voids left by American indifference, retreats and defeats. History teaches that isolationism is economically and geopolitically costly and America is repeating that history. The reality is that 21st Century isolationism has made America less secure, most clearly evidenced in today’s two hottest spots, the Middle East and Ukraine.

Walter Russell Meade has summarized America’s missteps in the Middle East and, in doing so, explained why deference, mixed messaging and retreat have invited enemy action:

“10 successive American presidents repeatedly learned, often to their chagrin, that the Middle East can’t be ignored. In 1973, Richard Nixon faced an oil embargo and the rise of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Gerald Ford’s short presidency was overshadowed by inflation driven in large part by high oil prices. The seizure of the U.S. Embassy and dozens of hostages during the Iranian revolution gutted Jimmy Carter’s hopes for re-election. Between the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 American military personnel and the Iran-Contra scandal, the Middle East gave Ronald Reagan the worst moments of his presidency. George H.W. Bush fought the Gulf War. ‘I am a failure and you have made me one,’ Bill Clinton told Yasser Arafat after the Palestinian leader rejected Mr. Clinton’s proposed solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Middle East continued to haunt American presidents during the 21st century. The Iraq war defined the presidency of George W. Bush. Barack Obama desperately wanted to avoid Middle East entanglements but found himself bombing Libya and fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq even as the battle over the Iranian nuclear deal loomed over his second term. The Abraham Accords and his struggle with Iran helped define President Trump’s foreign policy, and now Mr. Biden, much against his wishes, faces the possibility of American involvement in a regional war.”

As Meade recounts, America’s lack of Middle East focus has been perilous, evidencing weakness that was compounded by America’s disastrous 2021 retreat withdrawal from Afghanistan. And, yet, America’s attraction to isolationism persists.

President Trump last month once again cautioned that ties to NATO are contrary to American interests, questioning American funding to protect NATO and Ukraine. The question instead is whether it is in America’s interest to help its proxies, NATO and Ukraine, succeed in defeating Russian/Axis aggression. The answer can be found by Googling an historical analog: “Sudetenland, 1938.”

The Ukrainian parallels to America’s pre-WWII isolationist policies and their consequences are straightforward. CIA Director William Burns recently wrote that “For the United States to walk away from the conflict at this crucial moment and cut off support to Ukraine would be an own goal of historic proportions.” Noting that Ukraine aid represents less than 5% of America’s defense budget, Burns added that support for Ukraine involves “a relatively modest investment with significant geopolitical returns for the United States and notable returns for American industry.” Numerous additional warnings have been voiced against potentially catastrophic isolationist outcomes, including by the German Ministry of Defense’s documentation of Russia’s plan to escalate the Ukraine War into an attack on Western Europe, a concern shared by U.S. intelligence.

As TLR noted in “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick,” the muscular foreign policy of President Reagan led to respect by friends and fear by foes, a policy followed by successive Presidents until President Obama announced in 2014 that America would abandon its internationalist global policeman role. Although President Trump thereafter told the U.N General Assembly that “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea,” and initially reinstated military aid to Ukraine, warned Germany that it had become overly dependent on Russian energy, and pressured NATO allies to satisfy their obligations to fund NATO’s defenses, he thereafter suspended aid to Ukraine, was indifferent to Russian aggressions, and proved ineffective at altering Germany’s energy policies or increasing NATO spending. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, a caustic critic of Trump policies, has written that President Trump infected the Republican Party with an “isolationist virus” and that “in no arena … has the Trump aberration been more destructive than in national security.”

Isolationism indeed is a virus …, and America is in desperate need of strong leadership that will inoculate American foreign policy and return it to its Reagan roots.

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Finally (from a good friend)

  • Directoman
    Posted at 06:19h, 04 February

    The pathway to isolationism is paved with amnesia and an abandonment of responsibilities that were, with WWII still ringing in our ears, once considered vital. Despite many notable imperfections, the U.S. policy of actively assisting nations on their own soil proved to be a beneficial approach, acting as a deterrent to global conflicts and alleviating contemporary issues like immigration. Having grown up in U.S. communities in Latin America, I witnessed firsthand the positive impact of both the U.S. Military and U.S. AID Mission programs. In contrast, largely questioning and abandoning support for the United Nations, despite all its noteworthy imperfections, in steadfastly nurturing fledgling democracies on their home turf has now largely led to the current strain at our southern border and beyond.

  • jeffcsiegel
    Posted at 07:31h, 04 February


    I don’t understand how isolationism relates to southern immigration. Has our US Aid funding changed significantly there? According to the Voice of America, recently the largest influx of illegal immigrants are from Venezuela, a resource rich, failed socialist state. Over 7 million have entered the US with many giving quasi-legal status. What should the US have done to Venezuela to change this? Overthrow the government? Give aid to one of the richest countries in the world?


    When the US says they will pay for everyone’s problems, no one takes responsibility for solving their own problems. Even then, many times they just end up hating us for the way we solved them problem. Last week Europe finally agreed to pay roughly 50 Billion for the Ukraine war. Trump’s screaming, and Democrat’s begging didn’t get Europe or NATO to act. Their realization that our checkbook isn’t limitless did. Engage with the world is important, but we need to train others to take more responsibility for themselves.

    • The Lonely Realist
      Posted at 20:51h, 04 February

      Isolationism indeed has nothing to do with southern immigration. The two subjects, both major problems, are unrelated. (You might reference The Economist for a somewhat different take on the numbers.)
      Either the U.S. is the global hegemon …, or it’s power is ephemeral. The latter simply isn’t today’s reality.
      Parallels with the 1930s are real. Inadequate deterrence failed to deter Hitler or prevent WWII or the Holocaust. The risks are real. History may be repeating itself.
      President Biden’s foreign policy has been executed with the best of intentions, but has failed in execution. Those policies have not deterred the Axis … in Europe, the Middle East, South America, Africa or Asia. America in 2022 failed to prevent Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. America failed to deter Hamas or Iran from escalating their aggressions. Although the U.S. has since supplied substantial military and financial aid to Ukraine and Israel, U.S. support has been cut off by Congress — it needs to be ratcheted up, not down …, and substantially for the long term. If America’s efforts are unsuccessful, the problem ultimately will be America’s.

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