David Harsanyi

There's been a lot of talk about an alleged turn in American public opinion -- particularly among Republicans -- toward "isolationism."

In a recent debate among GOP presidential hopefuls, there was some discussion about ending the United States' commitment to the tribal warlords and medieval shamans of the Afghan wilderness. This induced John McCain to complain about the rise of a new "strain of isolationism" that hearkens back to "Pat Buchanan-style Republicanism."

McCain sidekick Lindsey Graham went on to notify Congress that it "should sort of shut up and not empower Gadhafi" when the topic of the House's potentially defunding the military -- er, kinetic, non-warlike bombing activity over Libya -- came up. It would be a mistake, he vented, for Republican candidates to sit "to the left" of President Barack Obama on national security.

So if you don't shut up and stop carping about this non-war war of ours, you are abetting North African strongmen. Makes sense. It's the return of Teddy Roosevelt-style Republicanism, in which arbitrary power (and John McCain's singular wisdom) matters a lot more than any democratic institution.

Sure, some on the far right and swaths of the protectionist, union-driven left oppose international trade agreements and endlessly freaking us out about foreign influences. But isolationists? Judging from our conduct in the real world of economy, we're anything but insular. So perhaps McCain simply meant noninterventionists -- as in folks who have an unwavering ideological aversion to any and all overseas entanglement.

That can't be it, either. Maybe, like many Americans, some in the GOP are simply grappling with wars that never end and a war that never started. And with plenty of troubles here at home, it's not surprising that Americans have turned their attention inward.

We can't be in a constant state of war. Then again, Afghanistan is not a war per se, but a precarious social engineering project that asks our best and bravest (or, as our ally Hamid Karzai calls them, "occupiers") to die for the Afghan Constitution, which is roundly ignored -- except for the parts codifying Islamic law, that is. But all these conflicts come with the price of endless involvement. We almost always win. But we never really go home.

For those who claim that Republicans are hypocrites for opposing Obama's wars -- be glad. Perhaps your worldview has won. But however brittle or lie-ridden you may find the reasoning for the wars of the past, at least we got a reason in the old days. We also got a vote. Today we have a metafiction.

This week, we learned that Obama rejected the advice of lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department who questioned his legal authority to continue this nonmilitary military involvement in Libya without congressional authorization. Instead, the administration offered a string of euphemisms concocted to bypass the Constitution.

Without any tangible evidence that this conflict furthers our national interests or any real proof that we are preventing a wide-scale humanitarian crisis, it's not a surprise that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says we're "leading from behind" -- which is, in fact, as stupid and deceptive as the case it doesn't make.

Are you an isolationist for questioning those who continue to weaken the Constitution -- a McCain specialty? Are you an isolationist for questioning this brand of obfuscation? Are you an isolationist for wanting American forces to win and leave the battlefield rather than hang around for decades of baby-sitting duty? Does an isolationist support the deployment of armed forces in defense of the United States rather than a handful of European nations?

Hardly.

 


David Harsanyi

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of "The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy." Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.