Paul Greenberg

The spirit of American isolationism is not only still with us but enjoying a dangerous resurgence. Once upon a time it was the Lindberghs and even the Robert A. Tafts who were so consumed by their antipathy to That Man, aka Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, that they fought every effort to bolster the Allied cause, and that of human decency, during the fateful 1930s. Whether it was Lend-Lease abroad or an almost too late national draft at home -- just a year before Pearl Harbor -- they were agin it.

The isolationists in Congress extended clear across the political spectrum -- from right to left, from the Tafts to the LaFollettes. And their counsel could not have been more simple -- or more wrong. If we just ignored what was happening in the world, surely it would all go away. It didn't. It never does.

Now, in place of the Tafts we get the Rand Pauls in the Senate. It is not an improvement. Our president himself made full use of the old isolationist appeal when he was only a senator, and it has taken him years to finally come around to doing something about the unending bloodbath in Syria -- and the danger it represents far beyond Syria. Even something minimal.

Now he assures us there will be no wider war, no "boots on the ground," no complications at all if we go to war. At least that is what his spokesmen tell wavering members of Congress. As if war could be waged guaranteed risk-free. As if the dogs of war, once unleashed, are as easily controlled as John Kerry, our new but somehow all too familiar secretary of state, keeps assuring Congress.

Granted, the current president of the United States and commander-in-chief of its armed forces is anything but a commanding figure. A former secretary of defense once observed that you go to war with the army you have -- as if he himself had not played a sad role in its not being sufficiently prepared for war. In this case, you go to war with the president you have, and the country has only one of those at a time. Whatever one thinks of this president's politics, there are more important things to consider just now, like the fate of the country and the world. And simple humanity.

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Meanwhile, the usual ditherers in Congress, at the United Nations, and in the serried ranks of the country's certified punditry, counsel: Do nothing. Much like the isolationists of old. The new ones don't seem to have learned a thing.

C.S. Lewis said it: "The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice." And the only thing necessary to assure the triumph of that evil, as Edmund Burke warned long ago, is that good men do nothing.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.