The term “isolationist” is much like the word “racist” in that it has become almost useless due to its overuse. For example, if the Left rightly considers Ku Klux Klan members racist—but also members of the Tea Party who merely criticize President Obama “racist”—such a glaring logical disparity cries out for a reassessment of terminology. A word that can mean anything can quickly become meaningless—and it also becomes a great rhetorical weapon in a political environment that substitutes smears for thoughtful debate.
Such was the case at the Wall Street Journal last week which published an editorial entitled: “The Kucinich Republicans: The House GOP turns isolationist on Libya and war powers.” The “Kucinich Republicans” were the 87 GOP House members who supported liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich’s bill forcing a withdrawal of American troops from Libya within 15 days. What made these House Republicans “isolationist,” according to the WSJ, is that they now undermine the President by challenging his constitutional war powers and questioning his authority according to the War Powers Resolution Act of 1973.
The WSJ makes the case that American presidents have long committed troops or taken military action without Congressional approval. It also makes the case that these same presidents and many on Capitol Hill today consider the War Powers Resolution Act unconstitutional. Said Sen. John McCain: “No president has ever recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, and neither do I. So I don’t feel bound by any deadline.” Asks columnist George Will: “Oh? No law is actually a law if presidents and senators do not ‘recognize’ it?”
Will makes a good point. Many Americans and a few in Congress believe the Internal Revenue Service is unconstitutional. Similarly, many also believe the same is true concerning Obamacare. What might happen if the people or their elected officials simply decide not to ‘recognize’ the legality of either?
The entire purpose of the House of Representatives is that the “people,” through their elected representatives, should act as a counterbalance to the Senate and Executive branch, as outlined in the Constitution. The entire overall purpose of our Constitution is to limit the power of the federal government; and it explicitly vests to the president the power of how to wage war—to Congress, when to wage it. Obama now does both while completely ignoring Congress. The inability of so many of our leaders to recognize and respect this important constitutional distinction is indicative of their routine recklessness. That the WSJ considers the historical precedent of routine recklessness justification for virtually unlimited Executive war powers, also suggests that the supposedly conservative newspaper now considers the Constitution itself a moot point.
But if the WSJ finds challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s actions in Libya absurd because it also finds the Constitution absurd—perhaps even more ridiculous is calling House Republicans who challenge this war president “isolationist.”
To my knowledge, there are no genuine isolationists—those who would build an economic, diplomatic and perhaps literal wall around this country—in modern American politics. There are leaders on Capitol Hill who are regularly called “isolationist,” much like there are those in Washington who are called “racist”—but you will find few if any elected officials who truly fit the traditional definition of these terms.
This is particularly true of the charge leveled by the WSJ at the 87 House Republicans who voted to withdraw troops from Libya. Most Americans do not understand why we are in Libya. Many leaders in both parties can’t understand why we’re in Libya. President Obama cannot give the American people a straight answer as to what interest the US has in Libya.
But who is enthusiastic about the war in Libya? “Obama Republicans” like Sen. McCain. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find an American military intervention overseas in the last few decades that McCain and similar-minded Republicans and Democrats were not enthusiastic about. Because of such consistent bipartisan champions of hyper-interventionism, the US now has arguably the most expansive and globally involved foreign policy in history. We also have a historical debt to match it.
The notion that questioning the wisdom of this foreign policy status quo is “isolationist”—something even outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates says needs serious reassessment—is a rejection of any discernible definition of that term. That the WSJ considers Republicans who question our war in Libya isolationist—a curious situation that not only a majority of Americans but the entire world looks upon with bewilderment—should really disqualify that newspaper from ever using the term again.
There isn’t a political trend or movement in this country currently that even remotely approaches genuine isolationism—but the extreme opposite of what that term actually means is treated as a matter of fact and finality in Washington every day. Indeed, if we were to take the WSJ’s definition seriously almost every other nation on earth could be considered isolationist. And calling Washington leaders who now insist on limiting the President’s power through fidelity to the Constitution “isolationist,” makes about as much sense as calling a devout husband a “bad lover” for refusing to share his passion with scores of women.
Wrote Kucinich bill co-sponsor Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) in his response to the Wall Street Journal editorial: “The Constitution is not a list of suggestions; it is the law of the land.” To the extent that this President or any other is forced to obey this nation’s laws, will also be the extent to which he is prevented from taking America to war needlessly in other lands.
Make no mistake: This is precisely what the political establishment fears most—and it will make any argument or disobey any law necessary to protect the unlimited power to which Washington has become so accustomed.