So… the evidence that America has turned isolationist is that it has it has intervened in two countries (in the past several months) but on a more limited basis and not as fast as some people would like.
Hirsh refers to a “dramatic transformation of U.S. foreign policy,” but one might be forgiven for failing to notice any transformation. If there has been a transformation, it certainly hasn’t been dramatic. He opens himself up to criticism from the beginning with this huge overstatement:
The post-Cold-War hubris that so infected American policymakers a decade ago has been replaced by its near-opposite.
Hirsh’s first mistake is to describe the “new humility” he sees as “a kind of neo-isolationism.” Humility in exercising power abroad concerns how the U.S. should act in the world, rather than on what or how much it should be doing. A “humble” foreign policy wouldn’t be an “isolationist” one, and genuine “isolationists” wouldn’t have much of a foreign policy at all, humble or otherwise. I submit that an administration that has helped overthrow one government in Libya and at least nominally supports an armed rebellion against another in Syria is being neither humble nor “isolationist.” France may have been the government pushing hardest for military action in Libya, and it may have been the one that intervened directly in Mali, but neither of these interventions would have been possible without U.S. agreement and substantial support. As appealing as it might be to pretend that there has been some dramatic role reversal here, it’s simply not the case. France continues to take an active interest in what happens in Africa and in its former colonies, and U.S. interests in and connections to these parts of the world are nowhere near as great. It would be extremely odd and dishonest if the U.S. claimed to have more at stake in Libya, Mali, or Syria than France did.
It would be welcome if post-Cold War hubris had been replaced by its “near-opposite” among policymakers, but the change in the last ten years has not been nearly that great. As Scoblete observes, the U.S. continues to have a very activist foreign policy, but it is not one characterized by new major ground wars. We’re still a very long way from having a genuinely humble foreign policy, and we’re not likely to have one anytime soon if even the most modest exercises of restraint and caution are constantly being inflated into a resurgence of “isolationism.”