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Opposed to Endless War? You Might Be an ‘Isolationist’

The New York Times write-up [1] of the Senate vote on Rand Paul’s amendment [2] contained some misleading and weird claims:

The debate pitted the Republican Party’s ascendant isolationist wing [bold mine-DL], represented by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, against its old-line interventionists, led by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is pressing his vision of a muscular military even as he battles brain cancer.

Mr. Paul pressed for the repeal vote, in a strange bedfellows alliance with Senator Tim Kaine [bold mine-DL], the Virginia Democrat who was his party’s vice-presidential nominee last year.

This summary does a disservice to the readers in a few ways. It misrepresents the division inside the GOP as being between “isolationists” (none of the three Republicans in question fits that description) and “old-line interventionists.” Those are fairly lazy definitions that don’t get to the core of why the two sides voted different ways on this amendment. As far as I know, Lee and Heller have not been reliably opposed to foreign wars, and even if they were that wouldn’t make them “isolationists.” Regardless, their foreign policy preferences weren’t what led them to take Paul’s side on this vote. The article further distorts things by pretending that the small number of Republican senators that lost the vote is part of an “ascendant wing” inside the party. One might think that a “wing” represented by three senators out of a total of fifty-four could not be in the “ascendant” in any meaningful sense.


The issue before the Senate was primarily a constitutional one about the role of Congress and its role in authorizing foreign wars. Invoking “isolationism” in this context is even worse than the usual error of applying the label to people that reject it. The repeated use of what is little better than a slur to describe Paul’s position misinforms the audience and reinforces the warped terms of our foreign policy debates.

Finally, Kaine’s support for Paul’s amendment isn’t really strange at all. Kaine has been one of the leading proponents of debating and voting on an AUMF for the war on ISIS, and his work on this dates back several years. It would have been much more surprising if Kaine had not voted with Paul on this, but readers of this article would never know that.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Opposed to Endless War? You Might Be an ‘Isolationist’"

#1 Comment By internationalist non-interventionists unite! On September 13, 2017 @ 7:08 pm

By the NYT’s definition of isolationism, the United States is the only non-isolationist country in the world!

Who says we’re not exceptional!

#2 Comment By Clyde Schechter On September 13, 2017 @ 7:59 pm

Calling opponents of indiscriminate war isolationists is a McCarthyite tactic that the neocons like to use. It’s the modern version of red-baiting.

The application of the term to Rand Paul is particularly inaccurate because he is a strong advocate of global free trade. He certainly wants the US to engage globally–he just doesn’t agree that wanton murder and mayhem is a particularly good way to do it.

#3 Comment By ControlE On September 14, 2017 @ 7:59 am

Per the usual, they are conflating non-interventionist with isolationist. To be honest I’m not even sure why isolationist has such a negative connotation in this country these days- until around WW1 isolationism was just the default political stance of most people in America.

I honestly lean in more of an isolationist direction myself. We were gifted a country with few direct neighbors, oceans to protect us from our strongest enemies, and a landmass abundant with natural resources. There is no reason we need to involve ourselves in all of the worlds affairs, or be disadvantaged in global trade agreements.

#4 Comment By the why of it On September 14, 2017 @ 8:40 am

Institutions like the NY Times were never held to account for their role in disasters like Iraq and the financial collapse. They hate and fear and try to marginalize people who saw what was happening and raised the alarm, particularly those to the right on the political spectrum. Calling someone like Paul an isolationist fits that pattern.

It isn’t that Paul is an “isolationist” (which, as a writer above notes, is a slur that has lost quite a bit of its former sting), it’s that the New York Times must always use semantic subterfuges to distract attention from the catastrophic results of the past two decades of US interventions.

#5 Comment By Fred Bowman On September 14, 2017 @ 9:51 am

Well there appears just one party in DC anymore and that appears to be the War Party. And both Republicans and Democrats are it’s two wings. Seriously, it’s a sad situation when the Empire goes to war without as much as a simple authorization for that war. In the meantime, the Republic rots away from neglect.

#6 Comment By Anonne On September 14, 2017 @ 11:52 am

The American people need to make this a point and not elect more warmongers. The media has been trained to call any kind of restraint “isolationist” without thinking through what that means, so it’s up to the people to elect people who care about this issue. But because most people don’t serve, their family members don’t serve, it’s someone else’s issue and they at heart DGAF about it.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 14, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

ohh good grief, the us has never been isolationist.

But it would be nice if she began to lean a little on the side of the same.

start by having the courage to enforce our immigration laws. apparently this executive remains a spineless on immigration. no he should not be supporting any legislation that has and will undermine the us citizen.

I guess “America first” has become my poll numbers at the expense of america. i have taken my two weeks of doing nothing to help heal my body. in that amount of time the pres has done near about faces on key issues.