Michael Hirsh keeps talking about “neo-isolationism”:
What all this adds up to is an attitude that hasn’t been seen in decades, perhaps as far back as the Eisenhower era of the mid-1950s. That was a time when the fresh memories of World War II and Korea, and fear of exacerbating the Cold War, drove Ike to avoid open conflict abroad (although, like Obama, he was fond of covert action). Today, too, there is an inward lean to American foreign policy, a listing homeward that appears to be a kind of neo-isolationism. Compared with the neoconservative strain of a decade ago — a belief in the aggressive projection of American power voiced most recently by Mitt Romney early in the 2012 presidential campaign — it is virtually a reversal of direction.
Hirsh’s article makes the same mistake that he has made before, which is to treat the very gradual conclusion of more than a decade of constant warfare as a significant “inward” turn. “Neo-isolationism” and “stealth isolationism” are meaningless terms, and indeed Hirsh doesn’t make much of an effort to define what he means by them. When Hirsh talks about “stealth isolationism,” he is all but admitting that he’s using the wrong names for things. The “neo-isolationism” to which he refers is so stealthy because it doesn’t exist, and so can’t be detected at all. It’s not a policy that “dare not speak its name.” Hirsh is using the wrong name to describe it, and then tries to account for why no one is using it.
These are misleading labels to describe something that Hirsh wants to distinguish from neoconservatism, but in practice Hirsh is following the lead of neoconservatives in describing anything that isn’t neoconservative, hard-line foreign policy as “a kind of neo-isolationism.” There is obviously greater public skepticism about the wisdom of using force overseas than there was a decade ago, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible for much of that change, but overall U.S. foreign policy is as activist and meddlesome today as it was in the ’90s.
It would be welcome news if Obama were presiding over “the demilitarization of American foreign policy,” but there isn’t much evidence that this is so. The standard for the “demilitarization of American foreign policy” has to be a lot more than the fact that the U.S. hasn’t started a new war in over two years. Even if we do see a gradual reduction in the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, that is still worlds away from anything like “neo-isolationism.”