Andrew Bacevich makes some familiar observations about the absurdity and continued use of the “isolationist” slur. As I’ve said before, the slur survives and flourishes because it is inaccurate and vacuous:
For this very reason, the term isolationism is not likely to disappear from American political discourse anytime soon. It’s too useful. Indeed, employ this verbal cudgel to castigate your opponents and your chances of gaining entrée to the nation’s most prestigious publications improve appreciably. Warn about the revival of isolationism and your prospects of making the grade as a pundit or candidate for high office suddenly brighten. This is the great thing about using isolationists as punching bags: it makes actual thought unnecessary [bold mine-DL]. All that’s required to posture as a font of wisdom is the brainless recycling of clichés, half-truths, and bromides.
One of the more common cliches that appear most often in anti-“isolationist” arguments is that American “retreat” (i.e., concluding unnecessary wars or not starting new ones) invites foreign aggression and attack. This is supposed to have happened after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, and again during the ’90s, when the U.S. was doing anything but “retreating,” and it is supposed to be happening again now. It doesn’t matter that these claims don’t make sense. Charges of “isolationism” and “retreat” keep cropping up again and again because they simultaneously flatter Americans by promoting the idea that America is indispensable and because they fault Americans for being too self-absorbed. It doesn’t seem to matter that the former isn’t true or that there is nothing selfless in starting avoidable wars. Both rely heavily on trying to make Americans feel guilty for not wanting their government to wage wars that have no connection to the defense of the United States. The purpose of all of this is to limit the policies that can be debated and ensure that the political influence of the public’s skepticism of America’s numerous foreign commitments is kept to a minimum.
Blaming America for “retreating” is also how interventionists account for almost anything that goes wrong in the rest of the world. Like flinging the label “isolationist” at opponents of unnecessary wars, bemoaning “retreat” is a safe, default thing that one can doto demonstrate how far-sighted and truly internationalist one is without having to make a coherent argument. One doesn’t need to prove that “retreat” is occurring or even prove that it would be undesirable if it were. It is meant to alarm the audience by claiming that Americans are running away from their responsibilities without ever bothering to justify those responsibilities or explain why the U.S. should continue to have them. That is how interventionists somehow hold the U.S. responsible for foreign conflicts that it has not yet joined while they remain strangely free of any responsibility for the consequences of wars that they have supported.