Bacevich complains loudly and frequently in Washington Rules that people who suggest things such as this are often denounced with the inevitably pejorative term “isolationist”, but if I comb back through the political science literature on what some called “Middle Western Isolationism” or “Midwestern Isolationism” (Billington, 1945; Smuckler, 1953; Rieselbach and Russett, 1960), it’s possible to see in Bacevich, a Midwesterner, an inheritor of this tradition — at least in terms of his preferences for how big the U.S. military should be and where it should be based and employed. If I were him, I would just own the term “isolationist” and let the haters hate. Instead of preemptively denouncing those who would accuse him of isolationism, it might have born more fruit had Bacevich instead asked his readers, in light of what you have seen in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan … why is isolationism so bad? ~Andrew Exum
Exum must know perfectly well why Prof. Bacevich doesn’t want to “own” the “isolationist” name. First of all, the word has always been intended and used as an insult designed to misrepresent the foreign policy views of the people who are thus labeled. As Greg says, it concedes too much, because it summons up the idea of a “Fortress America” that most non-interventionists did not and do not support, and this idea has been so widely and thoroughly mocked across the political spectrum that it becomes a huge burden for any non-interventionist or conservative realist argument. Obviously, it also carries all of the baggage of opposition to U.S. entry into WWII and later efforts to re-litigate the wisdom of entering WWII, and Prof. Bacevich has been emphatic that he sees that as misguided. Perhaps most important, it is a smear based in the false equation between an internationally engaged foreign policy and a willingness to enter into unnecessary foreign wars. It would be a lie for someone who does not actually want autarky and isolation to claim to be an “isolationist.” Finally, it means accepting the terms of the debate set by the militarists, which means that the debate will be biased even more in their favor than it already is.
The advice to “let the haters hate” is basically an invitation to self-sabotage or an ambush. The only “fruit” that this would have produced would have been this: a steady stream of self-satisfied arguments from hawks that Bacevich had finally “admitted” to being a dreaded “isolationist” and could therefore be dismissed from serious conversation from now on. It’s worth noting that this passage comes in the part of Exum’s review of Bacevich’s new book in which he is stressing what he liked about the book.