isolationism

While America Looks Inwards, Think Globally To Survive And Prosper

In college and graduate school, I was taught that the United States became an economic powerhouse in the 20th century due in part to its abandonment of isolationist tendencies for global ones. In the years following World War 2, observers credited American leadership in world affairs for the emergence of Pax Americana. However, against a backdrop of increasing economic turmoil since the beginning of the 21st century, it’s being suggested that Americans are becoming more inward-looking again, with domestic issues preoccupying their minds rather than foreign developments or threats. Focusing on recent findings of a TIME magazine/Aspen Institute poll which seem to confirm this shift in mindset, Howard LaFranchi wrote on The Christian Science Monitor website on July 3:

The poll – which finds that more than two-thirds of Americans consider the last 10 years to have been a decade of decline for America – is in sync with other surveys of American opinion in recent months. According to the poll, three-fourths of Americans say economic weakness poses a bigger danger to the US than do national security threats.

In May, a Pew Research Center poll found that majorities in every partisan group of the population – including, for the first time in the decade of 9/11, conservative Republicans – agreed with the statement that the US “should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems here at home.”

Other recent Pew polls have found Americans’ “mind-our-own-business” thinking at its highest level since the end of the Cold War.

Significantly, one Pew poll recently found that not just average Americans, but “opinion makers” as well, increasingly favor a less assertive global role for the US – a finding that led Pew Research Center Director Andrew Kohut to dub the dawning era as one of significant transition from the nation’s post-9/11 mindset.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

LaFranchi added that policymakers in Washington D.C. are aware of this growing sentiment, and noted:

In some ways, Americans’ inward turn seems to reflect their leaders’ recent rhetoric. Last month President Obama declared, in announcing his plans for a troop drawdown in Afghanistan, “America, it is time to focus on national-building here at home.”

Also from the article:

Congress, in another isolationist turn, has started to take a knife to the next fiscal year’s proposed international affairs budget.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Obviously, those desiring that the United States continue to have a significant international presence are increasingly-concerned by such sentiment. I’m not so sure they should be. Despite isolationist yearnings, America has consistently-pursued its own interests on the world stage- often being forced to do so- since the formation of the republic. An early example of this is the confrontation with the Barbary pirates of North Africa at the beginning of the 19th century. Global involvement and intervention helped form the American superpower, and the United States will continue to play a significant role in international affairs in the coming years if only because of the scope of its influence in the post-World War 2 years. Case in point, even after the Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia remained a major player on the world scene throughout the 1990s due in part to its massive military machine. Should the United States experience a breakdown on the scale of the Soviet example, the same situation might also be expected.

For the individual concerned with survival and prosperity, however, isolationism should not be a part of their vocabulary. History has shown that fortunes and lives have been made- and lost- depending on one’s opportunities overseas. I speculate in saying this lesson hasn’t been lost on the descendants of Germans of Jewish descent who survived The Holocaust. Or Argentinians who positioned some of their assets overseas before their economic crisis broke out a decade ago. Would anyone be so idiotic as to accuse these people as being “un-German” or “un-Argentinian” for their actions in light of what eventually happened? There’s always a few, I guess. My point is, in your efforts to secure survival and prosperity for yourself and loved ones, it’s probably not wise to rely solely on domestic arrangements to achieve this. Be sure to make the world your oyster, as the saying goes.

Source:

LaFranchi, Howard. “Independence Day blues? Americans sense a decline and look inward.” The Christian Science Monitor. 3 July 2011. (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2011/0703/Independence-Day-blues-Americans-sense-a-decline-and-look-inward). 5 July 2011.

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