October 14, 2010
Why Not a 'Fortress America' Policy?By Zbigniew Mazurak
A growing number of Americans, including libertarians, are suggesting that the U.S. should adopt a "Fortress America" foreign/defense policy: withdraw all of its troops from all foreign countries, end all aid to foreign governments, and withdraw from all alliances. They try to justify this by quoting George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the latter of whom proclaimed, "Trade with all, entangling alliances with none."
Such a policy was obsolete and unfeasible already during the 20th century, but it makes even less sense now, during the 21st century, in today's world. Policies that might've worked during the 18th century are not feasible during the third millennium.
During the times of Washington and Jefferson, not only was this isolationist policy feasible, but it was the best choice for the U.S. The country was simply too weak and too young to influence the world or fight mighty enemies. Thus, Washington and Jefferson tried to maintain stable relations with both Britain and France, as well as other countries of the world.
Back then, there were no empires hell-bent on world conquest and imposing their ideology on the entire world. European monarchs were busy fighting each other (or Napoleon Bonaparte) in Europe, and when the U.S. did start a war against Britain, Russia helped broker a peace agreement to end it and involve Britain in Europe against France again.
But even Jefferson didn't refuse to undertake military interventions he believed necessary: he built up a navy and sent it to North Africa to fight Barbary pirates.
A "Fortress America" policy became obsolete during the early 1920s and 1930s, when fascist regimes were established in Europe and began to threaten the world. Unfortunately, the U.S. continued this obsolete, ridiculous policy right until December 7, 1941. Four days later, Hitler declared war on the U.S. Hitler's U-boats sank thousands of American ships, many of them just a few miles off the East Coast, and the Japanese conducted bombing raids over California. It took over two thousand dead Americans for the U.S. government to realize that it shouldn't continue its isolationist policy.
Had Hitler been taken out before 1939, it is likely that World War II would not have erupted in Europe. Had Japan's ambitions been tempered early enough, Asians wouldn't have been murdered en masse by the Japanese.
After WWII, a new threat to world peace -- and to the United States -- emerged: an aggressive, totalitarian Soviet Union. President Harry Truman then made a crucial decision not to withdraw the U.S. from global affairs and to protect Western countries against Moscow. On this one issue, he was right, and all isolationists were wrong. And eventually, the Cold War was won by the U.S., partly because of Truman's globalist policies, including his decisions to create NATO and defend West Berlin and South Korea.
During the Cold War, and especially during the 1970s, some Americans shouted "better red than dead." They called for American troops to be withdrawn from Europe and for the U.S. to withdraw from NATO. Donald Rumsfeld (then America's ambassador to NATO) even had to testify before the Congress to prevent this from happening.
The USSR did not recognize such a thing as a "neutral" country. Moscow was hell-bent on creating a global communist empire and had been trying to accomplish this for decades. Even if the U.S. had withdrawn from world affairs after 1945, Moscow would've targeted it anyway, just like it targeted (and made plans to invade) Austria and Switzerland.
An isolationist ("noninterventionist," as Paulites call it) foreign policy, a "Fortress America," makes no sense today. There are global threats to global peace and to the U.S. itself -- threats that won't stop targeting the U.S. even if it declares neutral status tomorrow. This is because the rulers of China, Iran, and North Korea, and the leaders of al-Qaeda, do not recognize "neutral states." China's goal is global hegemony and expelling the U.S. from Asia and other regions of the world completely. Iran is the world's largest sponsor of terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organizations aim to establish a global caliphate, and they won't spare the U.S. regardless of American foreign policy.
If the U.S. withdraws from global affairs and adopts a "noninterventionist" (read: isolationist) foreign policy (also called "a restrained foreign policy"), it will only shoot itself in the foot, because this way, it will make its enemies' job easier while failing to convince them not to target it. The proposition that the U.S. can simply withdraw from world affairs and live happily forever afterward is ludicrous.
The reason why all U.S. presidents since Harry Truman, regardless of party label, believed that the U.S. must be engaged in the world is not because of the influence of the mythical "military-industrial complex," and not because of some other conspiracy, but because presidents from both parties have recognized that such a general policy is necessary to protect the U.S. and its interests.
A completely different question is what exact policy the U.S. should adopt towards this or that specific country, question, or organization. Whether the U.S. should've invaded Iraq, whether it should continue to wage the Afghan war (and how), and how to solve the Iranian nuclear crisis are debatable questions. (This is an issue for another article, and it is beyond the scope of this one.)
But there is no factual basis to justify a "noninterventionist" foreign policy. It would practically mean abandoning the entire foreign world to countries and organizations hostile to the U.S. and drastically worsened relations with America's allies, including such stalwarts as the U.K. and Australia.
Nor is it true that the U.S. has an empire. Troops deployed (and bases built) to protect America's vulnerable allies against real threats do not constitute an empire, and neither does a 95,000-strong army deployed to fight the Taliban.
President Eisenhower's Defense Secretary Thomas Gates said, "Should we ever abandon our forward strategy in favor of the so-called 'Fortress America' concept, we would retreat forever." This was true during the 1950s, and it's true now.
Zbigniew Mazurak blogs at zbigniewmazurak.wordpress.com. His book, In Defense of US Defense Spending, is forthcoming.