Like other conservatives, former President George W. Bush has a muddled understanding of the foreign-policy principles of “interventionism” and “isolationism.”
In a recent speech to a group in Washington, D.C., called the Atlantic Council, Bush decried President Trump’s foreign policy of “isolationism,” which Bush said was dangerous.
Invoking Winston Churchill to explain his foreign-policy philosophy, Bush stated:
America is indispensable for the world. The price of greatness is responsibility. One cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by its agonies and inspired by its causes. If we are together, nothing is impossible. If we are divided, all will fail.
Notice that Bush refers to “America,” which, he states, “is indispensable to the world.”
But which part of “America” is he referring to — the federal government or the American private sector?
In Bush’s mind — indeed, in the minds of conservatives — they are one and same thing.
But they aren’t. The federal government and the private sector are two separate and distinct entities, a phenomenon that is reflected by the Bill of Rights, which expressly protects the country from the federal government. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if the federal government and the private sector were one and same thing, it wouldn’t make any sense to have the Bill of Rights protecting the country from the federal government.
What conservatives favor is a federal government that wields the omnipotent power to do whatever it wants in foreign countries and to foreign citizens. Invasions, occupations, coups, regime-change operations, foreign aid, torture, rendition, kidnapping, assassination, indefinite detention, denial of due process of law, denial of trial by jury, denial of speedy trial, foreign military bases, support of dictatorial regimes, involvement in foreign conflicts and wars, and so forth. For the conservative, there should be no limitations on the powers of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA in foreign affairs or even here at home if they consider it necessary to protect “national security.”
All that is what we libertarians refer to as a foreign policy of interventionism. Conversely, a foreign policy in which the federal government is prohibited from intervening and meddling in the affairs of other countries constitutes a foreign policy of non-interventionism. Non-interventionism is what the conservative movement calls “isolationism.”
The founding foreign policy of the United States was non-interventionism, as reflected by a speech that John Quincy Adams delivered to Congress on the Fourth of July 1821. Entitled “In Search of Monsters to Destroy,” Adams pointed out that it was not the responsibility of the U.S. government to intervene and meddle in the affairs of other countries. Equally noteworthy, Adams said if America were ever to embrace instead a foreign policy of interventionism, the federal government would begin displaying the characteristics of dictatorship.
There is something else to note about America’s founding principles: There were no immigration controls or travel restrictions. No visas. Not even any passports. Since Americans recognized that freedom of travel is a fundamental, God-given right, the federal government was prohibited from interfering with the freedom of the American people — i.e., the private sector or “the country” — to interact with the people of the world. No U.S. sanctions or embargoes on anyone.
Notice something important about Bush and other conservatives: Their position is precisely the opposite of America’s founding foreign-policy principles: They want to unleash the power of the federal government in foreign affairs and then isolate the American people with sanctions, embargoes, travel restrictions, trade wars, tariffs, and immigration controls.
Bush’s muddled thinking is amplified by the fact that he combines a correct criticism of Trump’s proposed immigration wall with Trump’s supposed desire to end U.S. interventionism in Syria and then describes Trump’s positions as “isolationism.”
Americans have a choice: Foreign interventionism and isolationism of the private sector versus non-interventionism and unleashing the private sector to freely interact with the people of the world.
The first choice, as we have learned, leads to death, destruction, loss of liberty and privacy, high taxes, exorbitant debts, crises, chaos, violence, nationwide drug addiction and alcoholism, high rates of suicide, random acts of mass violence, terrorist blowback, and impoverishment.
The second choice, as our ancestors learned, leads to freedom, peace, prosperity, and harmony.
It’s really a no-brainer as to which choice is better.