December 6, 2023

First the clarion call of isolationists

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 12 September 2019
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
America First, the clarion call of isolationism
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – There are several reasons why President Trump demanded John Bolton’s resignation, but the precipitating event was Bolton’s opposition to a Camp David summit with the Taliban, the Islamic extremists fighting to once again control Afghanistan.
          Bolton and others warned there was no deal in place with the Taliban, and that a hastily arranged meeting on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary would backfire, advice Trump didn’t want to hear. It must be remembered that the United States orchestrated the ouster of Afghanistan’s Taliban government over its hosting of al-Qaeda terrorists who organized the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington.
          True, the departure of John Bolton, the third national security advisor forced out by the president, significantly lowers the likelihood of a military confrontation with Iran. Bolton, a hardliner and one of the architects of the Iraq war, won’t be missed. He, an extreme hawk, was ousted by an extreme dove.
          The president is looking for a dramatic event in foreign policy that would ensure his reelection and keep his campaign promise to end the war in Afghanistan. He ran on the theme of “America First,” which happened to be the Republican Party’s Pre-World War II clarion call of isolationism.
          Every U.S. president beginning with Eisenhower and continuing through Obama, Republicans and Democrats alike, has embraced an internationalist stance, but Trump views internationalism as an elitist invention. He wants to establish Fortress America by withdrawing U.S. troops from the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan and also from peaceful areas of the world, such as South Korea.
          Trump’s previous national security advisor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, didn’t share Trump’s isolationist views or the president’s uninformed indolence, and Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned when Trump announced an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, where ISIS is now making a comeback.
          Trump would like to pull troops out of everywhere, even NATO. He thinks our allies aren’t pulling their weight and relying instead upon America to provide their security. He is skeptical of Article 5 in the NATO treaty that stipulates an attack on one is an attack on all as he made clear when expressing doubts about defending the Baltic nations from Russian provocations. The only time the article has been activated was after 9/11 when our NATO allies unanimously stood ready to help America.
          Afghanistan is America’s longest war (although more men and women in uniform now annually die in training exercises) but withdrawing U.S. troops would hand the country to the Taliban, which took credit for a suicide attack in Kabul on the eve of the planned summit, ending the peace talks.
          The Republican Party before Eisenhower’s election in 1952 was staunchly isolationist. That isolationism allowed fascist and militarist regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan to rise and take land without opposition, which history shows led to World War II. If the United States had stepped in sooner, instead of waiting until the attack on Pearl Harbor, historians say Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo might have been stopped.
          NATO was formed in reaction to World War II and the failure of America’s post-World War I isolationism, and the realization that countries adhering to the rule of law and a small-d democratic societies needed to act together for national security in a dangerous world.
          Conversely, isolationism is dangerous, especially when practiced by a president who neither understands nor attempts to understand history.
          Ohio Senator Howard Taft was the favorite to win the GOP nomination in 1952. The son of the 17th president, William Howard Taft, he was known as “Mister Republican,” the embodiment of unyielding allegiance to old-line GOP principles. He led the isolationist wing of the GOP, and he was the frontrunner until Eisenhower entered the race. Persuaded to run by the more moderate faction of the Republican Party, Eisenhower embodied internationalism, having led U.S. troops to victory in Europe. Opposed to Taft’s foreign policy of non-interventionism, and especially his opposition to NATO, Eisenhower altered his party’s course – until now.
          Eisenhower emerged victorious at the Republican Convention after a very close and bitter contest.
          It is Eisenhower who took up the banner for American leadership and global engagement that has been the dominant theme of U.S. foreign policy since his tenure in the White House.
          Trump likes to think of himself as a tough guy, but in the cauldron of foreign conflict, he is a peace-at-any-price dove, and not the sort of dove Democrats could support, or Republicans should support.
         Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2019 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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