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The New US Isolationism

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For most of American history, the United States has been an isolationist nation which shunned foreign entanglements. Even during the Revolutionary war there was much argument over whether or not to enlist the help of the French to defeat the British. Isolationism, and non-interventionism were championed by our founding fathers. In his farewell address as the first president of the United States George Washington commented:

"Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities."

Isolationism and non-interventionism persisted through the 1800s, including the Civil War, right up until the US intervened in World War I in response to Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare against US merchant ships.

Isolationism returned to the US throughout the 1920s and 30s, but was subsequently wiped from the political landscape after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Since World War II the US has increasingly taken on the role of policemen of the world, often with very negative consequences, including protracted wars in North Korea and Vietnam. The war in Iraq ushered in a new imperialist phase in modern US interventionism with the Bush administration's clumsy attempt to control a portion of the Middle East's oil fields.

However, the Bush administration's nearly unilateral interventionist approach in Iraq has ironically led to a new form of US isolationism, an isolationism from without rather than from within. With their heavy-handed tactics, unwillingness to negotiate, and insulting rhetoric the Bush administration has alienated many traditional European allies such as France and Germany. They have inflamed anti-US sentiment throughout the Middle East and among Muslims everywhere, while at the same time disillusioning the rest of the civilized world from the notion that the US is playing a positive international role.

The combination of unnecessary military force, disdain for the Geneva conventions, international treaties and laws, and shunning any form of negotiation with nations we deem unfriendly has precipitated strong anti-US sentiment across the globe. This burgeoning anti-US reaction is diplomatically isolating the United States further and further from both allies and non-Allied nations alike. The result is a self imposed neo-isolationism that is neither desirable nor intended. Consequently, the US is losing its ability to influence events around the world, while becoming increasingly isolated and distrusted.

George Bush's isolationism is the unintended consequence of unilateral policies which are perceived as both irrational and aggressive by most nations of the world. But unlike the isolationism of pre-World War II America, we may find it much more difficult to extricate ourselves from this new form of isolation. It is still unclear how difficult it will be for the next president to undo the diplomatic damage wrought by George Bush. President Bush seems congenitally incapable of negotiation, and as such the United States will remain isolated from the rest of the civilized world until he is no longer president. Both America, and the world, wait impatiently for that day.
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John R. Moffett PhD is a research neuroscientist in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Moffett's main area of research focuses on the brain metabolite N-acetylaspartate, and an associated genetic disorder known as Canavan disease.

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