“The road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline,” railed President Bush in his State of the Union. Again and again, Bush returned to his theme.
“America rejects the false comfort of isolationism …
“Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need …
“American leaders from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan rejected isolation and retreat.”
Why would a president use his State of the Union to lash out at a school of foreign policy thought that has had zero influence in his administration? The answer is a simple one, but it is not an easy one for Bush to face: His foreign policy is visibly failing, and his critics have been proven right.
But rather than defend the fruits of his policy, Bush has chosen to caricature critics who warned him against interventionism. Like all politicians in trouble, Bush knows that the best defense is a good offense.
Having plunged us into an unnecessary war, Bush now confronts the real possibility of strategic defeat and a failed presidency. His victory in Iraq, like the wars of Wilson and FDR, has turned to ashes in our mouths. And like Truman’s war in Korea and Kennedy’s war in Vietnam, Bush’s war has left America divided and her people regretting he ever led us in. But unlike the world wars, Korea and Vietnam, Bush cannot claim the enemy attacked us and we had no choice. Iraq is Bush’s war. Isolationists had nothing to do with it. To a man and woman, they opposed it.
Now, with an army bogged down in Afghanistan and another slowly exiting Iraq, and no end in sight to either, Bush seeks to counter critics who warned him not to go in by associating them with the demonized and supposedly discredited patriots of the America First movement of 1940-41. His assault is not only non-credible, it borders on the desperate and pathetic.
“Abroad, our nation is committed to a historic long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world,” said Bush. “Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends upon it.”
Intending no disrespect, this is noble-sounding nonsense. Our security rests on U.S. power and will, and not on whether Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria, Cuba or even China is ruled by tyrants. Our forefathers lived secure in a world of tyrannies by staying out of wars that were none of America’s business. As for “the end of tyranny in our world,” Mr. President, sorry, that doesn’t come in “our world.” That comes in the next.
“By allowing radical Islam to work its will, by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself, we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals or even in our own courage,” said Bush.
But what has done more to radicalize Islam than our invasion of Iraq? Who has done more to empower Islamic radicals than Bush with his clamor for elections across a region radicalized by our own policies? It is one thing to believe in ideals, another to be the prisoner of some democratist ideology.
Bush has come to believe that the absence of democracy is the cause of terror and democracy its cure. But the cause of terror in the Middle East is the perception there that those nations are held in colonial captivity by Americans and their puppet regimes, and that the only way to expel both is to use tactics that have succeeded from Algeria in 1962 to Anbar province in 2005.
Given the franchise, Arab and Islamic peoples from Pakistan to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and Egypt have now voted for candidates with two credentials. They seemed to be devout Muslims, and they appeared dedicated to tossing America out of the region and the Israelis into the sea.
With opposition also rising to his free-trade policy, Bush reverted to the same tactic: Caricature and castigate critics of his own failed policies. “Protectionists,” said Bush, pretend “we can keep our high standards of living, while walling off our economy.”
But it was protectionists from Lincoln to Coolidge who gave us the highest standard of living on earth. And the record of Bush’s merry band of free-traders? The largest trade deficits in history, a $200 billion trade surplus for Beijing at our expense in 2005, and 3 million lost manufacturing jobs since Bush first took the oath.
If America is angry over what interventionism and free trade have wrought, George Bush cannot credibly blame isolationists or protectionists. These fellows have an alibi. They were nowhere near the scene of the crime.
It is George W. Bush who is running out of alibis.