D. Dowd Muska


America First: Don’t Call It A Comeback

March 10, 2011

America’s empire-builders are in trouble.

Two recent polls reveal that our countrymen have fresh doubts about the federal government’s global meddling. Sixty-three percent want the U.S. to stay out of Libya’s civil war. More encouraging, if surprising, is the citizenry’s opinion of the military operation launched to avenge 9/11. A stunning 52 percent want the troops out of Afghanistan either immediately or within a year.

Now America’s longest war, the Afghan conflict has taken the lives of more than 1,400 soldiers. The wounded top 10,400. Has all the suffering been worth it? Last month Robert Watkins, a Canadian diplomat, quit his position as the UN’s deputy special representative in Afghanistan. He admitted that security in the kinda-sorta country is “at its lowest point since the departure of the Taliban.” Watkins estimated that 40 percent of Afghanistan is essentially off-limits to the UN.

Elected officials, committed for nearly a decade to cowardly, stay-the-course groupthink, are losing faith in the Afghan “mission.” A few weeks ago, Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA) and Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) penned a gutsy op-ed in The Washington Post. The congressmen called “the human and financial costs of the war … unacceptable and unsustainable.” They can find no reason to remain: “Transparency International … ranked Afghanistan as the world’s third-most corrupt country, behind only Somalia and Burma. The Afghan military and police are not reliable partners, and al-Qaeda is someplace else.”

The polls and the pols suggest that we could be experiencing a desperately overdue return to the foreign-policy posture that prevailed in the 18th and 19th centuries: putting American first.

Kill-‘em-all neoconservatives and collective-security leftists don’t want you to know it, but the nation was founded by noninterventionists. George Washington advised: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.” Thomas Jefferson called for “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

The Founders’ advice was followed, with few exceptions, for well over a century. Addressing the populace on July 4th, 1821, John Quincy Adams declared, “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she does not go aboard, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” More than six decades later, Grover Cleveland praised “the policy of neutrality, rejecting any share in foreign broils and ambitions upon other continents and repelling their intrusion here.”

Contrary to the modern-day caricatures, “isolationism” wasn’t the rule in the 1800s -- trade and immigration helped make the U.S. a commercial behemoth. But a wealthy, free nation largely bereft of tribal, ethnic, religious, and ideological violence wasn’t enough for turn-of-the-century elites. They engineered the Spanish-American War, to claim portions of a dying European empire. Then came disastrous involvement in World War I. “It is quite impossible to tell what the war made the world safe for,” the Los Angeles Times concluded at the conflict’s end. With the hindsight of history, Patrick J. Buchanan found an answer. The Great War, he wrote in A Republic, Not an Empire, “made the world safe for Bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.”

Disgust over the pointless annihilation of 117,000 doughboys contributed to the dominance of America-first attitudes in the 1920s and 1930s. It took FDR’s Pearl Harbor atrocity to snooker the public into entering World War II. That conflict transmuted, almost effortlessly, into the Cold War, a global, nuclear-armed standoff that sent soldiers and diplomats to nearly every cranny on the planet. With the U.S.S.R. an increasingly distant memory, “Islamofascism” is today’s boogieman.

Yet even in our lifetimes, Washington’s globocops have needed to resort to lies to overcome the Land of the Free’s latent aversion to foreign adventurism. The Vietnam War required the Gulf of Tonkin fairy tale. Nonsense about bloodthirsty Iraqi soldiers yanking babies out of incubators fueled the first attack on Iraq. Neocons needed Saddam’s nonexistent WMD drones and fictitious ties to Osama bin Laden to get their long-sought invasion and occupation of Mesopotamia.

Failed nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan have crippled confidence in Washington’s meddlesome ways. It’s disillusionment that might keep the nation out of future quagmires. But that’s cruel comfort for the dead and wounded -- victims of foreign-policy ideologues who either don’t know, or don’t care, that America once kept to itself.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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