A few years ago, I read a pithy observation in one of the on-line libertarian-leaning forums (perhaps Cato.org, perhaps Mises.org, perhaps another). To this day, I regret not bookmarking it, and I’ve been unable to find it via search. Paraphrased, it read:

An isolationist is someone who wants to invade one less country than you do.

I am prompted to recall that line every time I hear a conservative or neocon or other form of hawk dismiss libertarians outright by dropping “isolationist” as an epithet. Yes, indeed, the word is intended to paint libertarians as naifs who don’t understand the obvious necessity of GloboCop and Pax Americana, rather than engage them in substantive debate as to the pros and cons of militaristic foreign policy. “Isolationist” is often used, as well, by conservatives to declare why they’ll “never” be libertarians.

However, everyone is an isolationist to some degree. The proof in this lies in the utter lack of noise about our non-involvement in countless regional conflicts over the past couple decades, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and eastern Asia. While many of these are “low-level,” some stand out, in particular the Rwandan Genocide. And, even in places where we have had some involvement, there’s little noise either about increasing it or about draw-downs.

Some will argue that our national interests aren’t served by involvement in those places. Why, if it’s about national interests, haven’t we invaded Venezuela, in order to rebuild her economy and get those massive petroleum reserves secured and flowing? Why haven’t we sent tens of thousands of troops into Mexico or Colombia to take on the drug cartels? Illegal drugs are easily a bigger threat to American lives than ISIS, after all.

The smear of “isolationism” directed at doves and libertarians is an argument against absolutism. As such, it not only presumes absolutism (with an almost inevitable citing of World War II as justification for every case of militarism since), it ignores the realities of politics i.e. that a complete military isolation will never happen.

The real argument is about degrees. How many foreign entanglements should we have? When is it right for us to engage in such? When is it time for us to end an engagement?

We all have limits, we’ve all said or thought “no” to particular “opportunities” for military engagement. Thus, we’re all isolationists to a degree. Once we accept that reality, we can have real discussions instead of name-calling.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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