JPod shoots back at the “purely isolationist cutesiness” and “populist sneer” of my suggestion that we should wrap up our highly successful, but outdated, military presence in Europe. (The exchange starts here, followed by this and this.) The “isolationist” label is, of course, just a schoolyard taunt; I wouldn’t presume to speak for him regarding the particular Pentagon decision that started this exchange, but our own Victor Davis Hanson has also suggested we close out our military presence in western Europe, and if Victor is an “isolationist” then words no longer have meaning.
The real issue is not whether you favor a campaign of world conquest versus a policy of total seclusion like Japan during the two centuries before Commodore Perry. Rather, there’s a spectrum of opinion about the proper degree and nature of interventionism abroad, and we have not had the kind of sustained public debate over this that the country needs. The Democrats, as usual, have nothing useful to say, and the only Republican candidate who’s criticizing the current shape of our foreign policy is Ron Paul, who seems to raise non-interventionism to a religious principle, rather than a rule of thumb. If, God willing, Iraq stabilizes enough to allow us to reduce our presence without the perception of defeat (I’m not optimistic), maybe we’ll have space for a muscular, but more restrained, foreign policy, along the lines of Peggy Noonan’s infelicitously named “beaconism” or George Will’s column Sunday taking issue with “heroic conservatism.” Otherwise, we run the risk of oscillating between too much intervention (Vietnam, Bosnia, nation-building in Iraq) and too little (Carter after the Iran hostage-taking, Clinton letting bin Laden escape from Sudan, President Gore waiting for the UN to give us permission to oust the Taliban).