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Old April 9th, 2017, 04:31 PM   #1

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Is it likely for the US to return to previous isolationist foreign policy


Hey all,

This thought occured to me today while I was having a discussion with a friend. Since WWII, the US has taken a militarily active role in international affairs. But, I think that there is some compelling evidence for isolantist foreign policy ideas making a comeback however large or small.

For example, Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders are both isolationists when it comes to sending troops abroad.

I also think that there is widespread cynicism about getting involved militarily in this post-Iraq war world.

I am not really asking about whether or not being isolationist is good or bad, but rather whether the near-future US will or won't be isolationist in light of both recent and historical trends.

Last edited by The Keen Edge; April 9th, 2017 at 04:46 PM.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 04:33 PM   #2
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It is neither likely nor possible. The US is stuck with its position and its role in the world.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 04:34 PM   #3
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Are you talking about being isolationist in a pure military sense? Or economically as well?

Last edited by Menshevik; April 9th, 2017 at 04:51 PM.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 05:16 PM   #4

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Mostly, just military. I think that the days of economic isolation are long gone unless some kind of apocolypse happened. Unless you are North Korea that is
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Old April 9th, 2017, 05:20 PM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by pikeshot1600 View Post
It is neither likely nor possible. The US is stuck with its position and its role in the world.

Thanks for the input. what are the things that you beleive make the US "stuck" in its place? Do you think it is possible to ever end?
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Old April 9th, 2017, 05:38 PM   #6

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A lot of this likely dangerously close to contemporary politics... but in many ways a return to the sort of isolationist policies are likely impossible and even to some degree dependent on who you talk to. One could make the case that America was NEVER truly isolationist and that America cannot return to a policy it never took on in the first place.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 05:47 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Keen Edge View Post
Mostly, just military. I think that the days of economic isolation are long gone unless some kind of apocolypse happened. Unless you are North Korea that is
I would say that we may see some of of a drawdown or a lessening of our global military footprint, but it going away altogether? No, I don't see that happening. We're always going to keep at least some of our bases that are scattered around the world. Same thing goes things like carrier groups, we're going to keep at least some of those, too.

I actually think that would be the most unlikely event, us abandoning the patrol of the Pacific, pulling all of our ships out places like the South China Sea....I can't see it happening.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 06:24 PM   #8

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Thanks for the input. what are the things that you beleive make the US "stuck" in its place? Do you think it is possible to ever end?
Of course it could "end," the issue though is that and "end" could result in consequences that WILL be problematic.

Much of what shaped the policies that lead to the idea of isolationism was shaped by the idea that America's founding fathers wanted to avoid the cycle of wars and conflicts that had shaped wars in America over colonies that had lead the American Revolution in the first place. And since the US lacked the military power of France and Britain at the time, the US didn't want to put itself in a position where it would face a resumption of war with France or Britain. America left the Revolution in debt and with a small national army that could not stand up to even the minor powers of Europe like Portugal, Spain, Holland, Austria, Sweden, Prussia or Turkey at the time... and that says nothing about the major powers of France, Britain, or Russia. Thus, the founders didn't want to put themselves in a position of wanting to directly challenge ANY of these powers directly.

These policies saw very little real challenge until the late 1800s when America had come to straddle the North American continent and found a set of natural security where it saw no direct enemy that could truly threaten them for long. As Bismarck would comment on America being surrounded by "weaklings and fish." With its general safety secure, America could begin to look to things beyond its shores and why men like Teddy Roosevelt began to look to things beyond the North American continent, thus the challenge made to Spain int he Spanish-American War and the taking of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as colonies and Teddy Roosevelt would become a leading figure to push toward direct American involvement in WWI before America declared war in 1917. By that point in global history, America was economically a powerhouse to be respected and easily on par with the powers of Europe. It was not the "weakling" of after the American Revolution.

And that's where the European world's own questions of power would really begin to need someone new to come in. World War One had DESTROYED the old European order lead by Britain and France with Germany, Austria and Russia balancing them out. In fact the rise of Germany in the late 1800s had seen the potential for a major war to break out and by 1914 it did finally breakout. WWI represented the same sort of rise and fall of great powers that had come throughout European history. Because nature hates a vacuum and someone MUST take over the role of leader. After the Napoleonic Wars, that was Britain and with a largely accepting France. However, after WWI, that wasn't rally possible... The previous European leaders had been destroyed by the war and it would take YEARS to recover from it. Years that ultimately it would not get. Germany had lost the war, but had not suffered the direct destruction that France had... yet felt it had been treated as though it had been directly destroyed and its government took the global economic collapse, which BEGAN in the US couldn't respond to. Extreme nationalists took that as an opening to "make Germany great again."

And as I said, nature hates a vacuum. Now, the Nazis probably would not have been the problem they were in history, if France and Britain hadn't been so weakened by WWI that they were... or if Stalin and the Soviet Union were not also seen as the threat that they were... or if the US hadn't decided to retreat to North America...The end result of that was that Germany recovered from WWI faster than France and Britain and demanded a reckoning by 1939. By 1945, ALL of Europe had been damaged even further than they were in WWI. By this time, the US didn't retreat back to North America and didn't let Europe descend into another war. Because by that time, America realized that nature hates a vacuum.

And why do I keep repeating "nature hates a vacuum"? Because since WWII, the US has taken on the global leadership position that Britain held in 1914. If we retreat from that, we create a vacuum. IF we do so, someone will strive to fill it, and who fills it may not be good for America.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 07:04 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sam-Nary View Post
Of course it could "end," the issue though is that and "end" could result in consequences that WILL be problematic.

Much of what shaped the policies that lead to the idea of isolationism was shaped by the idea that America's founding fathers wanted to avoid the cycle of wars and conflicts that had shaped wars in America over colonies that had lead the American Revolution in the first place. And since the US lacked the military power of France and Britain at the time, the US didn't want to put itself in a position where it would face a resumption of war with France or Britain. America left the Revolution in debt and with a small national army that could not stand up to even the minor powers of Europe like Portugal, Spain, Holland, Austria, Sweden, Prussia or Turkey at the time... and that says nothing about the major powers of France, Britain, or Russia. Thus, the founders didn't want to put themselves in a position of wanting to directly challenge ANY of these powers directly.

These policies saw very little real challenge until the late 1800s when America had come to straddle the North American continent and found a set of natural security where it saw no direct enemy that could truly threaten them for long. As Bismarck would comment on America being surrounded by "weaklings and fish." With its general safety secure, America could begin to look to things beyond its shores and why men like Teddy Roosevelt began to look to things beyond the North American continent, thus the challenge made to Spain int he Spanish-American War and the taking of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as colonies and Teddy Roosevelt would become a leading figure to push toward direct American involvement in WWI before America declared war in 1917. By that point in global history, America was economically a powerhouse to be respected and easily on par with the powers of Europe. It was not the "weakling" of after the American Revolution.

And that's where the European world's own questions of power would really begin to need someone new to come in. World War One had DESTROYED the old European order lead by Britain and France with Germany, Austria and Russia balancing them out. In fact the rise of Germany in the late 1800s had seen the potential for a major war to break out and by 1914 it did finally breakout. WWI represented the same sort of rise and fall of great powers that had come throughout European history. Because nature hates a vacuum and someone MUST take over the role of leader. After the Napoleonic Wars, that was Britain and with a largely accepting France. However, after WWI, that wasn't rally possible... The previous European leaders had been destroyed by the war and it would take YEARS to recover from it. Years that ultimately it would not get. Germany had lost the war, but had not suffered the direct destruction that France had... yet felt it had been treated as though it had been directly destroyed and its government took the global economic collapse, which BEGAN in the US couldn't respond to. Extreme nationalists took that as an opening to "make Germany great again."

And as I said, nature hates a vacuum. Now, the Nazis probably would not have been the problem they were in history, if France and Britain hadn't been so weakened by WWI that they were... or if Stalin and the Soviet Union were not also seen as the threat that they were... or if the US hadn't decided to retreat to North America...The end result of that was that Germany recovered from WWI faster than France and Britain and demanded a reckoning by 1939. By 1945, ALL of Europe had been damaged even further than they were in WWI. By this time, the US didn't retreat back to North America and didn't let Europe descend into another war. Because by that time, America realized that nature hates a vacuum.

And why do I keep repeating "nature hates a vacuum"? Because since WWII, the US has taken on the global leadership position that Britain held in 1914. If we retreat from that, we create a vacuum. IF we do so, someone will strive to fill it, and who fills it may not be good for America.

Yes, very good post. "nature hates a vacuum," is indeed a useful concept. However, wasn't the US still isolationist in the 20s before the crash in 29? I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that the distaste of WWI lead many Americans to advocate isolationist policy.
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Old April 9th, 2017, 09:34 PM   #10

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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Keen Edge View Post
Yes, very good post. "nature hates a vacuum," is indeed a useful concept. However, wasn't the US still isolationist in the 20s before the crash in 29? I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that the distaste of WWI lead many Americans to advocate isolationist policy.
In a way, yes they did... BUT that policy in a sense helped create the vacuum. WWI was the start of that vacuum's formation. France had been devastated by the war, Russia was in civil war, Britain was heavily strained financially by the war, and Germany had been heavily devastated by the war and threatened by civil war. The only major combatant in WWI that was in any real position of strength in 1919 was the US. America could have filled the vacuum then and there, provided assistance to all parties to at least insure that France and Britain fully recovered...

Instead, many of the isolationist policies served to tax the British and French economies, particularly the French economy with higher tariffs and demand that the war loans be repaid. Neither Britain nor France had the money to do so. In response, France ultimately leaned hard on Germany to try and not only recover economically from the war but pa of the debts being demanded by the US. This served to agitate German nationalist groups like the Nazis who were already POed about the terms of Versailles to begin with...

At the same time, in Eastern Europe, the Russian Civil War spawned other conflicts that went on into the 1920s and included much of eastern Europe. you had fighting in Poland... between Romania and Hungary... between Greece and Turkey... France and Britain couldn't really police these events and were also trying to stabilize things both at home and in their new colonial possessions gained from Germany. Europe was in no shape to resume it's place at the top of the levels of power after WWI, and with America refusing to step forward that left the door open.

And in the end it was Hitler and the Nazis who tried first. And while the Stock Market Crash and the following Great Depression were probably more responsible for the election of the Nazis into office than WWI was, that doesn't mean that WWI wasn't something they'd been stewing over since WWI ended and nor does it mean that they were the only threat to rise. Many saw Stalin as every bit of a threat to peace as Hitler was... and given how great of a political/military/economic crisis the period from 1914 to 1945 there is no guarantee that someone wouldn't cause trouble of some kind. France and Britain were too weak after WWI and America seemed uninterested in filling the vacuum... and the Nazis were quick to try and fill it.
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