U.S. Isolationism Impossible in Integrated World

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Michael Greene

Throughout my four years at Middlebury, I have firmly maintained my conviction that no one cares what I (or you, or anyone else) thinks and therefore refrained from offering my opinions to the campus community in this newspaper. I have stood idly by as everyone with an opinion and a word processor added their two cents to the accumulating pile of worthless currency that characterizes the opinions of the ignorant. However, after reading the political column of Brian Ashley ’04 (“The Embattled Bipartisan,” Middlebury Campus, November 7, 2001), I was so overcome with anger that I delayed a night of college-sponsored intoxication at the “200 Days” party in order to respond to it.

In the liberal arts tradition to which we at Middlebury adhere, students are encouraged to question non-rational, media-sponsored intellectual forces, such as the nationalism surrounding wartime circumstances, for instance, in order to form a just and educated opinion. I therefore applaud Mr. Ashley for the courage of his convictions in standing against unthinking, nationalistic fervor. Unfortunately for Mr. Ashley, however, we at Middlebury are also taught to form our opinions on the basis of evidence and be able to defend it as such, and it is the failure of this columnist to perform this task that allows me to so firmly label his opinion, at least to the extent that it was described in the column, as unredeemably idiotic.

To be sure, the United States is not a perfect political entity created by and for perfect men and women. Indeed, as Mr. Ashley correctly pointed out, our handling of the Persian Gulf Crisis was imperfect, and considered inept by many political scientists. However, to even imply to an audience that “Arab extremists” (Mr. Ashley neglects the fact that “Arab” is a race, not a religion, and therefore incorrectly employs this term) had any justification for cowardly, surprise attacks on innocent civilians is unequivocally, morally wrong.

It is Mr. Ashley’s unfounded attack on our Middle East policy, however, that truly raised my ire. He writes, “…(We are) guilty of arming the Israelis and continuing the conflict…” Yes, Mr. Ashley, you are once again completely correct in asserting that we Americans have provided Israel with weapons and furthermore, that without our aid they would likely be unable to continue their conflict with the Arab world that has been going on since the establishment of Israeli statehood. Supposing, then, that we had not so evilly perpetrated this support of “the whitest side.” Would you be satisfied when the conflict ended with Israel failing to exist as a state? Or perhaps it is only through our horrible “World War II guilt” that we supported the right of a people that have been oppressed and persecuted since the time of Pharoah Ramses II to have a homeland with definite borders that can be defended from external attack.

Since the 1940s, it has been the expressed national foreign policy of certain surrounding Arab regimes to reclaim Israel’s territory and drive its citizens into the Mediterranean Sea. Between 1945 and 1973, Israel fought three major, external wars against a united front of these same Arab neighbors. Now, largely due to American financial support of liberal reforms, certain of these nations that were formerly the most vocal in their opposition of the existence of a Jewish state in their midst, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, can be counted as allies for peace. How then, Mr. Ashley, can you say that “we cause more problems than we solve?”

Granted, Israeli policy, particularly under the regime of Ariel Sharon, has been far from commendable. However, drawing an example of “a few Arab kids throw[ing] stones at an Israeli officer” its subsequent response of “blow[ing] up the entire housing complex” is both oversimplified and unfair. Do you forget that the current conflict began with Islamic extremists chaining themselves to bombs and running into such important and effective military targets as a nightclub, a mall, and a pizza parlor? Anyone who supports, even verbally or cognitively, such acts in protest of any cause short of genocide is, in fact, a supporter of terrorism.

I am afraid, Mr. Ashley, that ironically enough, you are in fact guilty of succumbing to the unfounded, affective decision-making of which I spoke earlier in my reference to jingoistic nationalism. That is to say that you, by lending credence to the nouveau-leftist complaints about American imperialism without impartially examining the evidence that supports this conclusion, are no different than the ultra-nationalists who react to the Sept. 11 attacks by advocating a war against the entire Islamic community. You merely make the same mistake of thinking with your heart instead of your head, only from the opposite direction.

For better or for worse, the global nature of modern society is such that “stay[ing] out of conflicts that have nothing to do with us…(in order to)…focus on our own problems…” is a contradiction in terms, as, in this age, any and all conflicts have international, regional, and indeed worldwide consequences. Any pragmatic analysis of post-Cold War foreign policy must take this into account.

The “pretty messed up guy,” as you refer to Osama Bin Laden, has enough power in certain confused, impoverished regions of this world that people are willing to both kill and die for him in the name of a fundamentally peaceful religion. To allow him and his ilk to gain even the smallest toehold of confidence that terrorism can help achieve objectives counter the national interest of the United States is to encourage him to employ these methods to accomplish his ultimate stated goal: the establishment of an oppressive, Taliban-like Caliphate stretching from the Himalayas to the Pyrenees.

The entire nation and Western world agree with you, Mr. Ashley, in having “had enough of everyone hating the United States.” It is a fairly widely held consensus that we need to employ a better campaign of public relations abroad, both through our words and our actions. However, the practical way to accomplish this is not by adopting an isolationist national policy and ignoring the plight of our neighbors. The last time the world’s hegemon was unwilling to accept leadership of the global political economy, the result was monetary instability, depression, and a worldwide war that claimed over 50 million lives and introduced humanity to state-sponsored genocide and nuclear bombs. It is only by actively helping the world’s impoverished and unstable countries to find the enlightenment of constitutional law, liberal capitalism, social welfare, and secular humanism that we can expect to find an inviting international environment to help us solve “our problems, of which we have many.”