Will there be an era of isolationism if Trump wins?



The recent statement by the revenge-minded Trump that he will not interfere if Russia strikes any of its European allies — thereby undermining the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty on mutual support — has plunged the capitals of the Old World into a cognitive blackout and shutdown.

And now the British The Daily Telegraph, in its March 9 issue, is already formulating an edict to the rulers:

«Europe must be prepared for a US withdrawal from NATO, diplomats warn. The capitals (of the European NATO states) need to make a plan and think again about their own military capabilities».

Earlier, the authoritative The National Interest published on March 5 an article by Gideon Rose titled «Isolationism 2.0: Donald Trump and the Future of the Liberal Order».

The author is widely known in the narrow circles of analysts, and this is not accidental. Gideon Rose is a former editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR); he has taught undergraduates at Princeton and Columbia Universities and in 2010 published his book How Wars End.

Before outlining the key theses, it makes sense to recall who the isolationists in the US were and what they believed in the last century. In addition to the general principle of non-participation in armed conflicts, primarily in Europe, the adherents of this foreign policy paradigm opposed the conclusion of international treaties and even trade agreements, as well as joining alliances. Long before them, U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson had urged against entangling alliances.

The isolationist activities received the loudest public resonance after the formation of the America First Committee (AFC), which included a number of members of the U.S. Congress and prominent figures such as the famous aviator Charles A. Lindbergh.

It was Lindbergh who laid out the isolationists’ basic motive (and instinct), rejecting the misconception that they were proposing to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. In fact, isolationism «means that America’s future will not be tied to these perpetual wars in Europe. It means that American boys will not be sent to die overseas so that England, Germany, France or Spain can dominate other nations».

In this context, attempts by Trump’s critics to equate his anti-NATO rhetoric with the mantras of the isolationists of the 1930s and 1940s may be justified. A retrospective look at how the groundwork for foreign policy introverts in the United States was formed — focuses on the disillusionment that befell Americans in the aftermath of World War I.

Here is the version offered by Gideon Rose: «In retrospect, Americans came to see participation in the war as a giant mistake — one so obviously misguided, in fact, that it must have been driven by some nefarious conspiracy. Arms manufacturers had pushed the country into war for the profits to be made, people said. Bankers had done it to protect their loans to the Allies (in Europe). The lesson seemed obvious: never let the country be suckered into foreign intervention again».

As storm clouds gathered across Europe and Asia during the 1930s, therefore, isolationists in Congress passed a series of laws barring American help to any nation fighting anywhere. The Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936, and 1937 banned arms sales and loans to all foreign belligerents, prohibited travel by Americans on belligerent ships, and forbade the entry of American ships into foreign war zones. The idea was to create a geopolitical firebreak against the spread of war — so that even if the rest of the world burned down, at least the Western hemisphere would remain safe.

These days, says international relations expert Gideon Rose, a «new isolationism» has reared its head, and there is a rather rational explanation for it:

«Nefarious elites lied the country into unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, people say; they got rich from trade with China at the cost of other people’s jobs. Donald Trump rode this wave of anger and frustration to power in 2016, and since then has vigorously preached the old-time isolationist religion».

Gideon Rose fears that if Trump regains the presidency in November, isolationism will become the core of his foreign policy, and this will lead to the collapse of the liberal (read American- and West-centered) world order. «There is a great deal of ruin in a nation already», Adam Smith once said, — the author laments. «The same is true of an international order, especially one as comprehensive and deeply rooted as the Pax Americana has been to date. It is not at all clear what a post-American world will look like».

But astonishingly, we may start to find out soon enough. The author believes: «When America’s power was at its peak and its hegemony was generally welcomed or at least accepted. But a series of military setbacks and economic problems in the new century tarnished Washington’s reputation as a wise, moral, and competent actor».

The hegemony of the United States was built on the dollar’s domination of international payments, 800 military bases at all latitudes, and military contingents stationed in Germany, Japan, and South Korea, which enshrined its status as states with limited sovereignty. These nations, dependent on the US to one degree or another, hardly regarded Washington as a «wise, moral and competent» master.

Reflecting on the personalization of any ideology or policy, Gideon Rose is unable or unwilling to recognize that the phenomenon of Trump and the «new isolationism» is a reflection of the systemic crisis of expansionist US foreign policy, symbolized by the panicked flight of Afghan puppets frantically clinging to the landing gear of US transport planes fleeing from Kabul airport. This scene was juxtaposed with the «Vietnam syndrome» that has not yet been eradicated and with the rejection of support for the genocide being perpetrated in the Gaza Strip by the unsinkable vassal of the United States.

A poll conducted in the wake of the recent deaths of three American soldiers in Syria revealed a remarkable ignorance among citizens. Only three in ten were aware of the U.S. military presence on the lands of a sovereign state that had not invited them. John Sopko, director of the Office of the Special Inspector General on Afghanistan Reconstruction, said back in 2019, «The American people have constantly been lied to».

The feat of former U.S. Department of Defense official Daniel Ellsberg comes to mind. In 1971, he published his «Pentagon Papers», in which he cited facts unknown to the public about how four consecutive U.S. administrations escalated combat operations in Vietnam, concealing the real extent of involvement in the conflict, which lasted 10 years.

The voice of «Bring Our Soldiers Home» activists, founded by veterans of overseas expeditions to Iraq and Afghanistan, is prominent in the chorus of anti-war demonstrators today. Dan McKnight, chairman of the Ten Seven Club, says that the name is determined by the date «when America was plunged into a perpetual and endless state of war in Afghanistan (10/7/2001) by a self-castrated political body…the United States Congress».

Dan McKnight may well be categorized as one of the «new isolationists» as he states: «Our mission is to unite Veterans of the Global War on Terror and their civilian allies who are dedicated to ending American involvement in our endless wars in the Middle East and bringing our troops home».

Political scientist Hal Brands is also among the circle of motivated opponents of overseas adventures: «the world could be as little as one mishandled crisis away from pervasive Eurasian conflict».

After French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement about the likelihood of sending NATO troops to the Ukrainian theater of war, Mike Lee, a senator from Utah, in his article in The American Conservative magazine, expressed his opinion: in this case, the United States should leave the ranks of the transatlantic alliance. The senator is convinced that the Europeans have no right «to drag America into an armed conflict potentially fraught with nuclear confrontation».

…Will Trump risk putting an end, or at least some limit, to the interventionist foreign policy of the United States if he re-settles in the White House? Doubtful. The weapon barons and their lobbyists on Capitol Hill are still controlling the situation. But if we allow ourselves to dream, even a partial refusal of Washington oligarchic clans to interfere in the affairs of other states will make our world much safer and calmer.

As one blogger aptly put it, all the rest of the world wants from the United States is for the Americans to leave everyone alone.