The Case for American Isolationism
Author: Greg Valliere
May 10, 2019
POLITICIANS PROMISE FUTURE SUCCESS, it’s in their DNA, but they now face an issue that has been complicated by their boasts — the role of America in the world. Reality sunk in this week: global hot spots can be contained but not resolved. Consider:
A TRADE DEAL WITH CHINA is possible, eventually, but meaningful structural Chinese reform seems unlikely; Beijing will continue to cheat. Boasts that the U.S. could change China always seemed unrealistic. Sanctions rarely work; yes, tariffs will hurt China’s manufacturing sector, but the victims will become even angrier and less willing compromise.
VENEZUELA: National Security adviser John Bolton, an uber-hawk, has called for the ouster of the dictator Maduro. Even Donald Trump has chided Bolton for being too aggressive, backing the U.S. into a corner. There are too many Cubans and Russians in Venezuela to launch a U.S.-backed insurgency, so it increasingly appears that the U.S. bluster was hollow.
IRAN: The ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards run Iran with an iron fist; only hard-liners are allowed to compete in elections. The goal of regime change in Tehran is ridiculous, unless the U.S. is prepared to lose thousands of troops and trillions of dollars — and the American public is very sick of war in the Mideast.
NORTH KOREA: The bloom if off the rose in the odd bromance between Trump and Kim Jung-un. The U.S. goal of a de-denuclearized North Korea is not attainable, so why even demand it? Kim needs a deal, which a deft American negotiator could achieve, but we’re not optimistic. Even if there was a deal, the North Koreans undoubtedly would cheat.
THE PROBLEM, IN OUR OPINION, is that expectations are consistently too high; it’s one thing to manage expectations but another thing to meet or exceed them. Regime change is not going to occur in Iran or North Korea or, sadly, Venezuela. Boasts by Bolton that regime change is possible cannot be backed up by force; Trump, who leans toward isolationism, said as much this week.
THE U.S. HAS SUCH MILITARY MIGHT that an overt attack on American interests is highly unlikely; a $700 billion defense budget buys protection. But the idea of changing hostile regimes is not popular with voters — or Trump, who gets it.
WE PREDICT A RISING MOOD OF ISOLATIONISM, a backlash against the Lindsey Grahams and the Joe Bidens, who always seem to favor U.S. intervention. An isolationist mood has been popular in the country for decades, especially in Middle America, which has borne a disproportionate share of casualties, from Vietnam to Iraq.
SO WHY SET EXPECTATIONS SO HIGH? The U.S. cannot impose its will on the world without incurring enormous losses; any effort to change the regime in Iran would be a disaster. The answer, it seems, is for the politicians to tone down the bombast and accept the reality of an uneasy coexistence with the world’s despots — because the alternative is unacceptable.
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