This article discusses how discontent with the Afghan and Iraq wars is encouraging a non-interventionist mindset among some Americans. Huang then discusses the many implications this type of policy would involve, concluding that "from a strategic perspective, a policy of strict non-intervention is neither realistic nor desirable for the United States. Rather than convincing the United States...
American Foreign Policy: Less-Interventionism Positions
The non-interventionist movement, like many American traditions, has its roots in the Enlightenment. The Founders were strongly concerned about the potential threat that war and foreign alliances posed to the liberty of the nation and its people. Although they did not counsel a truly isolationist approach to foreign policy, their position was essentially that given by the nation's first President, George Washington, upon his leaving office in 1796:
"The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible... It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it... Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies."
Until the late 19th century, the presidents who followed Washington saw themselves as adhering to his views, seeking to keep the United States out of European and international affairs. In 1823 President Monroe encapsulated that position in his "Monroe Doctrine":
"Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless remains the same, which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it, and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy, meeting in all instances the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none."
And in 1863 President Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, addressing the war of France with Mexico, reminded the Ambassador to France that:
"[t]he United States hold, in regard to Mexico, the same principles that they hold in regard to all other nations. They have neither a right nor a disposition to intervene by force in the internal affairs of Mexico, whether to establish and maintain a republic or even a domestic government there, or to overthrow an imperial or a foreign one, if Mexico chooses to establish or accept it. The United States have neither the right nor the disposition to intervene by force on either side in the lamentable war which is going on between France and Mexico. On the contrary, they practice in regard to Mexico, in every phase of that war, the non-intervention which they require all foreign powers to observe in regard to the United States."
This tradition increasingly waned toward the beginning of the twentieth century, as President William McKinley took the United States to war against Spain over that nation's treatment of Cuba; as Teddy Roosevelt declared in his Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine his belief that the U.S. should become "an international police power"; and as President Woodrow Wilson pressed for securement of world peace by an "organized major force of mankind."
However, this development was met by fierce opposition from the "Old Right," a movement characterized by a diversity of political ideologies--Progressive as well as Republican conservative isolationists, libertarian economists and journalists, conservative Democrats, pacificists, and social democratic historians. Notables included John T. Flynn, Senator Robert Taft, political radical Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov, and aviator Charles Lindbergh. They vehemently opposed the United States' engagment in both of the World Wars with some early political success, as evidenced by the various "Neutrality Acts" passed by Congress, but ultimately failed given the course of the wars, particularly the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
As an active interventionist foreign policy acquired more credibility with American leaders and the public during the Cold War, noninterventionists continued to warn against what they perceived to be the evils associated with this approach. The saw increased American warfare and involvement in foreign affairs as fostering the growth of the regulatory and welfare state, and with it rising taxation and abridgments of economic freedoms and civil liberties.
The end of the Cold War did not change the direction of American foreign policy. Indeed, in light of the September 11 attacks and the perceived increase in the threat of terrorism, many argue that America needs to aggressively pursue and destroy its enemies as a matter of preemption. But non-interventionist viewpoints have again become popular as some point to America's active involvement in the affairs of the world as a source for the animosities it faces.
Providing the counter-argument to the topic of Active and Interventionist positions on American foreign policy, this topic delves into the non-interventionist and isolationist side of the debate. It presents the philosophical foundations, history and common tenets of non-interventionism in American politics, its advocates from the nation's Founding to its present day, and its implications for today's globalized society.
More About This Topic...
Click thumbnails below to view links
- American Foreign Policy: Interventionist Positions
- Neoconservatism Unmasked
- President William McKinley's Second Annual Message
- The Founders on Intervention: American Military Action Abroad (1783-1860)
- Contemporary Quotes on Noninterventionist and Isolationist Positions on American Foreign Policy
- 19th Century Quotes on Noninterventionist and Isolationist Positions on American Foreign Policy
- President William McKinley's First Annual Message
- Charles Lindbergh's Noninterventionist Efforts & America First Committee Involvement
- Letter to William L. Dayton, Ambassador to France
- James Monroe's State of the Nation Address, Proclaiming the Monroe Doctrine