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I WITNESS: The folly of isolationism

A bully appeased is a bully empowered, and a bully empowered will soon be eating your lunch, too.

Recently, a small but noisy cadre of our duly elected representatives have created no small amount of mayhem, and perhaps loads of political hay, by insisting on an “America First” agenda. Their goal appears to be to put America first by putting everyone else last.

Too much money going to Ukraine? Turn off the tap. Better yet, require them to pay for the weapons they need with money they don’t have. Tired of NATO members not “paying their fair share”? Withdraw from the alliance. If Vladimir Putin, Victor Orban, Kim Jong Un, Shi Jinping, and whoever else among the fascist elite want to carve up the planet into a network of oppressive kleptocracies, that’s fine, too.

Not our problem.

But is it really not our problem? The obvious danger of an “America First” agenda is that it is likely to turn us into “America Alone,” and this may lead, in good time, to our becoming “America Gone.” Ignoring alliances and taking an isolationist stance does nothing to make America safer. Appeasing dictators, autocrats, and tyrants does nothing to make America greater. I would argue that an “America First” agenda puts our country at serious risk.

I daresay that our “America First” proponents in the legislative branch are not particularly avid students of history. If they were, they would find example after example of the cost of isolationism to the isolationist and the cost of appeasement to the appeaser.

The fate of England under the leadership of Neville Chamberlain might be instructive, for instance, in understanding that accommodating brutality and the violation of international norms in order to “manage” a ruthless madman is, quite simply, not a winning strategy. Isolationism only ensures that by the time the madman is done pillaging, raping, and killing your neighbors, none of them will be available to come to your defense when the madman finally comes for you.

In the prelude to World War II, our “America First” proponents in federal government opposed the provision of military assistance to the beleaguered countries of Europe. Hitler was their problem, not our problem. Not our problem, that is, until the end of 1941, when we declared war on Japan following the bombing of Peal Harbor. Within a matter of weeks following the declaration of war, an armada of German submarines appeared in our coastal waters. Suddenly, Adolph Hitler was very much our problem.

Had Congress, much earlier in the game, approved military assistance to those who would later, by necessity, become our NATO allies, perhaps 400,000 of our soldiers would not have been blown to bits on the battlefields of Europe. Maybe if all of us, including France and England, had confronted and stood against Adolph Hitler immediately after the Anschluss of 1938, as Hitler used Austria as a corridor to savage Poland, we might have ended his aggression then and there.

But we didn’t. We didn’t stop him because he was someone else’s problem. We also did nothing to prevent Joseph Stalin from seizing control of the territory that his military traversed on their way to destroying Hitler’s army. This is how Russia was able to force the formerly autonomous nations of eastern Europe into the authoritarian grasp of the Soviet Union.

Hitler was someone else’s problem until he became our problem, and by that point, he had gained so much military momentum that it took four years and millions of innocent lives to salvage what was left. And just to be clear, our eventual victory in Europe was never guaranteed.

A bully appeased is a bully empowered, and a bully empowered will soon be eating your lunch, too.

But take heart. It seems that, at the last possible moment, a Republican Lancelot has emerged to save Ukraine—and, by extension, us—from the long reach of Russian aggression. Current Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has donned his armor and mounted his steed.

Mr. Johnson is an unlikely hero, to be sure. One would not expect that the same man who willingly participated in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, was all for eliminating a woman’s right to reproductive autonomy, and deliberately prevented a long-overdue and badly needed bipartisan immigration-reform package from getting a vote on the House floor would be at all interested in providing defensive weapons to Ukraine. This is especially true because the completely bonkers Marjorie Taylor Greene keeps threatening to take away his gavel.

It rather looks like Mr. Johnson, once he ascended to the speakership, suddenly realized that the sophomoric theatrics of Ms. Greene and her MAGA playmates, so amusing in the past, were no longer funny.

The nerdy, baby-faced, bespectacled Johnson appears to have finally located his spine and whatever other ingredients were required for him to turn into an actual grown up. He seemed suddenly to recognize, with great clarity, that “America First” proponents are pushing us inexorably toward the worldwide demise of democracy.

At last Mr. Johnson understands that if we assist Ukraine now, and enable them to stand against Putin in their own backyard, maybe—just maybe—we can save ourselves.

Well done, Mr. Speaker.


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