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Isolationism or Internationalism in Foreign Policy? Essay

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Updated: Dec 2nd, 2021

After the fall of the Soviet Union, American Foreign policy veered into an era of proactive internationalism with a predominant streak of unilateralism. This unilateralism found overt expression in America’s Global War on Terror. With the present economic downturn and a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, many experts in the American Foreign policy community believe that America should withdraw from its current internationalist approach and resort to isolationism.

The proponents of isolationism argue that having made the American Homeland safe from terrorist strikes, it was now necessary to withdraw into the ‘fortress’ and concentrate on building the domestic economy, leaving other nations to sort their own problems. The isolationists defend their thesis on the basis of past successful phases of isolation practiced by American leaders notably in the 1930s.

The internationalists on the other hand claim that American Foreign policy has always been based on Internationalism and that it was not possible for the US to disengage in this globalized world. This is truer as the global economy is still very much a ‘Dollar’ economy and the fulcrum of international geo-politics undoubtedly rests in Washington.

While the Democrats may deride the Bush administration’s unilateralist approach, it is a negative argument. The fact remains that the world depends significantly on American power to maintain global stability and the way forward would be to put into place a true internationalist approach based on securing the domestic economy and simultaneously engaging with the world.

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Isolationism or Internationalism in Foreign Policy?

The abrupt fall of the Soviet Union transformed the contours of American foreign policy from strategizing to meet the challenges in a bi-polar world to evolving strategies for a uni-polar world. Left with no real military challenger, US foreign policy through the 1990s and early 2000 was characterized by Internationalism with a predominant streak of Unilateralism. Since 11 September 2001, the unilateral contours of American foreign policy were translated into concrete actions with the Global War on Terror and the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the current economic downturn and a rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, many experts in the US debate whether it would be better for the United States to withdraw into ‘Fortress America’ or should Internationalism be the better option. This essay examines the pros and cons of both the propositions.

The concept of ‘Fortress America’ is an attractive one for those who consider that the previous two tenures of the Bush era were a folly and there is a need for America to withdraw from the world and recoup. Isolationism posits that having secured the Homeland by the extensive defensive homeland security measures and having weakened Al Qaida in Iraq, America would be better served looking after its own self and desists from pulling out other people’s chestnuts out of the fire. Proponents of isolationism argue that in the past “America was isolationist in the 1930s” (Johnson) and had benefited by such a policy.

The proponents of Internationalism argue that America had always been an internationalist power and cannot afford to disengage from the world especially now. In the globalized interconnected world, countries can no longer afford to follow isolationist policies. China, which for long had maintained its policy of isolation, had to change tack and integrate with the world economy. In face of the common challenges of international terrorism, climate change, and global economic downturn, the need of the hour is to unite and find common solutions based on an international platform. Irrespective of what the economists may say, the Dollar continues to be the currency of choice for international commerce though the Euro is giving strong competition. Even if America wishes to disengage from the international community, it cannot because; the engine of international commerce yet beats in New York and the decisions of International Geo-politics rest with Washington D.C. Resorting to Isolationism, as George Bush said will only lead to “danger and decline (Logan).”

In conclusion it can be emphatically stated that American Foreign policy has always gained and prospered by its internationalist approach. The present financial downturn is but a cyclical blip in global economics. The world needs America’s leadership and withdrawing precipitously from the scene will create a dangerous vacuum which is unlikely to be filled up by any of the lower ranking powers. An internationalist formulation, deriding the previous Bush administration policies will not help. America’s internationalist approach would have to be based on an a truly “bold, progressive internationalism (McPherson para 4)”. An approach based on restoring domestic economic stability while simultaneously engaging with the world would be the best option in defining America’s new internationalist approach.

Works Cited

Johnson, Paul. “The Myth of American Isolationism — Reinterpreting the Past.”1995. Forein Affairs website. Web.

Logan, Justin. “The “Isolationism” Canard.”2006. CATO Institute. Web.

McPherson, Scott. “True Internationalism.” The Future of Freedom Foundation. Web.

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