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Isolationism: the key to American foreign policy

By Scott Tibbs, October 18, 1998

The Kosovo situation that President Clinton seems determined to get us involved in brings up some interesting issues with regard to foreign policy. There are four issues raised by the latest flare-up in the Bosnian conflict. First, we have the question of what America's vital national interests are. Second, we face the question of when military force should be used to protect those interests. Third, we must decide how military force should be used. Finally, we have the question of whether American military power should be used to promote a set of values not necessarily directly connected to national security.

The first two questions are the strongest arguments against Clinton's policy. Defenders of the Administration's Bosnia policy argue that a war in the Balkans threatens to spread to other parts of Europe and therefore it is in our national interest to stop this war. This logic begins with a solid premise, but disintegrates upon closer examination. Yes, it is in America's national interest to prevent a wider European war. However, the general assumption that the Balkans are the "powder keg of Europe" is questionable. It is true that both world wars began in the Balkans. However one must also consider that the Balkan conflicts also provided an opportunity for the imperialistic ambitions of Germany to surface, and may not have drawn in other nations on its own.

However, if our main security interest were preventing a wider war, would it not be advisable to focus on keeping the conflict within the former Yugoslavia, and keeping other countries from getting involved? Do we have to have peacekeepers on the ground in Bosnia to prevent escalation? The answer to this is no.

The Clinton Administration's Bosnia policy was poorly thought out from the beginning. We have no exit strategy, and no way of defining victory and leaving Bosnia without war breaking out again. If you were to believe Clinton's statements when U.S. troops first arrived in Bosnia, American military forces were originally supposed to be out of Bosnia two years ago. Of course, as he has proven in the various scandals surrounding his administration, Clinton cannot be trusted, and any promises he makes have to be taken with a grain of salt.

We also have the issue of whether or not American military forces should be used to promote a set of values we deem important. The answer is no. The blood of American soldiers should not be spilled unless national security is directly affected. And while preventing genocide is an honorable goal, American military force should not be used simply to prevent it. In any case, we simply cannot be the world's policemen. If we are justified to be in Bosnia due to genocide, why are we not justified to go to war with China over the oppression of Tibet? By Clinton's logic we could also go to war with Russia over the oppression of Chechnya.

This brings us to a plausible base for foreign policy in the twenty-first century: isolationism. No, I am not talking about the Pat Buchanan/Richard Gephardt policy of economic protectionism and barriers to free trade. What I am talking about is military policy: American foreign policy with regard to military force should be that unless there is a direct threat to America's physical or economic security, we should not send troops, use air strikes, or otherwise flex military muscle.

America is hated though most of the world. Much of that hatred is simply due to the fact that the U.S. is the last remaining superpower, and we are economically better off than other nations. But a significant portion of that hatred is caused by American military involvement in areas we have no reason to be involved in, and the double standards used to justify that involvement. In Bosnia, we have virtually ignored war crimes committed by the Croats and Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs, and this has caused much bitterness in Yugoslavia. It can be reasonably assumed that the only reason the Serbs have committed more war crimes than the Muslims and Croats is because the Serbs have the most military power to beable to commit those crimes.

Finally, in the age of international terrorism, military involvement where it is not justified and the double standards used to justify it can lead to attacks on Americans on American soil. We should strongly re-evaluate American foreign policy, because a moral threat can quickly turn into a physical threat if we are not careful.