Beware of Neo-Neo-Isolationism

Posted on Wednesday, October 25, 2023
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
Earth globe, world in hand on white

Say what? Yes, “neo-neo-isolationism” is coming. Beware. What is that? The subtle recoil from strength and belief in who we are causes engagement to cease.

We have historically seen “isolationism” (i.e., not getting involved in the world), then “neo-isolationism” (i.e., backing out of world commitments). Now, we are headed for “throwing up our hands” and going soft, effectively withdrawing as a world leader. The tendency to shrug and garden is strong, but it is wrong.

Privately, yes, we are all exhausted by political dysfunction, constant agitation, and normalized hysteria. We have had enough “sky is falling” climate screamers, social media cons saying everything “existential,” and lefties turning everything electric, turning boys into girls and parents into terrorists.

To borrow from Ronald Reagan’s friend Barbara Stanwyck, in Christmas in Connecticut, who can blame us? “Tired of dancing to everybody else’s tune…In short, we are tired!”

Yes, we are privately justified in pulling back for mental health. But pause with me to distinguish between private sanity and expectations of public leadership.

As individuals, we need space and time, room to keep our own counsel, think critically, reflect, pray, help friends and family, and give time to those we love.

But on the world stage, those chosen to lead must lead, not wither or withdraw.

“Isolationism,” “neo-isolationism,” now going soft through “neo-neo-isolationism,” may seem an easier path; just let things go. But it is not easy. Things let go return like a boomerang and hit hard if America ignores the world.

In short, hope is not a strategy; never was. Disengagement is tantamount to letting kids play with matches and just hoping that the house does not burn down.

The risks associated with disengagement are high. From China’s isolationism after the 15th century to America’s forlorn pre-WWI and pre-WWII hope that things would work out, backing away can have dangerous consequences.

In a roiled world, we cannot now shrug and go back to gardening. If we learned from the big wars that isolationism can be fatal, we should know indulging bad actors like Iran, Russia, and China can also be fatal. The world conspires to box America out and make the oppression of liberty a new norm. We must vehemently disagree.

We are tested every day. As terrorism again raises its ugly head, from Afghanistan to Hamas and Hezbollah, we seem only half in, more interested in side issues. As China and Russia declare a “new world order” built on oppression, we sigh.

Allies in Europe and the Pacific begin to wonder if we have lost our mojo, who we are. Beyond China, Russia, and Iran, two years from now, all Americans will be prevented from going to Europe without digital pre-registration with European countries, a new twist.

So, where is all this heading? Nowhere good if left as is, but nowhere at all if we will stand up and lead, defend American ideals and ideas, get engaged, and mean it.

Yes, we all need a retreat from this whacky world, but America must stay engaged for our own sake. We are a beacon only if we shine; let our truth, faith, fortitude, history, human rights, and compass light the way to get out from under the basket. 

We cannot become a nation that “ducks and runs,” intent on pleasing and appeasing. We cannot endure leaders who fail us – run from terrorists as in Afghanistan, placate them as in Iran, invite incursions as with Russia, and indulge in happy talk with communist nations like China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

We must preserve who we are individually, while also preserving our nation’s peace by engaging with the world, drawing lines and holding them, knowing who we are, keeping our word, and understanding our role as a global leader.

We must keep our nation’s goodness center stage. That is not achieved through isolation, neo-isolation, softness or neo-neo-isolationism. Strong leadership, confidently projected, advancing ideals we know to be true produces deterrence and peace. For that reason, real engagement must not cease.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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