Menu JTA Search

Fear of isolationism cuts across party lines

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

I wrote yesterday about how a major foreign policy speech on Monday by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the Republican House majority leader, was a shot across the bow at isolationists.

A major focus of Cantor’s speech was on Middle East policy. So it’s notable that within 48 hours, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel delivered essentially the same warning, at Beth El synagogue in Bethesda, Md.

Both men cite pre-World War II isolationism as the precedent to avoid. Both focus on the Middle East, and both cast it in a Jewish context: Cantor by referring to his recent trip to Auschwitz, Hagel, in a synagogue.

Here’s Cantor, at the Virginia Military Institute:

Many Americans, and politicians from both parties, want to believe the tide of war has receded. As was the case in the wake of World War I, many want to believe the costly foreign interventions of recent years can simply be put behind us. That we can simply choose not to be involved.

However, we mustn’t let ourselves be lulled into complacency again or forget the lessons of history. I recently led a congressional delegation to the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau to commemorate the 69th anniversary of their liberation. As an American and a Jew, I was struck by a torrent of emotions filled with horror, pride and regret.

Here’s Hagel, who was explaining why the United States continues to engage with Egypt, however problematic its government is:

I don’t think it’s particularly beneficial to anybody just to try to — just cut off everything with — with no opportunity or influence. Sometimes, that is probably the only alternative you have.

So, what we were trying to do is work all these different problems and issues, to some extent, on individual basis; but also, with a regional understanding that these are scoped out in, in the entire fabric and they are all — they’re all woven in that — that fabric.

And recognizing one last thing — and I’ll end this way — that each country, each society, each culture, each history, each religion has to be respected. And nations have to have that kind of stability recognizing the — you’re talking about terrorists.

That’s the — that’s obviously an insidious, vile threat to any organized society, because they don’t believe in anything, other than destruction and their own — their own needs.

So, you try to work in the independence of each country’s culture into what you’re trying to do to assist — and USAID, State Department diplomacy — same things I talked about in Asia-Pacific; you use all those things.

So, you know, it is complicated. It’s working. But — but you can’t retreat from it; you — you got to be smart; you have to be wise.

You have to manage it. You have to manage through storms. And — and we do know, through history, when you become isolationists, if you, you know, turn your back on — well, that’s their problem, not ours — there are consequences. There are big-time consequences, which we saw in the first half of the 20th century pretty clearly; and so, we don’t have that option.

NEXT STORY