Former President George W. Bush recently opened a debate on the difference between non-interventionism and isolationism when he took a shot at President Donald Trump in a speech. Bush said in his remarks that “an isolationist United States is destabilizing around the world,” adding that “we are becoming isolationist and that’s dangerous for the sake of peace.” These comments came as President Trump has been decreasing the number of U.S. troops stationed around the world and slamming the endless wars that have been the fabric of U.S. foreign policy for years. But is this really isolationism?
What is Isolationism?
Isolationism is defined as a nation that keeps to itself, refusing to participate in global commerce, political agreements, and foreign entanglements.
In economics, an isolationist might refuse to trade with other countries. The country may not import (buy) or export (sell) goods and services with other nations. For example, an isolationist country may not want to sell natural gas from other countries, and it may not want to purchase avocadoes. Moreover, an isolationist could decide that it will not enter into a trade agreement or an international body, like the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In foreign policy, an isolationist would refuse to participate in military conflicts, choosing not to get involved in something that does not concern the country. Also, an isolationist might want to remove diplomatic channels, refuse to engage with other nations on global security, or avoid joining groups like NATO.
Even on the issue of immigration, an isolationist may prevent the traveling of people by shutting down its borders and prohibiting citizens from leaving the country.
It is the antithesis of what America’s Founding Fathers encouraged; they instead argued that nations should trade, travel, and talk among one another.
What is Non-Intervention?
Former President John Quincy Adams recommended a non-interventionist foreign policy when he wrote, “America … goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.” Put simply, non-intervention is about not searching for dragons to slay.
Non-intervention is a foreign policy philosophy that argues against being the policeman of the world, getting involved in the internal affairs of foreign countries. This includes toppling regimes – elected or unelected – because they disagreed with your demands, or they are passing policies of which you disapprove.
Non-intervention is different from isolationism because it still encourages traveling around the world, engaging in diplomatic talks, and trading with foreign markets – importing and exporting.
Indeed, non-intervention is about minding your own business on the world stage but still participating in friendly relationships and agreements of an economic nature.
Which is the United States?
Even after the removal of combat troops from a handful of nations, the U.S. military is still stationed in hundreds of bases in dozens of nations all over the world. Soldiers remain in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and there are concerns that American personnel could be sent to Iran for military action. Despite gains made by President Trump, the U.S. is far from being an isolationist nation – militarily or economically – and it is at a great distance from maintaining a non-interventionist foreign policy.