The term “isolationist” entered the American lexicon in the late 19th century when the ardent militarist Alfred Thayer Mahan used it to smear opponents of American imperialism. The potency of the slur increased dramatically after World War II, as people blamed the policies of the interwar period for failing to halt the rise of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Modern‐day interventionists have used the term to discredit opponents of the Iraq War, the NATO campaign in Libya, arming the Syria rebels or indiscriminate drone strikes in multiple countries. In other words, interventionists brand their opponents as isolationists to delegitimize them and to stifle debate.
Some interventionists have characterized Cato’s views as “isolationist,” but that is inaccurate. In fact, Cato scholars argue that the United States should be an example of the principles of liberty, democracy, and human rights, not their armed vindicator abroad. Americans should remain engaged in the world through trade, tourism and other cultural exchanges, and welcome those from around the world who want to work, study or invest here. The foreign policy of restraint is particularly appropriate in the modern era as threats to the United States have waned, and as the high costs and dubious benefits of a hyperactive, interventionist foreign policy are glaringly apparent.
This page includes several articles by Cato scholars as well as a few by outside experts showing that the “isolationist” slur is inappropriate.
“Americans Favor Not Isolationism but Restraint,” Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble, December 27, 2013
“Rand Paul Is No Isolationist,” Justin Logan, August 7, 2013
“What Some Call Isolationism, Others Call Common Sense,” Christopher Preble, May 2, 2013
“Ed Crane’s Freedom Legacy — Peace and Free Enterprise,” Daniel Ikenson, October 24, 2012
“For U.S. Interventionists, ‘Isolationism’ Is Just a Dirty Word,” Justin Logan and Christopher Preble, June 22, 2011
“The Isolationists Are Coming! The Isolationists Are Coming!” David Boaz, June 20, 2011
“AEI on the Spectre of ‘Isolationism,’ ” Gene Healy, June 20, 2011
“The ‘Isolationism’ Canard,” Justin Logan, February 9, 2006
“70 Years of ‘New Isolationism’ ” Andrew J. Bacevich, October 24, 2013
“The Isolationists Are Coming!” Matthew Duss, May 2, 2013
“Sloppy Journalism at the New York Times,” Stephen Walt, May 1, 2013
“The Myth of American Isolationists,” Daniel Larison, July 7, 2011
“The Myth of US Isolationism,” Bear Braumoeller, October, 2010
“What Isolationism?” Andrew Bacevich, February 2, 2006