No patriotism in isolationism – not then, not now


Arachnoid behavior manifests when the web twitches in a connected world. A disturbance somewhere is felt everywhere. Gone is the luxury of isolationism that was argued as a matter of principle during the European upheavals less than a century ago. As Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out in a 1938 letter to a journalist :

“[T]he trouble is that most people in this country think that we can stay out of wars in other parts of the world. Even if we stay out of it and save our own skins, we cannot escape the conditions which will undoubtedly exist in other parts of the world and which will react against us…. We are all of us selfish … and if we can save our own skins, the rest of the world can go.

“The best we can do is to realize nobody can save his own skin alone. We must all hang together.”

Still, there are people who argue that American pride is enough for us to not worry about what goes in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt. Freshman Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) presented an argument to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last Wednesday, for cutting all foreign aid, because, he said, “when we’re short of money, where we can’t do the things we need to do in our country, we certainly shouldn’t be shipping the money overseas,” including aid to Egypt and Israel.

It’s classic Tea Party rhetoric – full of simplistic “kitchen table” sensibilities that ignore the realities of a connected, interdependent world. As Eleanor’s husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, put it back in 1920(!) when he was running for Vice President:

“We must open our eyes and see that modern civilization has become so complex and the lives of civilized men so interwoven with the lives of other men in other countries as to make it impossible to be in this world and out of it.”

This is before television, in the nascent days of radio – no super highways, not more than one telephone in a household, if they had any at all, and of course, no internet. The entire planet had less than 2 billion people. Even with all that, we could not stand alone, because the problems of the world will find your doorstep. As FDR said, “we cannot build walls around ourselves and hide our heads in the sand.”

President Barack Obama listens as he is updated on the latest events in Egypt during the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office, Jan. 31, 2011. From left are: Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Chief of Staff Bill Daley. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I’ve no doubt President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have their necks up and are paying attention. But they’re in a tough spot. This is a tender diplomacy, that even Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority leader McConnell (R-KY) appreciate,  and for now, they “are backing Obama’s cautious approach” Politico reported, Monday.

Still, the U.S. administration risks being too cautious. Saying, “‘Bottom line, Egypt’s destiny is Egypt’s to decide,'” as Politico’s Mike Allen reported one administration official told him, may be true, but it hides how speedy and seemingly unequivocal we must be to race in with our continued support. That will be the point at which we can move to the other side of this history.

Egyptians are counting on us.

“When they know that America is behind the people and behind the military against Mubarak,” Tawfik Hamid, from the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, told VOA, “this can make America the most beloved nation in the eyes of Egyptians. But if America lets them down with Mubarak, I don’t think the problem will end, and the country will be lost.”

-PBG

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