Daniel Korski

Will the US become more isolationist in the years to come?

Will the US become more isolationist in the years to come?
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Isolationist sentiment seems to be on the rise in the United States. At an annual foreign policy event in Halifax in Canada, US Senator Lindsay Graham warned about the risk of an "unholy alliance" developing between the far left and far right that calls for greater US retrenchment from the world – and, potentially, a new era of isolationism. Or neo-isolationism.

Such an inward focus is likely sound meet with the approval of an increasingly domestically-occupied public. Last year, 49 percent of Americans told Pew Research that they believed the US should "mind its own business" and let other nations get along on their own.  That was up from 30 percent in 2002. This year, a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs showed - perhaps not surprisingly - that nine out of ten US citizens think it is more important for the future of the United States to fix pressing problems at home than to address challenges to the United States from abroad.

The isolationist urge still needs a leader – and Sarah Palin is not it. Her neo-conservatism – higher defence spending, more unilateralism – sits uneasily with Ron Paul’s paleo-isolationism. Barack Obama will have to go into the 2012 presidential election on his first term record, as a moderate internationist. His likely Republican challengers, like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, do not look like fence-us-in politicians. As Mike Huckabee wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2007: “American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.” So perhaps Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor and a potential presidential candidate, is the only person with a sufficiently clean foreign policy slate and a reputation for reasonableness, who can make a case for strategic retrenchment in the cause of economic revitalisation. But such a move would seem to go against the man’s background.

Nonetheless, the isolationist urge is met with concern by many. Writing in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, George W Bush’s NATO ambassador, Kurt Volker, warns of the danger ahead: "This scenario – of a retrenching America and increasing global crises – has played out before:  after World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and even the Balkans wars of the 1990s.  Each time, the seduction of isolationism proved self-destructive."