Why Conservatives Need to Reject Isolationism


Thursday, July 18, 2019

There is a growing consensus among the conservative movement that the United States should withdraw itself from world affairs and maintain an isolationist foreign policy where America’s military only gets involved when our interests are at stake. There are many reasons for this, but two reasons in particular stick out: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the “America First” platform espoused by President Trump. 

Afghanistan and Iraq 

Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the entire political agenda of the country turned to fighting a new battle against a new enemy. With Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States has had soldiers in Afghanistan since 2001 with no real end in sight. The same goes for Iraq. 

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was, and still is, controversial. The continuing American presence in those two countries has extended itself into the rest of the Middle East. 

Afghanistan remains the challenging question. National security experts today disagree over what the goal in that country is and doubts remain over whether the United States can create a fully-functional democracy. With an unclear mission in Afghanistan, many Americans and an increasing number of conservatives are starting to wonder why the United States is still involved in the country and the Middle East at large.

America First

Donald Trump ran in 2016 as a direct challenge to the common thinking of the day in both domestic and foreign affairs. His insistence on the United States being cheated on issues such as international trade and American spending on important military alliances such as NATO, Japan, and South Korea sparked the interest of many conservatives who either do not understand, or plainly reject the importance of American leadership around the globe. Although his foreign policy record has been a mixed bag between intervention and non-intervention, his rhetoric has clearly shown what his foreign policy views are and the direction he wants to take the country when it comes to international affairs. 

Many conservatives cheer this, and, when President Trump claimed that he was a nationalist, many conservatives jumped on the bandwagon and began to explain why nationalism is a good thing. The nationalist-populist agenda of the President has led to many conservatives, particularly young conservatives, to challenge the previously accepted foreign policy positions of the conservative movement.

There are reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest reason for conservatives today to espouse a more pro-isolationist viewpoint was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Being anti-Communist was the glue that held the conservative movement together, and, with the end of the Cold War, conservatives lost that glue. Young conservatives today are too young to remember the collapse of the Soviet Union and can only look back on their lives and think of September 11th and its aftermath. This “9/11 Generation” of conservatives have only been able to experience an endless frustration of no victory in the Middle East, an area where everyday seems to only get worse. This “9/11 Generation” of conservatives know and are appreciative of the fact that the United States won the Cold War, yet they don’t realize how strong the Soviet Union once was and how impressive it was for capitalism and Democracy to have finally won the ideological battle that extended from 1945-1991.

Young conservatives today have lived in a time where there is no “equal” to the United States in terms of economic, military, or ideological power. Spurring from that, young conservatives rarely understand how important American leadership in the world is because they don’t understand why it was ever that important for the United States to lead. Young conservatives have been sucked in by the nationalist and populist temptations of Donald Trump’s presidency.

It seems as if today’s version of nationalism leads to isolationism and a hunkering down at home. Conservatives must reject this turn towards isolationism and instead push for an America that is actively engaged in the world and an America that shows international leadership. The world will be a much safer place if America shows the leadership this world needs.  

Jonathan Kirk is a junior Political Science and Public Policy Leadership double major at Ole Miss. He hopes to one day have a career in politics serving his country as an elected official.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Jonathan Kirk

Jonathan Kirk is a junior Political Science and Public Policy Leadership double major at Ole Miss. He hopes to one day have a career in politics serving his country as an elected official.

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