Isolationism Not Likely to Surge

By Godfrey Sperling. Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist. | The Christian Science Monitor, October 16, 1990 | Go to article overview

Isolationism Not Likely to Surge


Godfrey Sperling. Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist., The Christian Science Monitor


IS there a decided falloff of support for the US military presence in the Persian Gulf from, of all people, the conservatives - those who for years were hawks?

Columnist Pat Buchanan, with impeccable conservative credentials, accepts the name, "neo-isolationist" and contends that "the old cold warriors, Catholics, and others who saw Communism as an evil and a threat against our country will go back to our familiar point of view - let's tend to our own affairs."

Another columnist with equally strong conservative credentials, William Safire, sees himself as a "geopolitical conservative," backs the US involvement in the Gulf, and is hawkish about use of US military force.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor, concedes there is a debate of this nature going on. "And there is no doubt," he told a breakfast group of reporters, "that there is some shift in public opinion regarding priorities. That is undeniable. But I'm not sure that is the same as pre-World War II isolationism.

"Then the choice was very sharply posed. I don't think the choice today is, as then, between internationalism and nationalism. There is some concern about our priorities - how much we are spending on what. The debate today is about priorities."

I vividly remember the old-time isolationism. I lived in the Midwest, where this feeling was most strongly expressed. As the war clouds in Europe formed in the 1930s, my colleagues in university, and even my teachers, asserted, "We have no business getting involved in foreign wars." The Chicago Tribune trumpeted this message, day after day.

That refrain ended with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But without this provocation, Roosevelt would have had great difficulty uniting the country in war against Hitler.

Before Pearl Harbor the isolationists claimed that East Coast "financial interests" were trying to drag the US into the war in Europe. …

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