Using the 'I' Word for War and Profit

Column by Tim Hartnett.

Exclusive to STR

For about a century now, Humpty-Dumpty has been the go-to man for fans of elaborate American foreign adventures. Unwelcome inquiries are put down with a one word incantation that blesses and immunizes government-funded schemes that are always cash cows for somebody. “Isolationist” means exactly what its users mean it to mean--no more and no less. Every entry on the first page of my online search for the word “isolationism” provided the same definition: “The national policy of abstaining from political or economic relations with other countries.” Nobody on the furthest fringes of the political spectrum who gets ink or air time comes close calling for a plan fitting that description.

The word remains in healthy circulation despite the total absence of public figures advocating anything of the kind. Its real linguistic purpose is to obstruct examination of extra-territorial programs that don’t work and often do considerable harm.

Most of us first learned of the dreaded I-beast in grade school study of WWI. Back in that good old day, the authorities had sense enough to put these naysayers in prisons after allowing hostile crowds to have at ’em for an hour or so. If the folks at The Weekly Standard, the Heritage Foundation, AEI, Fox News et al get their way, hoosegow entrepreneurs will be back in that market before too long. How could anyone oppose US entry into The Great War, anyway? It’s what catapulted us to the top of the economic heap. We are probably only one good war away from reclaiming that title.

The first people to stoke lynch mobs with the “I” word claimed we were fighting a war “to make the world safe for democracy.” The Irish, Indians, Algerians, Pacific Islanders, Russian peasants, Filipinos, the Congolese and millions of other Africans were not educated well enough to accept this as readily as freedom-loving Americans did. Without guys like J.P. Morgan, J.D. Rockefeller, Charles Schwab and others who hired PR men to keep the country thinking right thoughts, foreigners are often easily misled. Isolationists are as rare on Wall Street as atheists are in foxholes.

To understand the perfidious way that isolationism works, try and visualize a typical slice of American policy from say 1968. Some experts and officers in a room at the Pentagon decide a spot on the map could use a good bombing, and the order is relayed via satellite to South Vietnam. At five they leave work to fight rush hour traffic and get home in time for a smoke with Walter Cronkite. Some Navy fliers get dispatched, and once the napalm is fixed to the jets, they’re airborne. Thirty-five minutes later, the right patch below them, it’s bombs away and a U-turn. An undernourished five year old girl foolishly lives nearby and an eight ounce blob of gel burning at 1,800 degrees lands on her back. She is immediately screaming and burns for six minutes until an adult manages to put the incinerating child out.

Meanwhile, the flyboys are on terra firma again with beers, joints, Steppenwolf on the turntable and much lamenting of St. Louis’ undeserved defeat at the hands of Detroit. The little girl’s screaming still pierces the tropical air. The engineers and the chemists who designed the people-melting device are on the other side of the world asleep in their suburban beds. And the tiny thing can’t stop screaming. The next day at Harvard, William Kristol is expounding on communism, the domino theory, social responsibility, moral courage and careful reading. And the 32 lb. waif is still going through an endless agony that no man of oxen strength should ever have to endure in a lifetime. Isolating on these kinds of details misses the “big picture,” I’ve been told. Only communists, terrorists and other abominable -ists focus on this kind of inhumane minutiae.

Forty years later, John McCain was wittily singing the lyrics “bomb Iran” while doubtless a child was on fire somewhere that US ordnance had exploded. The one certain outcome of such events is a profit for weapons manufacturers. Isolationists are oddly skeptical of the many benefits anti-isolationists find in all-purpose bombing campaigns. What’s always clear is that people who speak publicly about their love for humanitarian bombing expect to be paid for it.

There are a lot of things that “isolationists” just don’t know, and it must be for this ignorance they are so despised by both mainstream media and Wall Street’s favorite politicians. They don’t know why we have 50,000 soldiers in Germany or another 30,000 in Japan. Why we paid to keep an incorrigible thug like Mubarak in business for 30 years. Why we need missiles in Eastern Europe. Why we helped every bloodthirsty, misanthropic power monger in Central America. Why we needed to help Turkey get Ocalan. Why South Ossetia’s nationalistic prerogatives are our business. Why foreign governments should be pressured by our diplomats on Wall Street’s behalf. Why our government takes some kind of stand in every foreign war, election, national event or internal matter of almost any kind. How we can indict one country for human rights violations while buddying up to worse offenders like Saudi Arabia regularly. Why our foreign initiatives proceed based on fantastic ideologies in contempt of facts. These are just a few of the quandaries that afflict the minds of people who aren’t buying the divine right of American altruist aristocracy to fine tune the rest of the world. They aren’t exactly keen on the hyper-interventionist tendencies that keep so many beltway bandits in the chips, either.

What they also don’t know is why the elite media, the experts and elected officials, if they truly understand these things, can’t be called upon to explain any of them to the rest of us satisfactorily. On March 20, Dana Milbank called Rand Paul an “isolationist” in his column without any explanation. In the future, he might want to right click on Microsoft Word and choose the Look up option before deploying the term.

After American involvement in Vietnam ended, many proponents of the action claimed the death toll there would have been even worse without our presence. Others go so far as to maintain that fighting in such conflicts protects US citizens’ privileges, like freedom of speech, here at home. They expect us all to believe that “Isolationists,” by any definition, wouldn’t get away with spouting their un-American propaganda in public places, or on television if any were allowed there, but for a policy that napalms little girls.

While people smeared with the I-word persistently point out that they are merely against policies that are misguided, immoral and often murderous, their detractors insist that what they really oppose is America. In the “big picture” mindset of the interventionist, you can’t have one without the other.

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Tim Hartnett's picture
Columns on STR: 17
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Thunderbolt's picture

Tim: Superb essay. I love the contrasts, which summarize exactly what government does in this part of the world. Pentagon guys going home to watch a game or have a few beers with friends, while the little girl roasts. A few million fried for Northrup or Halliburton. Rinse and repeat: Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Iran.... Life is good and the profits are great.