More Americans want government to stay out of international affairs

Jul 02, 2013
Christopher McKnight Nichols is an assistant professor of history at OSU and the author of "Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age," which traces the origins of isolationism back to the debates over US imperialism at the end of the 19th century and its continuities over the next-half century. Credit: Photo by Spencer Lum

The number of Americans wanting their government to stay out of international affairs is higher than it has been since the Vietnam War, according to a new analysis.

In an article published this week in Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs, Oregon State University historian Christopher McKnight Nichols notes that doubts about American involvement abroad are on the rise, up 10 percent in a decade. He connects current reluctance on the part of many Americans to get involved militarily and politically with foreign nations to a long-standing tradition in U.S. politics.

"Virtually all isolationists in the history of the United States have subscribed to some form of international engagement, whether that is economic, cultural, political or intellectual," he said. "There is no such thing as a complete isolationist. What we do have is a rich history of Americans who have taken on isolationist or anti-interventionist beliefs at different times, and helped transform or influence the political system and policy."

Nichols, an assistant professor in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion at OSU, is an expert on isolationism, internationalism, and the history of U.S. roles in the world and military interventions abroad.

In his article, he links the "heyday" of American isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s to current events, including polls showing nearly 70 percent of Americans reject further U.S. efforts to intervene or to promote democracy abroad.

Nichols also wants to take back the term "isolationist" from its common stereotype of a conservative mindset that wants to wall off from the outside world. Famous figures, ranging from peace activist Jane Addams and racial reformer W.E.B. Du Bois to writer Mark Twain and former U.S. Sen. William Borah, a nationalist who opposed the League of Nations, have all favored anti-war and anti-imperialistic isolationist policies.

"They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and we can certainly trace this with the isolationist movement, which tended to attract people on both the far left and far right," Nichols said. "Today we see that same sort of tendency with some young anti-war activists supporting someone like Ron Paul."

Most of these type of isolationist sentiments can be traced to three "policy pillars" – expressed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe – in laying out the relationship between domestic and foreign commitments, types of diplomatic and military isolation, and debates over foreign policy cautiousness that have had a deep impact on U.S. foreign relations for more than a century.

"These are the touchstones for all foreign policy debate, then and since," he said. "The key precepts were: no permanent alliances or binding foreign entanglements, peace and honest friendship with all nations, enhancing and protecting international commerce, heralding unilateral action, and asserting U.S. rights to hemispheric defense and a wide sphere of primary U.S. influence abroad."

Nichols said that isolationism as a strain of thought that informs how American citizens and policymakers evaluate options abroad and sometimes sways policy cannot be overstated. Eight years ago there were far more troops on the ground overseas than today, and he said President Obama has shown a reluctance to put "boots on the ground" in places like Libya and Syria, causing some of his critics to call him a "neo-isolationist."

"With President Obama, we are back to small-scale, multilateral interventions, more like those that we had in the Clinton era," Nichols said. "During Clinton's presidency, the U.S. deployed forces abroad approximately 80 times in foreign humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, but these were mostly conflicts with small troop footprints, or Special Forces, characterized by few American causalities.

"In the wake of the Iraq War, in light of the drawdown in Afghanistan, and given pressing economic and political concerns at home, the U.S. public is increasingly reluctant to sacrifice American lives or to materially support intervention and aid abroad."

Nichols is the author of "Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age," which traces the origins of isolationism back to the debates over U.S. imperialism at the end of the 19th century and its continuities over the next-half century.

Explore further: Video games could dramatically streamline educational research

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New poll shows voters have strong interest in global affairs

Oct 22, 2012

(Phys.org)—Voters in the pivotal battleground states of Ohio and Florida show strong interest in global security issues, and want to hear the candidates' views on defense, Iran and terrorism in the final presidential debate, ...

Drones may violate international law

May 24, 2013

(Phys.org) —As President Obama gives a speech on national security—including defending U.S. use of drones to combat terrorism—Leila Sadat, JD, international law expert and professor of law at Washington University in ...

Obama: Our 22nd greatest president?

Aug 24, 2011

As if President Barack Obama doesn't already have enough to worry about, a statistical analysis of presidential ranking surveys suggests that he is likely to be viewed as an "average" president by expert evaluators if he ...

Recommended for you

Scholar tracks the changing world of gay sexuality

15 hours ago

With same-sex marriage now legalized in 19 states and laws making it impossible to ban homosexuals from serving in the military, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are now enjoying more freedoms and rights than ever before.

User comments : 22

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (12) Jul 02, 2013
The number of Americans wanting their government to stay out of international affairs

Bit late for that. As the US has recently declared that it considers hacking an act of war...and after the release of the NSA internals by Snowden's it looks like the US has more or less comitted acts of war against every nation on Earth (with the exception of New zealand, Canada and the UK).

Technically we're all at war with the US. It's sort of freaky.
VendicarE
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 02, 2013
As usual, Antialias has it exactly correct.

America has defined itself to be at war with the entire world.

Hence the need to Eradicate the American State

ryggesogn2
1.3 / 5 (12) Jul 02, 2013
It was the 'progressives' that launched the US into world affairs by instigating the Spanish American War, and then WWI.
Between WWI and WWII, the US public wanted to stay out of international affairs enabling Japan and Germany to launch WWII.
All you socialists should be quite pleased with the way the US is acting just like a socialist tyranny. The Germans were really good at spying on each other.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (11) Jul 02, 2013
As for spying, what's new?

"Even as the Times defended Echelon as 'a necessity' in 1999, evidence already existed that electronic surveillance had previously been misused by the Clinton Administration for political purposes. Intelligence officials told Insight Magazine in 1997 that a 1993 conference of Asian and Pacific world leaders hosted by Clinton in Seattle had been spied on by U.S. intelligence agencies. "
http://www.americ...led.html
djr
4.6 / 5 (9) Jul 02, 2013
"All you socialists should be quite pleased with the way the US is acting just like a socialist tyranny"

Funny thing that - it was a socialist reporter - reporting through socialist newspaper that broke the story. It is a socialist wikileaks that is continuing to release the documents. I am outraged at the programs - seem the Republicans are pretty supportive - and want to hang Snowden.
antialias_physorg
3.8 / 5 (10) Jul 03, 2013
America has defined itself to be at war with the entire world.

Hence the need to Eradicate the American State

That the US is at war with us doesn't necessarily mean we're at war with them. At the moment it's more of a "meh" situation. We're currently just watching the US implode on all fronts (economically, ecologically, socially, ethically, religiously, eductionally, ... )
I feel for the american people. But I fear that given the current entrenched corporate ownership of the country and raging paranoia in government there's not much of an alternative.

It's quite similar to what happened in ancient Rome, actually.
ryggesogn2
1.3 / 5 (12) Jul 03, 2013
"All you socialists should be quite pleased with the way the US is acting just like a socialist tyranny"

Funny thing that - it was a socialist reporter - reporting through socialist newspaper that broke the story. It is a socialist wikileaks that is continuing to release the documents. I am outraged at the programs - seem the Republicans are pretty supportive - and want to hang Snowden.

Socialists fight among themselves to be in control.
Bastiat noted this in The Law. When the law is perverted to plunder, those out of power fight to gain power so they can plunder.
rwinners
3.7 / 5 (10) Jul 03, 2013
Obama has yet to make a commitment to put US soldiers boots on the ground... at least that we know about.
Bush, on the other hand, put 200K US soldiers in harms way on a whim.
I seriously doubt that Obama will ever initiate a ground war anywhere on the planet.

Oh... and due to the 'all volunteer' army, it is much easier now to wage a 'presidential' war than it ever has been.
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (11) Jul 03, 2013
That the US is at war with us doesn't necessarily mean we're at war with them.

That's been the US and EU response to the war Islamists have declared upon the west.
Maybe the Islamists will spare Germany as they admired and were supported by the Third Reich.
VendicarE
3.9 / 5 (8) Jul 03, 2013
"That's been the US and EU response to the war Islamists have declared upon the west." - RyggTard

You Conservative Morons should have thought about that before you started attacking the region and supporting brutal, murderous dictators.

You deserve to burn.

VendicarE
4 / 5 (9) Jul 03, 2013
"It was the 'progressives' that launched the US into world affairs by instigating the Spanish American War, and then WWI." - RyggTard

I had no idea that American Liberals started WW1.

Tell us more about the history of your fantasy planet, TardieBoy.
geokstr
1.4 / 5 (10) Jul 04, 2013
"All you socialists should be quite pleased with the way the US is acting just like a socialist tyranny"

Funny thing that - it was a socialist reporter - reporting through socialist newspaper that broke the story. It is a socialist wikileaks that is continuing to release the documents. I am outraged at the programs - seem the Republicans are pretty supportive - and want to hang Snowden.


Funny thing that - where are the heroic "socialist reporters" and "socialist newspapers" blowing whistles and leaking secrets from really dangerous, closed totalitarian socialist societies, like Russia, Cuba, China, Venezuela, North Korea, et al? Oh, that's right, they agree with gulags for those who defy the Collective. Vendicar has even eagerly volunteered, many many times,l to pull the lever on the gas ovens and the guillotines, right here on this site.

kochevnik
3.5 / 5 (8) Jul 04, 2013
Geokstr your retardation is at a personal best today. Quite fitting given your Independence Day is nothing but a hoax as you continue proudly marching bravely toward 100% indebtedness to the Bank of England. Too bad you don't have access to those sweet 0% interest loans which are sucking your economy dry with deflation like a spider sucks the juice out of insects
Neinsense99
3.5 / 5 (8) Jul 07, 2013
Let's have fewer Americans interfering in science affairs.
Neinsense99
3.8 / 5 (10) Jul 07, 2013
Geokstr your retardation is at a personal best today. Quite fitting given your Independence Day is nothing but a hoax as you continue proudly marching bravely toward 100% indebtedness to the Bank of England. Too bad you don't have access to those sweet 0% interest loans which are sucking your economy dry with deflation like a spider sucks the juice out of insects

The Fourth of July, America's national day for wondering why everyone isn't an American.
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 07, 2013
"Russia, Cuba, China, Venezuela, North Korea," - geoksTard

Contrary to your claim, none of those countries are closed.

Cuba in particular is a fantastic tourist destination. But not for Americans who are barred from going there.

Such remarkable freedoms you Americans have. Bahahahahahahahah.....

As for Gulag's. No nation surpasses America in the number of it's citizens it has in it's American Gulag. 3.5 million approx.

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (5) Jul 07, 2013
where are the heroic "socialist reporters" and "socialist newspapers" blowing whistles and leaking secrets from really dangerous, closed totalitarian socialist societies, like Russia, Cuba, China, Venezuela, North Korea, et al?


Dead.

"Michael Hastings was working on a story about the CIA prior to his death, according to LA Weekly. "That Hastings had the Central Intelligence Agency in his sights is no surprise to those who knew his work," writes Dennis Romero, adding that "the shadowy world of intelligence and off-the-record American aggression was a favorite topic of the journalist."

The story gets even more suspicious. Hastings apparently contacted Wikileaks a few hours before his death."
http://www.infowa...-policy/
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 07, 2013
That's right RyggTard. It's all a Gubderment Conspiracy.
Moebius
3 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2013
But why should we mind our own business? Everyone loves the US so much for what we do to them (and to us).
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2013
Technically we're all at war with the US. It's sort of freaky.
Yes its true. I think the US should let europe sink under the weight of refugees, and watch as it devolves into an islamist state.
http://www.ynetne...,00.html

-This is what happens when one chooses to turn ones back on reality. Kind of like

"In 1937 Stanley Baldwin resigned as Prime Minister and Neville Chamberlain took over. Chamberlain pursued a policy of appeasement and rearmament. Chamberlain's reputation for appeasement rests in large measure on his negotiations with Hitler over Czechoslovakia"

-And we all know what followed. But does this remind us of a time when US isolationism was at its peak? It only took an event of sufficient magnitude to completely change the public sentiment overnight.
http://www.youtub...5l788bgs

This is what it takes to get people to do the right thing. What will it take this time? A nuke in Baltimore? Another Dresden firestorm?
VendicarE
3 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2013
A little note on RyggTard's latest source of Republican Faux news concerning Obama.

Public records and court filings reveal that he has a 27-year criminal record, with a specialty in crimes involving deceit. The record includes forgery charges in two states, one of which drew Sinclair a 16-year jail sentence. The Pueblo County, Colo., Sheriff's Office also has an outstanding warrant for Sinclair's arrest for forging an acquaintance's signature and stealing her tax refunds.

So we have RyggTard - a congenital liar, using another Congenital liar as a reference to slander his own president.

That is what Republicans do. That is what Republicans are.

Republicans are deceit.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2013
It's quite similar to what happened in ancient Rome, actually
America is doing fine. In europe however

"Mass unemployment is reaching levels seen only during the Great Depression, affecting a majority of youth in Greece and Spain...

"The hemorrhaging of jobs is an irrefutable indication that the hundreds of billions of euros spent on bank bailouts and social cuts in Greece, Spain, France, and other European countries have not gone to fix the economy. Rather, they have helped the European financial aristocracy preserve their wealth by looting..."

-Somebody is again fiddling while your continent burns.

"The main fear driving the ruling class is that of rising anger and opposition in the working class. On Monday, European Commission President José Barroso warned that austerity policies had reached "the limit of political and social acceptance."

-Eerily similar to sentiment in petrograd circa 1917 yes?