imageThe word isolationist is a pejorative term used to ridicule advocates of U.S. nonintervention in foreign affairs, intimidate their supporters, and stifle debate over U.S. foreign policy.

Throughout the twentieth century, opponents of U.S. intervention in foreign wars were smeared as isolationists.

Conservative and Republican opponents of Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, although they may argue and fight among themselves, are all agreed on one thing: Ron Paul is an isolationist and espouses a dangerous foreign policy of isolationism.

Actor and conservative activist Chuck Norris insists that “Texas Representative Ron Paul’s bent toward being an isolationist who wants to bring home every one of our 572,000 troops abroad makes the anti-terror, pro-military hairs on the back of my neck stand.”

Speaking in South Carolina just before Christmas, Newt Gingrich “sharply criticized Mr. Paul for what he said were his isolationist views on foreign policy.”

While stumping in Iowa the week before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum “urged Republicans to carefully study Mr. Paul’s isolationist foreign policy views.”

Tune in to the leading conservative talk-show hosts or read the comments posted by their followers on right-wing websites and you will hear and see Ron Paul regularly described as an isolationist.

Okay, so what would an isolationist America look like? What if the United States really retreated from the world stage, avoided engagement with the rest of the world, and actually did isolate itself from every other country?

Under a real foreign policy of isolationism, the United States would refuse to participate in the Olympics, refuse to make treaties, refuse to issue visas, refuse to allow foreign goods to be imported, refuse to allow U.S. goods to be exported, refuse to allow foreign students to study at American universities, refuse to allow American students to study at foreign universities, refuse to allow foreign investment, refuse to extradite criminals, refuse to exchange diplomats, refuse to allow cultural exchanges, refuse to participate in disaster-relief efforts, refuse to allow travel abroad, refuse to engage in diplomacy, refuse to deliver mail to or receive mail from foreign countries, refuse to allow emigration, and refuse to allow immigration.

Under a real policy of isolationism, living in the United States would be about as bad as living in East Germany, North Korea, or Myanmar.

Is that the kind of America that Ron Paul envisions?

The last time Ron Paul ran for president, he made it perfectly clear that he espoused anything but isolationism:

Under a Paul administration, the United States would trade freely with any nation that seeks to engage with us. American citizens would be encouraged to visit other countries and interact with other peoples rather than be told by their own government that certain countries are off-limits to them.

American citizens would be free to spend their hard-earned money wherever they wish across the globe, not told that certain countries are under embargo and thus off limits. An American trade policy would encourage private American businesses to seek partners overseas and engage them in trade.

A Paul administration would see Americans engaged overseas like never before, in business and cultural activities.

No one has ever accused Dr. Paul of changing his position.

Why, then, is Ron Paul accused of being an isolationist? When his critics hurl this epithet at him, they know full well that he is not an isolationist at all. Here is Rick Santorum on Ron Paul’s “dangerous” foreign policy: “One thing he can do as commander in chief is he can pull all our troops home. He can shut down our bases in Germany. He can shut down the bases in Japan. He can pull our fleets back.” According to Santorum and his fellow conservative and Republican warmongers Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, and the Weekly Standard, Ron Paul is an isolationist, not because he wants America to be isolated from the rest of the world, but because he wants to terminate the empire, stop fighting foreign wars, close the foreign military bases, cut the bloated military budget, end foreign aid, halt all offense spending, bring all the troops home, limit the military to the actual defense of the United States, and stop being the policeman of the world.

The foreign policy of Ron Paul is a foreign policy of noninterventionism. In a speech on the House floor several months before the United States invaded Iraq, Paul made his case for a noninterventionist foreign policy of peace, prosperity, and liberty:

A proper foreign policy of nonintervention is built on friendship with other nations, free trade, and open travel, maximizing the exchanges of goods and services and ideas.

We should avoid entangling alliances and stop meddling in the internal affairs of other nations — no matter how many special interests demand otherwise. The entangling alliances that we should avoid include the complex alliances in the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO.

The basic moral principle underpinning a noninterventionist foreign policy is that of rejecting the initiation of force against others. It is based on nonviolence and friendship unless attacked, self-determination, and self-defense while avoiding confrontation, even when we disagree with the way other countries run their affairs. It simply means that we should mind our own business and not be influenced by special interests that have an ax to grind or benefits to gain by controlling our foreign policy. Manipulating our country into conflicts that are none of our business and unrelated to national security provides no benefits to us, while exposing us to great risks financially and militarily.

Ron Paul is merely echoing the foreign policy of Thomas Jefferson, who said,

No one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another.

We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country, nor with the general affairs of Europe.

I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment.

Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.

A noninterventionist foreign policy is a policy of peace, commerce, travel, cultural exchange, diplomacy, neutrality, and free trade.

A noninterventionist foreign policy means no preemptive strikes, invasions, occupations, bombings, threats, sanctions, embargoes, foreign aid, assassinations, imperialism, meddling, bullying, regime changes, nation building, entangling alliances, spreading democracy, NATO-like commitments, peacekeeping operations, forcibly opening markets, policing the world, and no foreign military bases.

It is a sad day for America and Americans when not supporting an aggressive, belligerent, interventionist, and meddling foreign policy means that you are an isolationist.

Is Ron Paul isolationist?

Is France isolationist because its navy doesn’t patrol our coasts? Is Canada isolationist because it doesn’t have military bases below the 49th parallel? Is Germany isolationist because it doesn’t have tens of thousands of troops stationed in the United States? Is Brazil isolationist because it doesn’t kill Americans with drone strikes? Is Russia isolationist because it doesn’t build military bases in scores of countries? Is Moldova isolationist because it doesn’t send its soldiers to fight foreign wars? Was Ronald Reagan an isolationist because he pulled U.S. troops out of Lebanon?

Noninterventionism is not isolationism. It is practical, sane, moral, just, and right. It is the foreign policy of the Founding Fathers — and Ron Paul.

Originally published at The Future of Freedom Foundation on January 17, 2012.

  • Anonymous

    fantastic article. Thank you for taking the time to write this and explaining Ron Paul’s foreign policy in such great detail (and with such great support). 

    An article was just posted this morning at the Heritage Foundation’s blog about Ron Paul’s “isolationism” and they completely miss the distinction between isolationism and non-interventionism.

  • Unfortunately, it seems the love of all things military and the projection of military power around the globe to establish the “American Century” is deeply entrenched in the church.  It is a sad fact that we who advocate peace in the name of the Prince of Peace are ridiculed as being unrealistic and/or unpatriotic — or worse.

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  • A Kazen

    Great article. I’m so sick of people saying Paul is an isolationist without even understanding what that means. I love the analogy at the beginning, too :) 

  • Whether you call it isolationist or non-interventionist, those are playing games with semantics. The reality is that being isolationist/non-interventionist in today’s global world is naive and potentially dangerous. You attempt to compare Paul’s positions to those of Thomas Jefferson, but in Jefferson’s time it took weeks to get to Europe compared to hours today. In Jefferson’s day, a letter or news between US and Europe similarly took weeks. Now, it is instanteous. In Jefferson’s time our economy was not nearly as dependent on resources from locations around the globe. Today key aspects of most corporations’ supply chains lie in numerous countries around the world.

    In an ideal world, I would agree with Ron Paul’s position but this is not an ideal world. Not all the governments and leaders in areas critical to our domestic interests are as upstanding and ethical as is the United States. No, we should not randomly invade countries but we don’t do that. But when dictators like Achmanejidad

  • I understand your point, but it seems to me that you are justifying aggression or the threat of aggression to secure one’s own personal interests.  I do not see how that view is reconcilable with NT Christianity.

  • That is a valid question, but again I am not referring to unprovoked aggression.  I do not want to see the US arbitrarily decide to invade another country.  And we have not really done that.  And it is not so much about “personal interests.”  National interests can impact the lives of people through the country in non-trivial ways.  Furthermore, if we see attacks on the fundamental freedoms that do have an impact on our legitimate interests, is there never justification to intervene and stop wrong from being done?  So, yes, you pose a valid question, but wouldn’t we need to examine that on a case by case basis?  Consider the case of an aggressive Iran with a nuclear weapon?  Don’t we have a reasonable expectation that the Iranian government could very well use such a defensive in an aggressive, deadly and potentially highly destabilizing way?  Setting aside the economic interests in that region for a moment, how many lives could be saved or could be salvaged from significant despair by a proactive response to the existence of such a weapon?  

  • Your response raises several important issues.  First of all, I do not see how we as Christians can separate personal interests from national interests — there is no justification from scripture for us to act differently as a collective than we would as individuals.  This is why I have issues with folks calling the U.S. a “Christian nation” when in fact we behave, as a collective, in decidedly un-Christian fashion.  Secondly. the U.S. has a questionable record on acting ‘proactively’, as evidenced by our actions in Iraq, subsequent to which it was discovered that Iraq had no WMD, the presumed possession of which was the justification for invasion.  Likewise, it has never been conclusively established that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, therefore it cannot be predicted how many lives might be lost by Iranian actions.  What is certain, though, is that many lives will be lost if the U.S. takes preemptive action.  Third, even if Iran should come by a nuclear weapon, there is simply no way to be certain they would actually use it, regardless of any rhetoric on their part (to which it must be added that Ahmadinejad, who is a democratically elected leader and not a dictator as you maintain, is not the supreme commander of the Iranian armed forces and therefore has no authority to launch a nuclear strike).  Over all this, though, we as Christians should remember that while we do have orders from our Lord to take the gospel to all nations, we do not have any mandate to pick and choose whom we should preemptively strike.

    P.S. I really appreciate that we can disagree in a cordial manner.

  • Again, you raise valid point.  I would note we can disagree because we are disagreeing from essentially the same side of the fence.  I am a Christian conservative with some libertarian viewpoints.  It is hardly like disagreeing with a liberal who lives on a different planet from me! ;)

    You are right about not separating our faith view from our political views.  That is why I reject this idea that we hear that we should let religion in politics.  No, we should not legislate official religions or such, but our faith will influence where we stand on issues.  And your points touch on a touch battle.  I would note that with Iraq, I do think that there was suspicion that there were WMDs and I do not think – or I certainly would be very, very disillusioned otherwise – that that was a ruse for Dubya to pursue personal agendas against Saddam.  Obviously we were wrong about the WMDs (though I still wonder if they were disposed of prior to our arrival on the ground…I would not be shocked if Saddam did it just to make us look bad).  

    One question is how often can be 100% sure that we are right about, say, a nuclear weapon in Iran.  But should we wait for that proof to take the form of a mushroom cloud over Israel?  I admit, I struggle with whether there is justification for killing any innocent person who has done nothing wrong and happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Are we justified to consider what helps the largest number of people?  This is a struggle that comes up on many social policies in the government.  You will always find an anecdote how some possibly unwise government program helped three or four families, say with socialized medicine.  But is the long term risks to the well being of millions from an ill-advised program sufficient to offset the fact that those who have benefited would have not benefited otherwise?  I am not claiming I have the answer.

    As for the “I’m a Nut Job” (I cannot spell his name which is what got me into trouble in my original post when I went to look for a spelling!), he may be “elected” but are those the same type of fair elections that we have here, especially in a country where liberties that do not go along with many of their theological views are not protected?  Should we have supported the Arab Spring if that new government winds up being another Islamist state that could pose the same threats to human liberty as other similar countries?  We may have issues with the positions of some of our officials in the US, but even Obama does not legislate the overt persecution of any particular faith.  Neither do Christians truly call for a theocracy, despite the unsubstantiated claims to the contrary by the left.

  • Unlike the election farces in places like the old Soviet Union, Ahmadinejad is, in fact, a popularly-elected official.  He first won office in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009, each time with about 62% of the vote.  He faces significant opposition at home, so unlike the Kim Jong Un’s of the world, he does have to keep one eye on domestic affairs.  Not trying to defend the guy — just pointing out that he is not a dictator (with sweeping powers) in the classic sense.

  • Fair enough. He is not a classic dictator.  But would you agree that every indication is that he is a very dangerous leader?

  • Like I said, he’s not the supreme commander of their armed forces, so I don’t know how much real clout he has.  He talks a good game, but can he back it up?  Of course, the mullahs who do command the armed forces might be just as unpredictable, who knows?

  • I have shaped my opinion of Ron Paul on the writings I have already read of others and they are NOT the other campaigns.I will base my reply on one word here in this piece about the other candidates(at the time) and the use of the word “warmonger”. Warnonger to me without looking up a definition,used in this writer’s context,means the other candidates seek to either start war or freely attempt to begin one.This is complete BS and the facts of past wars( I will use ! and 2 World Wars) shows the U.S. would have been sorely missed if they had not entered those wars.Wilson and Roosevelt attempted what Paul wants and those Presidents realized that if an imperialist nation or axis of nations choose to usurp another country’s borders,are we just to idly stand by? This Christian Libertarianism is an oxymoron in itself.A true Christian will either go to help his freedom loving brothers or completely abstain from war altogether.Libertarian christian,what is that? A Christian who won’t aid his friends or un-Christian by aiding his enemies,which ,if we are not in the liberal utopian world,and this stance you speak of is a close second,then there is a real world with real agreements between friends against our enemies.(Israel being one).junk Israel and Great Britain and Canada so our “great” country can stand by idly and go to hell! Libertarianism never took hold when Larouche pushed it,what makes you think 76 year old Ron Paul w/o his young base who have experienced very little and fed ‘crap’ on TV and the colleges today think that RP would have any chance without them.None.Plus it sounds ,except fiscally that he stands socially close to the 60’s generation of which I grew up in,still a conservative to this day and I am not a warmonger,but a citizen who believes in helping our friends and not our enemies as Obama is doing.Now there are warmongers,the Palestinians.What would he do about Israel?Sit back and watch.That is the Christian thing to do? Some things are worth fighting for and a pocket full of money with our friends suffer in war is not what i think of America and from the polls not the only one.

  • Responses like this one go a long ways toward explaining why I’m no longer a registered Republican.  I’m half-tempted to rebut the numerous flaws in your diatribe, but judging by the content at your web site, I don’t think it would have much effect.  Sprinkling your post with coarse language doesn’t strengthen your arguments, either.

  • Dylan


    because he doesn’t come on your property and tell you how to raise your children, mow your lawn, or run your home security, or decide who you can let into your house, etc. etc.

  • That’s how people see him. We do have democratic country so that’s how they point him. Well, they should stop thinking about that way though. He’s gettin old anyway.