Since the 2016 election there have been frequent op-eds and articles complaining about the isolationism that Trump is proposing as a future strategy for the US. Based on this premise, the articles explain how diminishing US involvement and funding of NATO would greatly reduce the standing of the US in the world. They add that the non-continuation of wars started by preceding presidents would jeopardize the spread of freedom and democracy in the world with catastrophic consequences. These arguments neglect to take into account the empirical results of these endless interventions, which repeatedly show no evidence of bringing freedom and democracy to any country. The results of decades of US involvement around the world have little to show for, most of the countries intervened suffer destruction, lawlessness and economic ills, while the capricious nature of these interventions causes blow back and decrease of trust in the US. In reality, isolationism is a code word used by the media and the Establishment to criticize politicians or media sources who reject endless wars. The choice we face is not between isolationism and its opposite, but between the current US and NATO aggressive foreign policy and a sensible one.
The US was considered isolationist until WWI, but since then it has caught up with a vengeance. By the end of the XIX century, the US had surpassed European countries like Britain and Germany in industrialization, but there were few opportunities for a US empire. The colonial landscape was solidly occupied by Europeans, mostly Britain and France. The only available option was Spain, whose empire was dwindling and its last colonies were eagerly demanding independence. This vulnerability made it possible for the US to get into the imperial fray by entering into the Spanish-American war in 1898. As a result, the US ended up owning Puerto Rico and Guam, having Cuba as a protectorate and buying the Philippines. In the mainstream historical record, the US did this to help the people become independent, though the people in the countries, especially in the Philippines had a different view. More Filipinos died during 15 years of US fighting to gain control of the country, than through 300 years of Spanish colonization.
The complaint about isolationism at the beginning of the 20th century came in part from Woodrow Wilson’s reluctance to enter WWI and his belief in the right to self-determination of the colonized people. The end of WWI positioned the US as a key player in the world arena and dislodged any isolationist concerns. World War II cemented the US as the World’s superpower and isolationism became an idea of the past. The end of WWII coincided with the beginning of NATO, which quickly became an interventionist tool for the US. When WWII was dwindling down, the American intelligence community, personified by Allen Dulles (later first head of CIA), arrived at the conclusion that Germany wasn’t the enemy of the future, it was the communist and non-religious Russia. The Germans were showing signs of defeat, and though Nazis, were capitalists and Christian. Italy was the decisive country, since the anti-fascist partisans who ousted Mussolini were pro-communist and the potential of a communist Italy put fear in Dulles. This is where the idea of NATO started, a union of countries that would defend Europe from Russia and its godless communism.
The first head of NATO was Lord Hastings Ismay and he served as head from 1952 to 1957. He defined its aim as: “The object of NATO is to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.” This has proven to be quite true except for the last part. NATO has repeatedly proven to be the American army in Europe, ready to pursue US interests around the globe. NATO was implemented at the same time as the Marshall Plan that helped European economies rebuild. The Marshall plan came with strings attached in the form of NATO, by which European countries became militarily tied to the interests of the US. NATO started in Paris, but in 1966 Charles de Gaulle removed France from NATO arguing too much US involvement, and the seat was moved to Brussels. France only came back as a full-fledged member of NATO in 2007 under president Nicolas Sarkozy. The Maastricht pact in 1992, one of the many during the creation of a united Europe, gave Europeans hope about creating their own NATO, detached from the US and its interests. Unfortunately, they did not manage to exercise their sovereignty and NATO continued as usual.
Some of the first actions of NATO were taken in order to defend European interests in the African colonies and discourage full independence and true democracy. Around 1 million Africans participated in WWII fighting for the Allies. During their service, their leaders imparted on them the values of democracy and human rights, which made Africans wonder about the extension of these rights to them and prompted demands for independence. Europe didn’t want to lose their colonies and the US wanted to prop up Europe economically, so African freedom and right to sovereignty were sacrificed. NATO and the cold war excuse became useful to misidentify true independence struggles in Africa as non-existent cold war issues.
In order to gauge the reality of the beginning of the cold war, it is useful to remember the difference in outcomes for the Allies after WWII. Russia had their economy in shambles, much infrastructure was lost and about 30 million people died, more than any other country in the war. In contrast, the US didn’t lose any infrastructure or civilians and lost about 400,000 soldiers, compared to about 8 million soldiers in Russia. The US came out triumphant with a booming economy and Europe, though destroyed and in economic darkness, received aid from the US through the Marshall plan. This difference in economic situations helps to see how the framing of African independence conflicts on pure cold war terms was very misleading. The cold war excuse was perfect to disguise the West’s continued interest in the exploitation of the continent’s resources. From Congo, to Algeria, Egypt, Rhodesia, Namibia, Angola, the cold war rhetoric was used to justify Western meddling, quite often using NATO military power to destroy the hopes for independence. The Soviets sometimes gave support to pro-independence rebels, but it never reached the level of the US. Most importantly, though the Soviets were keen on having allies in Africa, they were on the side of pro-independence movements. Most African leaders were interested in true sovereignty that would allow their governments to improve the lives of their people and play a fair role in the world. The last thing African leaders wanted was having to align themselves with either side of the cold war.
While Western Europe was co-opted by NATO, the Russians were kept out as Lord Ismay’s objectives predicted. This prompted the Russians to create the Warsaw Pact, a type of NATO within their area of influence. When the Berlin wall fell and the Soviet Union was dismantled, the Russians accepted to dissolve their Warsaw pact, considering it unnecessary in view of their economic transition from Communism to Capitalism. They expected for NATO to dissolve in a quid pro quo, but instead, the opposite happened. To make matters worse, the US had promised in a gentleman’s agreement with Gorbachev not to extend NATO to the former Soviet republics, in exchange for Russia’s acceptance of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To Russia’s amazement, the US broke its word and NATO began an aggressive campaign of expansion accepting one former Soviet Republic after the other one, surrounding Russia completely. This behavior was a betrayal of the supposed purpose of NATO and instead revealed its real purpose, to keep the US and the Western world in charge of the world and its resources.
After the African independence wave ended and the Soviet Union was dissolved, the cold war excuse became obsolete and it was changed to terrorism and the defense of human rights. NATO suddenly became the champion of causes that had even less to do with its original mandate. NATO became the military force for resource wars and regime change in countries whose leaders wanted to exercise their sovereignty by refusing pipelines or deciding to create a currency that might be detrimental to the US dollar. The first country used for this new NATO purpose was Yugoslavia. NATO bombed mercilessly Bosnia and Kosovo, arguing human rights abuses, while in reality, it was all about increasing US power in the region through balkanization of a vulnerable country. After Yugoslavia, many countries suffered similar fates, a stream of failures that were vaunted by the media to create approval, while accountability was discouraged. One of the worst examples was the NATO bombing of a well-functioning and secular country like Libya. The excuses for this intervention were false accusations of human rights abuses and support for terrorism, while the real aim was regime change to suit US interests. As the bombing of Libya went on, some NATO members like Germany noticed the lack of logic in the military operations and rightly decided to stop their participation. Germany was right, as the latest news from Libya attest: the supposed liberation of the country left it destroyed, with a non-functional economy, led by Islamic fundamentalists and with an increasing slavery problem.
The current perception of an America lagging in interventionism and embarking on a downward spiral of isolationism is used by the DC Establishment to promote eternal war that benefits only defense contractors, their lobbyists and their bought politicians. The example of Libya, in which a secular country with full rights for women was turned by NATO’s bombing into an Islamist country, shows how the supposed lofty ideals of these interventions are a fantasy. How can the National Interest of the US be helped by installing an Islamic Fundamentalist government in a former secular country? If all the successive wars of the US and NATO, that have resulted in the destruction of so many countries aren’t enough intervention in the world, what can non-isolationism mean? Isn’t it enough for Bill Clinton to have intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo, for George W. Bush to have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan, for Obama to have extended the destruction to Ukraine, Libya, Syria and Yemen and for Trump to continue the same wars with a few modifications, for the US not to be called isolationist? Should the US continue to fund NATO, once it becomes evident that it is not a defensive force, but an aggressive one that helps to push the US Establishment agenda in the world?
The misuses of the cold war and terrorism as excuses for NATO’s existence and eternal war, have allowed for the American and European public’s complicity in many injustices and destruction of countries. If isolationism means preventing such useless wars, what is wrong with it? Why should the media decry it, by making people believe NATO and US wars have led to good results, when in reality, they have caused immense unnecessary suffering? Just because the media doesn’t talk about it, it doesn’t mean that the collateral damage these wars produce isn’t happening and is not creating adverse effects for the world order. As long as the Military Industrial Complex and the Establishment that includes corporations, Wall Street and Silicon Valley continue their eternal wars lured by the promises of astronomical profits, the US will find itself as an obsolete empire bypassed by others. We have allowed corporations to hijack our democracy and have forgotten that a democracy works only if there is accountability. Unless Americans and Europeans notice the reality of NATO and US foreign policy as detrimental agents in the world, and they vote out Establishment politicians, the world will not know peace.