Originally submitted to Political Science 308, April 19, 2000
In his book, The Imperative of American Leadership, Joshua Muravchik discusses the phenomenon of Neo-Isolationism. Muravchik argues against what he identifies as the tendency of the United States to shy away from taking a strong leadership role. Muravchik cites the example in Yugoslavia as a case study of how neither Europe nor the United States was able to exert strong leadership in a time of crisis. His conclusion is a unilateral leadership role that the United States should assume.
I found reading Joshua Muravchik to be an interesting experience. One thought that frequently reoccurred to me as I was reading his book was: “how could a man who knows so much be so stupid?” Muravchik continually amazed me with his logical gaps and his outrageous statements. My personal favorite was: “We entered World War II late and won it. We entered the cold war late and won it” (208). This not only ignores the fact that the Soviet Union was largely responsible for turning Germany back, but also leaves any intelligent reader wonder how the cold war could exist before the United States entered it.
In order to refute all of Muravchik’s logical shortcomings would require almost a page by page analysis. I have decided instead to focus on three general assumptions he bases his book on. These are what I primarily objected to.
To begin with, I consider myself a Christian pacifist. I do not believe that military invention is an acceptable Christian alternative in any situation. I realize that this is not mainstream political thought, and I do not expect Muravchik to agree with me. What I resent is the way he ignored the distinction between pacifism and isolationism. Muravchik was all too eager to lump pacifists in the same category as Pat Buchanan.
Like Muravchik, I believe America has a responsibility to help the rest of the world. Like Muravchik, I believe that all life is sacred, not just that of American citizens. However, I do not believe that dropping bombs and sending troops will solve anything. It is unfair of Muravchik to then assume I am an isolationist and care nothing about the rest of the world. Muravchik does not even address the pacifist alternative.
There is a second problem I have with Muravchik. At one point in the book, he uses an analogy of global politics as the hawks preying on the weaker birds. Muravchik asserts that the American leadership is needed to stop the hawks. This is his assumption throughout the book, but Muravchik gives no thought to the idea that the United States might well be the hawk.
Muravchik cites the example in Iraq as an example of positive United States foreign policy. Not mentioned is the devastation that the Gulf War and the following economic sanctions have caused the Iraqi people. Muravchik does not even consider this. (Although perhaps the fact that this book was written four years ago does excuse Muravchik somewhat. The debate on the Iraqi sanctions has increased in recent years.)
Worse, Muravchik cites Reagan’s policy in Nicaragua as another positive example. Personally I believe what Reagan did to Nicaragua was unforgivable. Again, I realize this is still a matter of debate, and I do not expect Muravchik to agree with me. However, Muravchik treats Nicaragua as if there were no debate. In doing this, Muravchik loses much of his credibility and shows what a narrow perspective he has on world events. (I can not resist mentioning here that last semester I read another Muravchik book: Media Coverage of the Sandinista Revolution. I found this book narrow-minded as well).
More telling is the samples Muravchik does not bring up. Perhaps if Muravchik wanted to see a good example of American foreign policy, he should look at Guatemala in the 1950s, or Argentina in the early 1970s. He should take a closer look at El Salvador during the 1980s, as well as current United States funding to Colombian military. Of course, Muravchik should not forget the School of the Americas. Finally Muravchik should consider the current exploitation of third world countries by American corporations. Then perhaps Muravchik would agree with me that America is not the white knight protecting the world from hawks, but the hawk from whom the rest of the world needs protection. The United States has proven repeatedly that it is not the kind of leader the world wants.
And then there is Muravchik’s discussion on world trade. As with the Iraq example, Muravchik should be given some slack for having written the book in 1996, before the debates about the World Trade Organization were forced into the public eye. However, Muravchik again bases his argument off of assumptions that are not universally shared.
At a recent IMF protest I saw a sing that said, “Hey Bankers, your profits are being made with the bodies of third world women.” Although this sign is an obvious oversimplification of the problems surrounding globalization, it brings up a point completely absent from Muravchik’s discussion. Muravchik says that “The less-developed countries do not want to slow their ascent from poverty for the sake of the environment. Who are we to stand in their way?” (203). Not only does this quote ignore the fact that the welfare of third world people is frequently closely connected to their environment, it makes the assumption that the wealth of the third world elites will benefit the mass of the third world. In fact one could make the argument (as thousands of Americans did in Seattle) that the policies of the World Trade Organization is harmful to the great majority of third world workers. Perhaps America should use its influence to secure the rights of the third world people instead of just focusing on opening up their markets.
Although Muravchik has plenty of data at his disposal in the writing of this book, it is obvious he is looking only at a narrow set of data and examples. Muravchik sees the world through patriotic lenses, but he does not realize the world neither wants nor needs American leadership. Hopefully others will find his ideas as ridiculous as I do.
On Outsourcing Jobs: This is a mixed bag—outsourcing has given millions of jobs to people in the 3rd world…Poor ones by our standards, but good by theirs. Of course improvements can and should be made…I think the WTO can be a plus in this regard.
On the world desiring American leadership: The world is a complex place—some parts want and have benefited from American involvement…including Bosnian Muslims and others throughout Eastern Europe. So your statement needs qualification.
On the WTO: Complicated Issue—but I tend to disagree from what I know. The WTO hasn’t been around long enough to make any conclusive judgements.
Final Comments: I think we are a leader in some ways whether we like it or not. WE are too big not to have a big impact on other states in the world. I think the world does need the right kind of U.S. leadership—The UN and other multilateral approaches requires active positive U.S. involvement (leadership) if they are to be effective.
The question is what kind of leadership we will give. On this question you rightly make some telling comments.
A well argued and written paper (critique). Some points could use qualification.