In his 2004 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry declared that, “We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America.” More depressing than the delivery of this avowedly isolationist line itself was the applause it received. The expression of such sentiment marked a low point in the history of the Democratic Party, whose leaders defeated Nazism, fought communist attempts to subvert democracy around the world, and generally stood for the spread of liberty abroad.
If the Democrats learned a lesson from their last presidential election defeat, however, it’s that they were not isolationist enough. In a little noticed remark earlier last month, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama expressed exactly the same sentiment as Kerry four years ago, using almost exactly the same language. Outlining his economic agenda in a speech at Raleigh, North Carolina, Obama stated that “Instead of spending $12 billion a month to rebuild Iraq, I think it's time we invested in our roads and schools and bridges and started to rebuild America.”
It would have been one thing had Obama assailed the cost of maintaining America’s military presence in Iraq. After all, he has hardly made a secret of his opposition to the war, and has criticized nearly every aspect of its execution up to and including the successful surge in forces and counterinsurgency plan executed so masterfully by General David Petraeus. But Obama’s slight last month was not directed at the cost of stationing over 100,000 armed men in Iraq – an iteration of his oft-repeated line that there is “no military solution” to the conflict there – but specifically at reconstruction aid. That’s the money that goes to building schools, health clinics, government ministries and the like. In other words, Obama believes we should stop constructing the edifices (literal and figurative) of the sort of liberal society that was impossible under the reign of Saddam Hussein. Criticizing the continuation of an effort that he believes never should have started would at least have had the virtue of being vaguely principled, as opposed to a crude expression of isolationism.
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