Ted Gover

GOP isolationism is damaging American credibility

Has the Republican Party’s isolationism caused US allies to doubt Washington’s commitment to safeguarding the global order that it put in place after World War II?

Have former President Trump’s comments about not protecting certain NATO member states and have Congressional Republicans’ delay in approving Ukraine aid damaged trust in America’s willingness to defend liberty and democracy?

Increasingly, the evidence points to “yes” on all counts.

Ukraine’s efforts to protect itself as an independent, democratic nation are suffering setbacks due to a lack of ammunition from the US. This stems from former president Trump pressuring Republican lawmakers to oppose legislation that combines immigration reform laws and aid for Ukraine and Israel.

According to Mr. Trump, the proposed law lacks the necessary mechanisms to tighten security on the US southern border.

While the need to address the humanitarian and security crises at the border is real and urgent, America’s allies are wondering if entrusting their security to Uncle Sam is wise amid this ongoing political dysfunction in Washington.

All this while Mr. Trump and his supporters in Congress argue that US foreign aid should be restructured as loans, protecting Ukraine is not in America’s interests, and that NATO protection should only be afforded to those member states who pay 2% of their GDP on defense.

Perhaps former President Trump’s comments on NATO protection were just a negotiating tactic to get European countries to spend more on their own defense. Yet, how far does this reasoning go and what does Mr. Trump believe America’s role is on the world stage in 2024?

Hopefully voters will learn more soon, as some reporting suggests the former president is open to withdrawing the US from world history’s most successful military alliance (NATO) as well as removing American troops from South Korea and Japan if they do not contribute more to the costs of stationing troops in their countries.

In some ways, Mr. Trump’s stances are nothing new for his party. The GOP has long had an isolationist wing that opposed foreign entanglements. As Hitler and Imperial Japan became stronger in the years leading to World War II, many Republicans voted for the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s and opposed the Lend-Lease Act that sent vital aid to allied nations.

Just as abandoning world commitments in the years leading up to World War II did not work (i.e., the attack on Pearl Harbor), the GOP’s latest game of footsie with isolationism is also dangerous and ill-suited for our time amid a deteriorating security environment on the world stage.

Understandably, there is frustration in the American electorate about two decades of wars in the Middle East that resulted in disappointing outcomes. The Biden administration’s incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan left many veterans and families of the Fallen believe that their valor was squandered, and many former service members tragically continue to receive inadequate medical care and counseling.

While many mistakes were made in US foreign policy since the 9-11 attacks, it does not change the nature of actors on the world stage who continue to threaten American interests. Simply abandoning Washington’s important role of providing deterrence and keeping a lid on things in strategic areas of the world is a recipe for dragging the US into future costly wars.

There will be consequences for the security of America and its partners if this latest chapter of isolationism is left unchecked.

Republican critics of the current $60 billion Ukraine aid bill before Congress assert that such a package would deplete American weapons stockpiles and that US assistance should not be rendered in the absence of a strategy. Yet, most of the money appropriated by Congress to arm Ukraine are used in the US to build new weapons for American use – creating US jobs in the process – while the older existing supplies are sent to Kyiv.

Concerning strategy for Ukraine, it is a multiyear commitment to provide Kyiv with the weapons (not American troops) that it needs to survive as a free country, defend the territory it currently holds and mount a counteroffensive to regain lost land over time.

This will require giving Kyiv replenished missile and air defense systems in addition to F-16 fighter aircraft. Ukraine also needs longer-range weapons such as the US Army’s Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to target Russian supply lines and forces in eastern Ukraine, western Russia and Crimea.

Efforts also need to be made to increase Ukrainian domestic defense production and to admit Kyiv to the European Union.

After a cessation of hostilities, Ukraine should be brought into the NATO alliance or enter into security agreements with the US, Poland, France and the United Kingdom.

Put short, abandoning Ukraine and not living up to NATO commitments would communicate to Moscow that Europe is not in America’s interest to protect. Similar conclusions would be drawn by Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang concerning Taiwan, Israel and South Korea, respectively.

As the world’s threat environment changes, Washington must rebuild its industrial base and increase its military size and capabilities. This needs to include a long-term commitment to allocating larger annual military budgets north of US $1 trillion and expanding the US Navy and US Air Force.

Other needed measures include improving hypersonic missile capabilities and missile defense systems as well as modernizing America’s nuclear weapons program.

Until the US Navy is rebuilt, an interim approach of producing and basing long-range precision weapons at selection locations in Europe, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific will be necessary to reconstruct American deterrence.

Additionally, American involvement on the world stage is vital for securing the free flow of commerce on the seas and protecting the principle adopted by the world community following World War II: there shall be no changing of international borders by force.

Withdrawing from these commitments would contribute to an unravelling of the world’s security architecture and allow for larger states to swallow smaller states with impunity.

Isolationism would not have salvaged the southern half of the Korean Peninsula from the communist onslaught during the Korean War. Nor would it have brought victory in World War I, World War II or the Cold War, much less success with degrading Al Qaeda and ISIS in recent decades.

Furthermore, it strains credulity to think that isolationism would provide protection today against aggression coming from Putin, Xi, Khamenei and Kim.

Autocracy’s increasing challenges to democracy and freedom point to the pivotal time we are in – a moment that requires leadership which America is uniquely positioned to provide. The security of Ukraine, Taiwan, the US and other states will depend upon leaders in Washington renouncing isolationism, re-engaging the world and working ever closer with their allies and partners.

About the Author
Ted Gover, Ph.D. (Twitter: @TedGover) is Associate Clinical Professor and Director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University, a program focusing on Tribal law, management, economic development and intergovernmental relations. Over the years Ted has taught courses on politics for Central Texas College US Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and has served as an advisor to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its world-renowned Museum of Tolerance, helping to coordinate and support their initiatives in Asia. Additionally, Ted has worked on behalf of a number of Native American Tribes on issues ranging from Tribal sovereignty, economic diversification, healthcare and education, and he writes occasionally on American politics and foreign policy. Ted is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, Claremont Graduate University and Soka University in Tokyo.