Republicans Isolationist, Insulationist Power-Projectors?

Chuck Hagel was on “Face the Nation” yesterday and left open the option of an independent big for the White House, perhaps sharing a ticket with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He’s been flirting with that possibility for a while, and is a perfect match for the Unity08 concept, so it’s not that newsworthy (despite substantial blogger commentary for a Sunday).

This, however, stood out:

“I am not happy with the Republican Party today,” Hagel said. “It’s been hijacked by a group of single-minded almost isolationists, insulationists, power-projectors.”

Now, I’m not particularly happy with the Republican Party these days, either. And, with notable exceptions like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani, and Bloomberg, one could reasonably argue that it is single-minded in a lot of ways. It is not, however, definitionally possible for it to be simultaneously isolationist and power-projecting.

Aside from the virtually non-existent Pat Buchanan wing, which seems to have no sway over our foreign affairs, there isn’t much isolationism in the modern Republican Party. Indeed, the strongest advocates for pulling inward on matters of trade and military policy are Democrats. None of the plausible presidential candidates of either party, though, fit the isolationist mold.

Regardless, isolationism and a belief in power projection are diametrically opposite. Isolationists believe in staying to ourselves rather than interjecting ourselves in matters abroad that aren’t an immediate and direct threat to our national security. Power projectionists believe that, as the Lone Remaining Superpower, little that happens in the world is outside our concern and that a proactive approach is more desirable than a reactionary one.

I’m not sure what an “insulationist” is, exactly, since it’s not a term of art. Perhaps it’s just another word for “isolationist” and a redundancy used for purposes of alliteration. Or maybe he’s talking about the radical closed border types. If the latter, it’s only true among the voting base, not among the serious candidates.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    There does seem to be some terminological drift with “isolationist,” where people have started to use it to mean unilateralist. To me “unilateralist” is a perfectly good word to describe a unilateralist, but the Sensible CenterTM did such a good job of turning “isolationist” into a scare word that people naturally want to put it to use.

    Point being, I’ve seen people other than Hagel slip this usage into the discourse, and it’s how you get “isolationist . . . power projectors.” I prefer the original meaning of “someone reluctant to travel a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense.”

  2. Matthew J. Stinson says:

    Mr. Henley’s reaction is precisely what I would’ve written, though I suspect we have different normative judgments about isolationism. Isolationism, in Hagel’s usage, probably means disliking the liberal international establishment (i.e. the UN, treaty organizations, and the like). Setting aside this high-minded talk, my gut reaction to that quote is a simple question: why is Hagel still a Republican anyway?

  3. legion says:

    Well, when a country acts unilaterally for long enough, on subjects divisive to the international community, and in diametric opposition to the opinions & interests of most other countries, it tends to result in isolation… which is kind of a longer-winded way of saying

    Regardless, isolationism and a belief in power projection are diametrically opposite.


  4. spacemonkey says:

    Maybe he means we should not be trying to avoid fighting the war on terror here on American soil.

    And maybe we ARE trying to isolate ourselves as citizens from honor killings, beheadings, etc. But that’s not wrong.

  5. laura says:

    I don’t know what he meant by “power-seeking”. I think the R party is, to the point of obsession, “power seeking”, if the term is understood to mean the acquisition of domestic political power. Rove, Delay, the majority of R operatives in Congress or in the hierarchy of the party have no ideas beyond spin, manipulation, and criminal action for the purpose of making themselves and their patrons more powerful. Foreign policy was just one more way to make themselves look good on TV. Appeals to religious fanatics were just to milk them for the votes. The politicization of the government agencies, particularly the prosecutors ( so they could be tools for manipulating state level elections), was just to get more power. The imperial Presidency was just to get more power.
    So if that’s what he meant, then he’s right.

  6. James Joyner says:

    I don’t know what he meant by “power-seeking”

    He said “power projection,” which is a fairly well understood term of art.

  7. David Nick says:

    Perhaps we can sum this all up by saying:

    Chuck Hagel who?

    Seriously, even if he runs on an independant ticket, he won’t win the Presidential bid/nomination.

    Bloomberg or not it’s just not something Americans will swallow and cheer for.

    ….James, it’s almost eerie how many programs you and I catch to write about.

    I don’t have to make posts about it, just come over and comment LOL

    Good work.

  8. James Joyner says:

    I don’t have to make posts about it, just come over and comment LOL

    We at OTB try to provide a full-service blog.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    I prefer the original meaning of “someone reluctant to travel a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense.”

    The last seven years have done an awful lot to make me an isolationist in the original sense.