America First: Can Biden learn from Washington’s 20th century isolationism?

By Sazzad Haider


ACCORDING to Joe Biden, the US cannot and “should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war” as “Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.” 

But ever since the beginning of this century, the USA military has engaged in a never ending war against many Asian countries to carry out its ‘divine’ aspect for flourishing democracy.

But the imposed system has been rejected, even by the extreme admirers of democracy in the US-invaded totalitarian countries.

Washington’s divine intervention became aloof for the people in different countries such as Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan.

It also proved that the imposed democracy is not necessarily a better option than the totalitarian system.

Thus, it is worth re-evaluating US foreign policy by looking back to last century’s isolationism.

During the 1930s, the Great Depression and the tragedy of in World War I pushed American public opinion toward isolationism. Therefore, the USA government sought a policy of non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and strove for non-entanglement in international politics. 

Pearl Harbor shifted public opinion, however, and the USA broke up its growing isolation policy by engaging in World War 2 on the side of the Allies. 

During the World War, the US itself was left unscathed, and so was able to gradually gear up its global influence. 

After the end of the conflict, the US overstepped the global dominance of the old colonial countries of Europe to become a superpower. The eco-political structures of Europe were highly unstable and totally ruined. Although the Axis Powers lost the war, all the inhabitants of Europe were indiscriminately plunged into immense suffering in the post war era.

In these circumstances, the US Marshall Plan Aid made a partial contribution for economic recovery and political integrity of the Western Europe.

Besides, the move was clearly intended to strengthen the US economy and consolidated the US’ role as a greatest global player. 

Investment in the Europe mitigated the fear of conflict on the continent. It also marked the United States’ turned away from its traditional isolationism and earned it (unofficially) the leadership of the free world. 

The defeated Japan and Germany welcomed their military presence as protection from Soviet retaliation and as a saviour of capitalism. 

The upshot of the USA global role following the world war contributed to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), countering the global expansion of communism.  

But interventions were rebuffed in Vietnam, Korea and other Asian countries. Ignoring the people’s psychology, the USA engaged in long-term fatiguing war in Asia. 

Instead of putting the USSR on the back foot, involvement in Korean war failed to stop the creation of North Korea, whereas the Vietnam War consolidated the communist regime.  

In the beginning of twenty-first century in 2001, Bush’s Operation Enduring Freedom launched to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and wash out Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.  

Two years later, the USA President George W. Bush switched on another Gulf War “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.”

The regime change mission in Iraq was without approval of the UN and some of its NATO allies including France and Germany. 

The people of these countries set aside the American promise of democracy – instead, US troops became an occupational force. 

During the Arab Spring, the White House extended all-out support to the democratic movements in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Tunisia.

It was an opportunity to overcome long term foes in Syrian president Assad and Libyan leader Gaddafi. To do this, the USA lead NATO willingly launched air-strikes on those countries to up roots the totalitarian regimes.

After the end of Arab spring, however the world people witnessed the series of American betrayals to the Arab democracy. In Egypt, an elected government from a free and fair election was toppled by another coup-d’état. Practising democracy is totally prohibited now in this country.  

The Libyan people are oppressed by some local dictators and warlords. Washington eventually pulled back back from backing up the Arab spring due to pressure from the monarchy states.  

Former US President Donald Trump was the pathfinder of 21-century’s American Isolationist policy as he adopted his “America First” agenda to retreat from a leading contributor to its traditional allies. 

He raised the question of the existence of NATO and pushed the alliance to the verge of break up. 

He pulled out from the Paris climate treaty, the Iranian nuclear deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. He also reduced the US’ global responsibilities in the UNESCO, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the World Health Organization.  

Significantly, he began a large repatriation of US soldiers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.   

In October 2019, Trump launched a drive to withdraw the US troops from northern Syria.  Trump also restrained from the opportunity to oust Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.  

In his tenure, former US President Donald Trump also avoided further direct war.  

Joe Biden has so far stuck to the Isolationist policy of his predecessor Donald Trump specially, while he deals in Afghanistan issues.  

“I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” Biden reaffirmed. 

Joe Biden declared the end of the 20 year-long invasion in Afghanistan war worth $2.26 trillion — the longest war in American history. 

But the USA pull-out from Afghanistan annoyed its allies – especially Israel, as the Asian power balance now extensively tilts towards China.  

“Matters in Asia ultimately must be taken care of by Asians. Asia’s problems ultimately must be resolved by Asians and Asia’s security ultimately must be protected by Asians,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in Shanghai in 2014.

Indicating the USA’s interference in Asia, Xi called upon Asian countries to be united and forge a way together, rather than get involved with third party powers. The Taliban got a prompt clapping from China after conquering Kabul, even before forming Taliban-government in Afghan capital. There is nothing to hide the Chinese desires to be a head honcho in Asian. 

Washington’s core allies in the Asian-pacific regions became frustrated with the back out as the USA left the territory to China for implementing the Chinese-dream. 

Moreover, Joe Biden recently clarified the USA overseas mission in future as saying “we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground — or very few, if needed.” 

He also hinted that the USA might forgo the conventional war strategy and introduce cyborg or star war technologies. Potentially, multi-billionaires like Elon Musk of SpaceX or Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin could be recruited to invent weaponries for star-wars in a bid to destroy US enemies in Afghanistan or elsewhere of the world “without American boots on the ground.”

Sazzad Haider is a writer, journalist and filmmaker living in Bangladesh. He edits The Diplomatic Journal. 


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Featured Image: Gage Skidmore @Flickr

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