Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 1999 /19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
David Corn
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Arianna Huffington
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports
Weekly Standard


The new isolationists aren't -- TO QUOTE GEORGE ORWELL, which is a good way to begin any piece of political commentary: "Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful ... and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.''

Which naturally brings up Bill Clinton. In his latest triumph of political language, he's tagged anyone who doesn't like his nuclear test-ban treaty an isolationist.

Well, why not? Treaties bind nations together, don't they? Therefore those who oppose this one must be isolationists. If you don't think about it, the president's unexamined assumption/accusation makes a vague kind of sense. Also, a good sound bite on the evening news, and maybe even a theme for the coming presidential campaign.

What we have here is another prize specimen of Orwellian language, specifically, the branch dubbed duckspeak -- a mindless but effective quacking of the party line. In the Newspeak of "1984,'' to describe an orator as a doubleplusgood duckspeaker was high praise.

And that's all this charge of isolationism is: pure wind. Duckspeak. Note just some of the "new isolationists'' who opposed this treaty:

-- Indiana's Richard Lugar, the Senate's chief campaigner against nuclear proliferation. Senator Lugar has been warning of its dangers for years, while this administration has been appeasing the world's chief nuclear proliferator, Communist China, for years.

-- Arizona's John McCain, who was arguing for intervention in the Balkans long before this administration woke up.

-- A total of six former secretaries of defense, including James Schlesinger, who lobbied vigorously against this snare of a treaty.

-- Two former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency appointed by Bill Clinton himself: James Woolsey and John Deutsch.

-- A number of other prominent figures whose names are almost synonymous with this country's involvement with the world: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft. Some isolationists.

-- And finally there's Richard Perle, who got his start as an aide to the late Scoop Jackson. All during the Cold War, Senator Jackson -- a Harry Truman Democrat -- found himself voting with the other party when his own sought to withdraw from American commitments in Europe and Asia. (To follow the transformation of an old internationalist into a real new isolationist, study the voting record of Arkansas' J. William Fulbright.)

Mr. Perle would go on to make policy in the Reagan administration, which was scarcely isolationist. Its forward strategy rolled the Soviet Union so far back, it disappeared.

All of these internationalists have opposed the comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty in its present form -- essentially because it isn't comprehensive enough. It undermines this country's ability to maintain its clear nuclear superiority, But it can't guarantee that other countries won't continue to test nuclear weapons or someday even fire them.

Somebody compared this treaty to the criminals and the cops signing a solemn agreement to abide by the same laws.

To quote Richard Perle on what this "comprehensive'' treaty would really do: "The net result would be (a) American compliance, which could leave the U.S. uncertain about the safety and reliability of its nuclear deterrent; and (b) almost certain cheating by one or more rogue states determined to acquire nuclear weapons.''

That doesn't sound like an isolationist talking. It sounds like a realist.

Talk about the new isolationism:

Here is an administration that let the carnage continue uninterrupted in the Balkans for years before finally intervening; it failed to keep Pakistan and India from conducting their nuclear tests; it even now is mainly watching as Iraq and Iran develop nuclear weapons; and it has managed to appease both Communist China and North Korea as they sent missiles flying over their neighbors.

And now it's calling people like Richard Perle, Dick Lugar, John McCain, James Schlesinger and Henry Kissinger isolationists. Washington is full of ironies, but this has to be one of the more delectable ones.

Why make such a fuss over the misuse of a single word for political effect? Isn't that standard operating procedure in the political game?

Because with each word lost, devalued, and twisted beyond recognition, our political discourse deteriorates. Until we find ourselves doing nothing but shouting meaningless epithets at one another. Isolationist is only the latest example. Look what's happened to the word Liberal, which once meant something. Now it's been reduced to little more than a handy epithet.

Why hold out for clear definitions in this debate? For the same reason we should insist on meaning in politics, not just loose labels.

Because, to quote Milton, which is good way to conclude any piece of political commentary: "Nor do I think it a matter of little moment whether the language of a people be vitiated or refined, whether the popular idiom be erroneous or correct. ... For what do terms used without skill or meaning, which are at once corrupt and misapplied, denote but a people listless, supine and ripe for servitude?''

Paul Greenberg Archives


©1999, Los Angeles Times Syndicate