Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 1999 /19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
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
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
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