Report from Australia: The Case Against Isolationism
America’s role throughout the world has been a hot topic of debate over the course of this election season. There have been patriots on both sides of the isle fighting for and against our strategic involvement overseas, both diplomatic and through the use of our military. With our current economic climate, isolationism has moved from a fringe belief to a mainstream debate.
As of late, I have been giving the isolationist approach to national security a great deal of thought. I was recently selected to serve as an U.S. delegate to Australia with the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL). This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the first time I was given the chance to travel outside the country not wearing the uniform. This journey intensely reinforced my belief that our alliances are beyond politics and are the foundation that our country has thrived on.
Since the beginning of our economic recession, many Americans have struggled to visualize the imminent and positive impact that our continued military involvement abroad would have on our own prosperity. Having grown up near the poverty threshold, I completely understand why it’s not on the forefront of an average American’s mind during these difficult times.
Throughout the trip, we spent a lot of time talking about our diplomatic relations with Australia and America’s role within the Asian Pacific. It quickly became apparent that our continued military partnership and involvement surpassed party politics. Almost everyone we spoke with reminded us that Australia is the only country to have served alongside the United States in every major US military conflict over the last century, including operations in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Their commitment to our partnership has never been in question, and they have sacrificed with blood and treasure time and time again. As a veteran, I understood the continued sacrifice the Australian military and their families made for our alliance.
We discussed the ANZUS Treaty (the formal defense and security alliance between the United States, Australia and New Zealand) in-depth with the Minister for Defense, both countries’ Ambassadors and several high ranking members of the Parliament. The alliance seemed to be just as significant to Australia as the day it was signed on September 1, 1951 in San Francisco. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the alliance because of the stability it provides for Australia’s continued economic growth and prosperity. Clearly from its inception, the alliance wasn’t a formality and has been a long lasting unbreakable partnership that had been forged throughout generations.
This rang even more true once I visited the Australian War Memorial. I looked around and saw many familiar images of the Australian military invading Iraq just like I had in 2003. I gazed at images of soldiers serving in the same deadly heat and conditions that I had as a young soldier. To my surprise, I suddenly felt like I was visiting a war memorial back in the United States and little separated the sacrifice of the Australian people and mine.
I had a number of overwhelming feelings, and one of those was frustration. I was disappointed that our political dialog had failed to mention the enormous sacrifices that many countries have made for our time-tested alliances around the world. It seems that many isolationist politicians as of late, have put quick witted sound bites above lifelong partnerships. Now we live in a world were politics speaks to power, not policy. A political climate where it is advocated for the United States’ complete military withdrawal, threatens to destroy historical partnerships that have enabled our great country to prosper, with a stroke of a pen.
How could we have let something so sacred as our alliance become a fly by night political football? This commitment was not one of our government; it was forged by patriots before us. Our country has been built by joint sacrifices, and our continued involvement in the world is not only needed, it was required by the men and women who had sacrificed before us.
Justin Ford is Truman’s Veterans Director.