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America’s Fiscal Isolationism

DENVER – Patience might be a virtue, but not necessarily when it comes to American foreign policy.

Consider “the long war,” a bold concept embraced a few years ago to describe the continuing struggle against terrorism, the grudging progress that could realistically be achieved, and the enormous financial burden that it would impose for years to come. It was also a realpolitik acknowledgement of the setbacks to be expected along the way (the “slog,” as then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it).

Above all, the term was an effort to communicate to Americans, accustomed to waging war with speed and decisiveness (and insistent on it since Vietnam), the long-term sacrifice and commitment needed to win a war of survival. Its proponents also understood that the war would not be limited to weapons, but would need to be a sustained effort, involving, as they put it, the “whole of government,” with civilian agencies marshaled behind military – or paramilitary – objectives.

Daunting as the effort would be, its advocates assumed a sustainable political consensus to support it. After all, the United States had been attacked.