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Reclaiming American Internationalism

US President Donald Trump has managed to attract support for his "America First" isolationism not by dint of his own arguments, but because the US foreign-policy establishment abandoned its own values. After decades of thoughtless military interventionism, it is little wonder that Americans would seek an alternative.

DENVER – To watch the debate play out in America’s news media, it would seem that the opposite of “America First” is American interventionism: a chronic penchant for leaping, to no apparent end, into wars of choice and demonstrating America’s unrivaled military power. But interventionism is not the same thing as internationalism. Conflating the two collapses the distinction between quick and decisive use of force and thoughtful engagement with the world and its problems.

In America’s “get ’er done” transactional Weltanschauung, international disputes tend to be viewed as military challenges that are merely masquerading as political issues. In fact, they are usually the opposite, which is why the world’s most complex conflicts are rarely resolved by intervention.

Geopolitical conflicts have long, sordid histories, and violence is more often a symptom of their intractability than an inherent trait. They often have something to do with identity, and with claims of collective ownership of the land beneath the feet of a particular “nation.” The basis of political membership is more often ethnic than civil, which is contrary to Americans’ understanding of nationhood.