Brian Stewart talks about Bernie Sanders isolationist foreign policy, which bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump's America First. But more importantly he talks about that moment when America realized that promoting and defending western ideals, security and interests abroad was a necessary thing to avoid the world's strongmen taking over - and when it forgot or told itself this was not necessary.
The searing experience of World War Two—and of the low, dishonest decade of national weakness and appeasement that preceded it—instructed mainstream liberals of the day that the cause of liberty needed to be defended abroad if it was to prevail at home, and that this could only be achieved with American engagement and, in the final analysis, American power. Human nature and the international system needed to be understood plainly and stoically, and this meant disposing of utopian fantasies about the end of conflict that had disfigured the liberal creed during the interwar years. The architects of American strategy in this period took responsibility for upholding the world order, lest American retrenchment invite further aggression from authoritarians bent on conquest and plunder. Whatever the cost of America’s worldwide imperium, it would pale beside the price tag imposed if the world slipped into another devastating conflict.
To discharge this solemn responsibility, American leaders kept their nation’s military might beyond challenge, and wielded it with confidence. They garrisoned hundreds of thousands of troops overseas, especially in Europe and along the Pacific Rim where the pillars of world order seemed to be the most crucial but also fragile. They fought wars in distant lands unknown to most Americans but vital to maintaining what Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson called an “environment of freedom” in the world. They assured the rights of international trade in the global commons. They amassed arsenals of frighteningly destructive weapons to deter threats to American primacy.
But at some point during the course of the Vietnam War, this armed liberalism gave way to a more insular and reactionary strand of progressive thought: anti-imperialism or even anti-Americanism. It was not merely disarmed of the belief in power, it also often seemed to abandon faith in liberalism itself. In Walzer’s estimation, the modern reluctance to take sides in ideological or martial struggles for power has been a “highly principled failure.” The aversion to forceful action on the world stage is essentially a negative posture. It is often “lazily adopted and rigidly held,” and agitates to “bear witness” (in Obama’s preferred formulation) to the abuse of human rights while resisting the deployment of military power that might prevent the abuse of human rights. This passive view rests on the assumptions that little good can be found in foreign adventures, and that the improvement of humanity begins at home.
Sanders' Indifferent City on a Hill