Don’t you just love the term “engagement” when it is used in the context of US relations with the world? It is hopelessly obscure and deliberately so. We are told that there are those who want to “engage” the world and those who want to “disengage” from the world.
Thus says the Economist: So many foreigners are down on the US that polls reveal that we are wondering “What’s the point…of engaging with such people?… Many Americans wish to disengage from the world in one or more of four ways: by fighting fewer wars, by trading less freely, by allowing fewer foreigners into their country or by giving less foreign aid.”
Now, this is just strange language and a crazy mix of radically different behaviors. Let’s reduce this to the level of a single neighborhood to see just how strange. The Smiths live next to the Joneses. The Smiths are beginning to think that they should disengage from the Joneses. For example, the Smiths might stop breaking into the Jones’ house and ransacking the place. They might stop loaning and borrowing sugar. They might stop inviting them to dinner. And they might stop robbing others and putting the loot in the Jones’ mailbox.
These odd behaviors are proxies for war, trade, immigration, and foreign aid. Why is it not obvious that these are really four different things that are not well described under the general heading of “engagement”? I might want to engage my local supermarket by buying groceries. I do not want to engage it by bombing the building. I might invite the cashier to have a cup of coffee at my home. But I would not want the cashier to drain my bank account without permission. If two of these behaviors are objectionable, why should the remaining two be considered objectionable as well?
This conflation of trade-war-immigration-aid under the general heading of engagement seems to be accepted by nearly everyone besides (true blue) libertarians. Free traders at National Review are also the first to whip it up for war, while protectionists of left and right tend to doubt the merits of war (exceptions are already coming to mind, but the tendency is real) and immigration. The advocates of foreign aid invaribly describe the “backlash” against it as growing “isolationism,” as if it represents some sort of pathology to not want one’s bank account raided to prop up foreign despots.
It really is a mystery why people have such a hard time understanding that peace and free trade go together. Same with war and protection. The immigration issue is in another category that involves other complicated issues about the uses of tax dollars and the privileges of citizenship. Makes you want to sing that old Sesame Street song: “One of these things, doesn’t belong here…”