Isolationism: A History of America’s Efforts to Shield Itself From the World
October 15, 2020
2:00pm – 3:00pm
In his Farewell Address of 1796, President George Washington admonished the young nation “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” Isolationism thereafter became one of the most influential political trends in American history. From the founding era until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States shunned strategic commitments abroad, making only brief detours during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Amid World War II and the Cold War, Americans abandoned isolationism; they tried to run the world rather than run away from it. But isolationism is making a comeback as Americans tire of foreign entanglement. In this definitive and magisterial analysis-the first book to tell the fascinating story of isolationism across the arc of American history-Charles Kupchan explores the enduring connection between the isolationist impulse and the American experience. He also refurbishes isolationism’s reputation, arguing that it constituted dangerous delusion during the 1930s, but afforded the nation clear strategic advantages during its ascent.
Kupchan traces isolationism’s staying power to the ideology of American exceptionalism. Strategic detachment from the outside world was to protect the nation’s unique experiment in liberty, which America would then share with others through the power of example. Since 1941, the United States has taken a much more interventionist approach to changing the world. But it has overreached, prompting Americans to rediscover the allure of nonentanglement and an America First foreign policy. The United States is hardly destined to return to isolationism, yet a strategic pullback is inevitable. Americans now need to find the middle ground between doing too much and doing too little.
The SETA Foundation at Washington DC is pleased to host the author for a discussion of his new book.
Charles Kupchan, Professor of International Affairs Georgetown University
Kadir Ustun, Executive Director, The SETA Foundation at Washington DC
Charles Kupchan is Professor of International Affairs in the School of Foreign Service and Government Department at Georgetown University, and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2014 to 2017 Kupchan served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs on the National Security Council in the Obama White House. He was also Director for European Affairs on the NSC during the first Clinton administration. Before joining the Clinton NSC, he worked in the U.S. Department of State on the Policy Planning Staff. Previously, he was Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton University. He is the author of No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012), How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace (2010), The End of the America Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century (2002), Power in Transition: The Peaceful Change of International Order (2001), Civic Engagement in the Atlantic Community (1999), Atlantic Security: Contending Visions (1998), Nationalism and Nationalities in the New Europe (1995), The Vulnerability of Empire (1994), The Persian Gulf and the West (1987), and numerous articles on international and strategic affairs. Kupchan received a B.A. from Harvard University and M.Phil. and D.Phil. degrees from Oxford University. He has served as a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs, Columbia University’s Institute for War and Peace Studies, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Centre d’Etude et de Recherches Internationales in Paris, and the Institute for International Policy Studies in Tokyo. During 2006-2007, he was the Henry A. Kissinger Scholar at the Library of Congress and was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. During 2013-2014, he was a Senior Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy.
Kadir Ustun is the Executive Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C. Previously, Dr. Ustun was the Research Director at SETA DC and Assistant Editor of Insight Turkey. Dr. Ustun holds a PhD in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies from Columbia University and a Master’s degree in History from Bilkent University. He has contributed to various SETA reports and his writings have appeared in various publications such as Insight Turkey, Al Jazeera English, Hurriyet Daily News, Daily Sabah, Mediterranean Quarterly, and Cairo Review of Global Affairs among others. He is also co-editor of edited volumes History, Politics and Foreign Policy in Turkey, Change and Adaptation in Turkish Foreign Policy, Politics and Foreign Policy in Turkey: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, and Trump’s Jerusalem Move: Making Sense of U.S. Policy on the Israeli Palestinian Conflict.