Obama was accused of being isolationist when he would be reluctant to use force--dithering over the eventual surge in Afghanistan, refusing to send troops to Syria, etc. This is a failure of imagination, a failure to learn lessons, and it is an incredibly dumb way to stretch concepts so that they don't mean anything.
Isolationism refers to staying out of things entirely. The 1930s isolationists, including the America Firsters, were opposed to any assistance to the Europeans--a pox on both their houses, a fear that the US would get drawn in, and/or some Nazi sympathizers wanting US to stay out of it so that Hitler could win. In the 21st century, there has been so much conflation of not using force with being isolationist. Sure, perhaps Obama didn't want to spend so much time on the Mideast, but he did, his diplomats did, his national security staff did, and the US was heavily involved all along.
These days? Trump has increased the troops to the region by something close to 50%, there are stories of potentially seeking bases in Syria, and on and on. For what purpose? When the American general said that the Taliban would soon be on the run in Afghanistan, that victory was around the corner, he was widely scoffed at. Again, we need to figure out what the best tools for whatever it is that is the goal to be achieved.
The costs of using force have always been underestimated:
- the recent NYT story indicates that the US may have killed 30 times more civilians in Iraq than previously estimated
- civilian casualties are probably making things worse by generating new hostiles
- the $ cost at home is over $5-6 trillion and growing and will keep on going up for as long as the veterans of these wars are alive (the US only recently stopped paying the costs of WWI).
- the twitter accounts that remind of us of this date in history are reminding me that the Russians thought Finland would be a walkover around this date in 1939. Um, no.
Oh, and hoping that Mattis will save us? Wishful thinking is just that.