Courtesy Reuters

Illusions of Distance

For twenty-five years, in a good many remote odd spots in the world, the United States has been locked in battle; or has been seconding some distant and sometimes dubious friend; or trying, by promising help, to deter the start of the trouble altogether. With so many and such far-flung commitments and no sign of letup, it is only natural that there should be a lively debate about their number and extent and how they fit our capabilities. The frustrations of these 25 years of engagements in remote wars, and not only the present long-drawn-out and uncertain struggle in Viet Nam, encourage a new isolationism.

The new isolationism differs in many ways from the old. It often fits the desire to turn over to the United Nations problems that we have dealt with mainly on a national basis-all of foreign economic aid, for example, and all or most of the problem of resisting local aggressions against allies or friends. However, the radical nationalism of the old isolationists had itself a good deal in common with the wishful sort of internationalism: both were ways to avoid the uncertainties and strains of dealing with a great many diverse and partially hostile political entities.

Today, sentiment favoring a withdrawal from international to domestic concerns may be based simply on fatigue; or on the familiar but unanalyzed feeling that very distant troubles are remote not simply in miles but in their likelihood of having any effect on us. But aside from a sense that distant troubles are irrelevant, there are more substantial beliefs. One belief (very influential, though usually inexplicit) holds that "the effectiveness of the power radiated from any national center decreases in proportion to the distance involved."[i] As a result, areas near the borders of a great power are dominated by that power. In these spheres ("spheres of influence" have figured prominently if rather ambiguously in recent Senate Hearings), a great power can forcibly exclude distant great challengers. The result is, then, a

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