Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

RNC 2016: Johnny Isakson on America's role in the world


CLEVELAND -- The theme for Monday night's program at the Republican National Convention is "Make America Safe Again," and the speeches will include messages from retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and veterans now in Congress including Sens. Joni Ernst and Tom Cotton and Rep. Ryan Zinke. But the theme of security was already very much on people's minds in light of the attacks on law enforcement in Dallas and Baton Rouge and by terrorists in Nice and Orlando.

"We need to do whatever it takes," U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson , R-Ga., told me Monday morning.  "If it takes boots on the ground and special forces to go into Raqqa, after the head of ISIL, we need to do it. If it takes a higher level of intelligence, domestically in the United States, then we need to do it. The people who would perpetrate evil against our citizens, and our homeland, or against our law enforcement, need to understand we all are gonna do whatever it takes to destroy them. If they ever think we won’t, and right now they think we won’t, they’ll take advantage of us.

"We had a policy in Iraq, containment. All containment has done is allow them to develop offshore, out-of-the-country terrorism in America and other places -- France, Belgium, places like that. We’ve done nothing to defeat ISIL. What we’ve done is contain them and left them up to their nefarious activities. That’s the wrong strategy. We can’t afford that in this country to have this election end with more of the same."

Isakson's stance notwithstanding, it's not clear Republicans, much less all Americans, are broadly on board with a "whatever it takes approach." At a panel discussion on anti-Semitism Monday morning, Rep. Peter Roskam , R-Ill, described the quandary.

"There’s a disquiet right now, I think, that we have as a country," Roskam said. "We’ve got to sort this out. And the disquiet is along the lines of, what is our role as Americans in the world? And there are different voices out there in the American political spectrum ... there are some voices that are on the libertarian end of the spectrum who say this: Look, the United States is not very effective at international realm, and it’s very expensive for us … so since we’re not very good and it, and it’s expensive, let’s just not do it. They don’t like to be called isolationists, but that’s exactly what they are; they’re the voices saying, recede back.

"On the other end of the spectrum, which tends to more of a leftist perspective -- not all liberals think like this by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s where they find their following -- and it’s this: The United States is actually a bad influence in the world, the United States is a malevolent nation that’s poorly motivated, and when the United States is involved, bad things happen, and so therefore the United States should recede, because it doesn’t have the moral authority."

Roskam said he rejected both of those positions. "The world is hungry for American leadership on a foreign-policy basis," he said. "This doesn’t mean boots-on-the-ground leadership and all these things, but it does mean unambiguously the United States needs to lead. And hopefully what comes out of a political campaign in 2016 is that we sort that out. Because if the United States is receding from its place on the world stage -- and I think we are; we’ve seen this over the past seven years -- we’re leaving so much good influence on the table." He later pointed out the ramifications for lesser American leadership will not just be felt in security, but also in trade.

I think you have to put Isakson's and Roskam's comments relatively close to one another on the entire political spectrum, but there's still a good bit of daylight between them. Will Monday night's speakers narrow that gap and bring some clarity to where the GOP stands on this? We'll have to wait and see.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.