Americans Believe in National Exceptionalism: from Obama to McCain
Dmitry MININ | 25.09.2013 | WORLD / Americas

Americans Believe in National Exceptionalism: from Obama to McCain

American politicians may have heated debates over many issues, but there is one thing they see eye to eye about – America is a special country of exceptional nature, nobody compares to it and nobody ever will. So whatever it does is an example of wisdom and integrity for all other nations in the world, the United States is chosen to lead the way showing the others the right direction to move on. In this sense the President of United States was no different from his predecessors when he talked about the uniqueness of Americans along with its «manifest destiny» while addressing the nation on Syria. With all assurances made by Obama that he treats other nations with respect, the chief executive is not able to leave behind this «sacred cow» of US political class. Obama does not want to realize that this very idea is at the core of global instability in the world while Washington tries to impose its will on others. It’s the American pressure that is ultimately at the root of contemporary conflicts. 

Hardly any other publication has recently attracted so much public attention as the op-ed article of Russian President Vladimir Putin published by the New York Times called A Plea for Caution From Russia, What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria. Especially the excerpt where he stresses, that it is, «It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation». 

This short but just statement gave rise to bipartisan rage on the Capitol Hill. Their response was absolutely irrational and sometimes even obscene. «I was insulted», House Speaker John Boehner told reporters. «I’ve probably already said more than I should have said, but you’ve got the truth». «I was at dinner», New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said on CNN after he read the piece. «And I almost wanted to vomit». Singing praises to America went beyond any imaginable limits of good sense. Republican Senator Marco Rubio told National Review that, «History teaches us that a strong and engaged America is a source of good in the world. No nation has liberated more people or done more to raise living standards around the world through trade and charity than the United States. We remain a beacon of hope for people around the world. History also teaches us that the best way to preserve the peace is to have the military power to win any war. We must ensure that our military power remains unquestioned and unequaled. That is why I support investing in our military — because failure to do so will ultimately prove even more costly and more dangerous. «America is not exceptional because it has long attempted to be a force for good in the world; it attempts to be a force for good because it is exceptional».

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who challenged President Obama at the 2008 election, called Putin's piece an «insult to the intelligence of every American. Then he demonstrated his adroitness while addressing Russian people. Lost in time, he somehow thought that Pravda newspaper remains the flagship information source in Russia. So he chose it for making an address to Russian people. His online article under the same name meets the very same Gold War Pravda standards. The Senator does not try to prove anything, he just denounces, threatens and, all of a sudden, bills himself as a pro-Russian politician. According to him, the Russian national interests coincide with the American ones, which are the interests of the country that has achieved the unparalleled progress on the way of becoming civilized. He uses this very reason to explain why he considers himself as a pro-Russian politician. The Senator believes Russia has no interests of its own, because, as to him, Russian people are imposed the will of just one man – Vladimir Putin, whom the Senator paints as the universal evil. Only real monsters can doubt the US uniqueness. Just have a look at his utterance about, «I believe the Russian people, no less than Americans, are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness». He believes, «President Putin and his associates do not believe in these values». All this applesauce is offered by a well-known and influential US politician! In an interview to CNN, he put it plainly that the all the string of mistakes made on the way of tackling the Syrian crisis greatly weakened the US and opened the way for President Putin to strengthen the clout of his country in the Middle East, the region where Russian presence has not been tangible since 1973. 

Rare voices say the US self-assuredness is an obstacle on the way of making a sober and impartial assessment of the dynamic changes in the world. And they are not even heard being lost among mass angry protests. The simple fact of being exceptional is not enough for American elite. They try to prove it’s «the most exceptional exceptionalism». Rich Lowry of the New York Post compares the «good» democratic US uniqueness with «the bad» authoritative one. Calling it a curse,  Dana Milbank of the Washington Post comes up with the piece called What Americans Have to say to Putin, saying the American people are not impressed with President Putin’s comments on their «exceptionalism», «When you question American Exceptionalism, you will find little support from any of us, liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, doves or hawks». 

Few allow themselves the luxury to stop and ponder. Jill Dougherty is the foreign affairs correspondent for CNN. She tried to sound more serious and adduced the words heard from common Americans asking who is this Putin to teach us on international law and diplomacy? In reality, she said, President Putin wants to bring across a very simple message that the Russian foreign policy is based on the principle of national sovereignty and the United States cannot make decisions for others. The organizations like the United Nations have a key role to play. This message finds response in some countries. For instance, China agrees with Russia that the US should not tell others what to do. That’s their argument. The United States should not topple regimes. She notes that at present the Russian foreign policy sets much store about it.

Jon Stewart, a TV comedian, frankly laughs at the way US TV channels highlight the events in and around Syria from point of view of American prestige. For instance, that’s how he reacts to Stuart Varney’s (9/10/2013, Fox channel) remark, «President Obama has just led us into a humiliating defeat».

- «Defeat?! Who did we lose to?? Sanity?? You beat us this time, rational forethought. But we'll get you». 

Stephen Martin Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, outlines 5 Top Myths about American exceptionalism. 

Myth 1 

There Is Something Exceptional About American Exceptionalism. 

Whenever American leaders refer to the "unique" responsibilities of the United States, they are saying that it is different from other powers and that these differences require them to take on special burdens. Yet there is nothing unusual about such lofty declarations; indeed, those who make them are treading a well-worn path. Most great powers have considered themselves superior to their rivals and have believed that they were advancing some greater good when they imposed their preferences on others. So when Americans proclaim they are exceptional and indispensable, they are simply the latest nation to sing a familiar old song. Among great powers, thinking you're special is the norm, not the exception. 

Myth 2

The United States Behaves Better Than Other Nations Do. 

Declarations of American Exceptionalism rest on the belief that the United States is a uniquely virtuous nation, one that loves peace, nurtures liberty, respects human rights, and embraces the rule of law. Americans like to think their country behaves much better than other states do, and certainly better than other great powers. U.S. leaders have done what they thought they had to do when confronted by external dangers, and they paid scant attention to moral principles along the way. The idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans; too bad it's not true. 

Myth 3 

America's Success Is Due to Its Special Genius. 

The United States has enjoyed remarkable success, and Americans tend to portray their rise to world power as a direct result of the political foresight of the Founding Fathers, the virtues of the U.S. Constitution, the priority placed on individual liberty, and the creativity and hard work of the American people. In this narrative, the United States enjoys an exceptional global position today because it is, well, exceptional. 

America's past success is due as much to good luck as to any uniquely American virtues. The new nation was lucky that the continent was lavishly endowed with natural resources and traversed by navigable rivers. It was lucky to have been founded far from the other great powers and even luckier that the native population was less advanced and highly susceptible to European diseases. Americans were fortunate that the European great powers were at war for much of the republic's early history, which greatly facilitated its expansion across the continent, and its global primacy was ensured after the other great powers fought two devastating world wars. This account of America's rise does not deny that the United States did many things right, but it also acknowledges that America's present position owes as much to good fortune as to any special genius or "manifest destiny." 

Myth 4

The United States Is Responsible for Most of the Good in the World. 

Americans are fond of giving themselves credit for positive international developments. Given all the high-fives American leaders have given themselves, it is hardly surprising that most Americans see their country as an overwhelmingly positive force in world affairs. Bottom line: Americans take too much credit for global progress and accept too little blame for areas where U.S. policy has in fact been counterproductive. Americans are blind to their weak spots, and in ways that have real-world consequences. Remember when Pentagon planners thought U.S. troops would be greeted in Baghdad with flowers and parades? They mostly got RPGs and IEDs instead.

Myth 5

God Is on Our Side. 

A crucial component of American Exceptionalism is the belief that the United States has a divinely ordained mission to lead the rest of the world. Ronald Reagan told audiences that there was «some divine plan» that had placed America here, and once quoted Pope Pius XII saying, «Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind». Instead of assuming that God is on their side, perhaps Americans should heed Abraham Lincoln's admonition that our greatest concern should be «whether we are on God's side». The same idea was expressed, albeit less nobly, in Otto von Bismarck's alleged quip that «God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States». International politics is a contact sport, and even powerful states must compromise their political principles for the sake of security and prosperity. Nationalism is also a powerful force, and it inevitably highlights the country's virtues and sugarcoats its less savory aspects. According to Walt, But if Americans want to be truly exceptional, they might start by viewing the whole idea of «American Exceptionalism» with a much more skeptical eye.

The irrational unfounded faith in the exceptionalism does not let Americans see why others reject the United States hegemony or why its foreign policy evokes such indignation in different corners of the globe. It is viewed as hypocrisy, be it the issue of human rights or the US propensity to condemn others while turning a blind eye to the slip ups and gaffs of its foreign policy course, the defects of American society or the crimes committed by the military…

Tags: Russia  US  McCain   Obama