Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Myths of American Exceptionalism (Hypocritical International Relations)

"Our nation is the greatest force for good in history." - Pres. George W. Bush, August 31, 2002


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Hi All,

TYPICAL CLAIMS OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONAL-ISM:

"There is no denying it: America is the greatest country in the world. We are blessed with unparalleled freedoms and boundless prosperity that for generations have inspired an innovative and industrious people. America is exceptional. American Exceptionalism is the standard that our laws reflect the understanding that we are afforded certain God-given rights that can never be taken away. We know that God, not government, bestows upon us these inalienable rights, and because of that, they must not be compromised by the whims of man. This makes us a unique nation, a nation that remains, as President Ronald Reagan once said, "a model and hope to the world." -  Herman Cain, American Spectator, March 2011 issue

"My administration has a job to do and we're going to do it. We will rid the world of evildoers." - Pres. George W. Bush, September 16, 2001

Generations of ordinary Americans-in-the-street unknowingly grow up with: 
  1. the sanitized American history books in their schools;
  2. a mass-media that engage in manufacturing consent, marginalize dissent and allow government and dominant corporate/private interests to produce a constant barrage of messages that in turn led to their belief in American Exceptionalism,  i.e. that Americans are the "good guys" and that the United States, in its governance, politics, mission, and place in the world, is unique, and, in its most extreme version, qualitatively superior to other nations.

The below two articles deeply question such belief in American exceptionalism.


- Bert, 8/21/2012



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The Power and the Glory

Myths of American exceptionalism - Howard Zinn This essay is adapted from a lecture he gave for MIT's Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies.
The notion of American exceptionalism—that the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessaryis not new. It started as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when Governor John Winthrop uttered the words that centuries later would be quoted by Ronald Reagan. Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city upon a hill.” Reagan embellished a little, calling it a “shining city on a hill.”
The idea of a city on a hill is heartwarming. It suggests what George Bush has spoken of: that the United States is a beacon of liberty and democracy. People can look to us and learn from and emulate us.
In reality, we have never been just a city on a hill. A few years after Governor Winthrop uttered his famous words, the people in the city on a hill moved out to massacre the Pequot Indians. Here’s a description by William Bradford, an early settler, of Captain John Mason’s attack on a Pequot village.
Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword, some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived that they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy.
The kind of massacre described by Bradford occurs again and again as Americans march west to the Pacific and south to the Gulf of Mexico. (In fact our celebrated war of liberation, the American Revolution, was disastrous for the Indians. Colonists had been restrained from encroaching on the Indian territory by the British and the boundary set up in their Proclamation of 1763. American independence wiped out that boundary.)
Expanding into another territory, occupying that territory, and dealing harshly with people who resist occupation has been a persistent fact of American history from the first settlements to the present day. And this was often accompanied from very early on with a particular form of American exceptionalism: the idea that American expansion is divinely ordained. On the eve of the war with Mexico in the middle of the 19th century, just after the United States annexed Texas, the editor and writer John O’Sullivan coined the famous phrase Manifest Destiny. He said it was “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” At the beginning of the 20th century, when the United States invaded the Philippines, President McKinley said that the decision to take the Philippines came to him one night when he got down on his knees and prayed, and God told him to take the Philippines.
Invoking God has been a habit for American presidents throughout the nation’s history, but George W. Bush has made a specialty of it. For an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the reporter talked with Palestinian leaders who had met with Bush. One of them reported that Bush told him, “God told me to strike at al Qaeda. And I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did. And now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.” It’s hard to know if the quote is authentic, especially because it is so literate. But it certainly is consistent with Bush’s oft-expressed claims. A more credible story comes from a Bush supporter, Richard Lamb, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who says that during the election campaign Bush told him, “I believe God wants me to be president. But if that doesn’t happen, that’s okay.”
Divine ordination is a very dangerous idea, especially when combined with military power (the United States has 10,000 nuclear weapons, with military bases in a hundred different countries and warships on every sea). With God’s approval, you need no human standard of morality. Anyone today who claims the support of God might be embarrassed to recall that the Nazi storm troopers had inscribed on their belts, “Gott mit uns” (“God with us”).
Not every American leader claimed divine sanction, but the idea persisted that the United States was uniquely justified in using its power to expand throughout the world. In 1945, at the end of World War II, Henry Luce, the owner of a vast chain of media enterprises—TimeLifeFortune—declared that this would be “the American Century,” that victory in the war gave the United States the right “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”
This confident prophecy was acted out all through the rest of the 20th century. Almost immediately after World War II the United States penetrated the oil regions of the Middle East by special arrangement with Saudi Arabia. It established military bases in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and a number of Pacific islands. In the next decades it orchestrated right-wing coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, and gave military aid to various dictatorships in the Caribbean. In an attempt to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia it invaded Vietnam and bombed Laos and Cambodia.
The existence of the Soviet Union, even with its acquisition of nuclear weapons, did not block this expansion. In fact, the exaggerated threat of “world communism” gave the United States a powerful justification for expanding all over the globe, and soon it had military bases in a hundred countries. Presumably, only the United States stood in the way of the Soviet conquest of the world.
Can we believe that it was the existence of the Soviet Union that brought about the aggressive militarism of the United States? If so, how do we explain all the violent expansion before 1917? A hundred years before the Bolshevik Revolution, American armies were annihilating Indian tribes, clearing the great expanse of the West in an early example of what we now call “ethnic cleansing.” And with the continent conquered, the nation began to look overseas.
On the eve of the 20th century, as American armies moved into Cuba and the Philippines, American exceptionalism did not always mean that the United States wanted to go it alone. The nation was willing—indeed, eager—to join the small group of Western imperial powers that it would one day supersede. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge wrote at the time, “The great nations are rapidly absorbing for their future expansion, and their present defense all the waste places of the earth. . . . As one of the great nations of the world the United States must not fall out of the line of march.” Surely, the nationalistic spirit in other countries has often led them to see their expansion as uniquely moral, but this country has carried the claim farthest.
American exceptionalism was never more clearly expressed than by Secretary of War Elihu Root, who in 1899 declared, “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the world began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.” At the time he was saying this, American soldiers in the Philippines were starting a bloodbath which would take the lives of 600,000 Filipinos.
The idea that America is different because its military actions are for the benefit of others becomes particularly persuasive when it is put forth by leaders presumed to be liberals, or progressives. For instance, Woodrow Wilson, always high on the list of “liberal” presidents, labeled both by scholars and the popular culture as an “idealist,” was ruthless in his use of military power against weaker nations. He sent the navy to bombard and occupy the Mexican port of Vera Cruz in 1914 because the Mexicans had arrested some American sailors. He sent the marines into Haiti in 1915, and when the Haitians resisted, thousands were killed.
The following year American marines occupied the Dominican Republic. The occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic lasted many years. And Wilson, who had been elected in 1916 saying, “There is such a thing as a nation being too proud to fight,” soon sent young Americans into the slaughterhouse of the European war.
Theodore Roosevelt was considered a “progressive” and indeed ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1912. But he was a lover of war and a supporter of the conquest of the Philippines—he had congratulated the general who wiped out a Filipino village of 600 people in 1906. He had promulgated the 1904 Roosevelt Corollary  to the Monroe Doctrine, which justified the occupation of small countries in the Caribbean as bringing them “stability.”
During the Cold War, many American “liberals” became caught up in a kind of hysteria about the Soviet expansion, which was certainly real in Eastern Europe but was greatly exaggerated as a threat to western Europe and the United States. During the period of McCarthyism the Senate’s quintessential liberal, Hubert Humphrey, proposed detention camps for suspected subversives who in times of “national emergency” could be held without trial.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, terrorism replaced communism as the justification for expansion. Terrorism was real, but its threat was magnified to the point of hysteria, permitting excessive military action abroad and the curtailment of civil liberties at home.
The idea of American exceptionalism persisted as the first President Bush declared, extending Henry Luce’s prediction, that the nation was about to embark on a “new American Century.” Though the Soviet Union was gone, the policy of military intervention abroad did not end. The elder Bush invaded Panama and then went to war against Iraq.
The terrible attacks of September 11 gave a new impetus to the idea that the United States was uniquely responsible for the security of the world, defending us all against terrorism as it once did against communism. President George W. Bush carried the idea of American exceptionalism to its limits by putting forth in his national-security strategy the principles of unilateral war.
This was a repudiation of the United Nations charter, which is based on the idea that security is a collective matter, and that war could only be justified in self-defense. We might note that the Bush doctrine also violates the principles laid out at Nuremberg, when Nazi leaders were convicted and hanged for aggressive war, preventive war, far from self-defense.
Bush’s national-security strategy and its bold statement that the United States is uniquely responsible for peace and democracy in the world has been shocking to many Americans.
But it is not really a dramatic departure from the historical practice of the United States, which for a long time has acted as an aggressor, bombing and invading other countries (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iraq) and insisting on maintaining nuclear and non-nuclear supremacy. Unilateral military action, under the guise of prevention, is a familiar part of American foreign policy.
Sometimes bombings and invasions have been cloaked as international action by bringing in the United Nations, as in Korea, or NATO, as in Serbia, but basically our wars have been American enterprises. It was Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who said at one point, “If possible we will act in the world multilaterally, but if necessary, we will act unilaterally.” Henry Kissinger, hearing this, responded with his customary solemnity that this principle “should not be universalized.” Exceptionalism was never clearer.
Some liberals in this country, opposed to Bush, nevertheless are closer to his principles on foreign affairs than they want to acknowledge. It is clear that 9/11 had a powerful psychological effect on everybody in America, and for certain liberal intellectuals a kind of hysterical reaction has distorted their ability to think clearly about our nation’s role in the world.
In a recent issue of the liberal magazine The American Prospect, the editors write,
Today Islamist terrorists with global reach pose the greatest immediate threat to our lives and liberties. . . . When facing a substantial, immediate, and provable threat, the United States has both the right and the obligation to strike preemptively and, if need be, unilaterally against terrorists or states that support them.
Preemptively and, if need be, unilaterally; and against “states that support” terrorists, not just terrorists themselves. Those are large steps in the direction of the Bush doctrine, though the editors do qualify their support for preemption by adding that the threat must be “substantial, immediate, and provable.” But when intellectuals endorse abstract principles, even with qualifications, they need to keep in mind that the principles will be applied by the people who run the U.S. government. This is all the more important to keep in mind when the abstract principle is about the use of violence by the state—in fact, about preemptively initiating the use of violence.
There may be an acceptable case for initiating military action in the face of an immediate threat, but only if the action is limited and focused directly on the threatening party—just as we might accept the squelching of someone falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater if that really were the situation and not some guy distributing anti-war leaflets on the street. But accepting action not just against “terrorists” (can we identify them as we do the person shouting “fire”?) but against “states that support them” invites unfocused and indiscriminate violence, as in Afghanistan, where our government killed at least 3,000 civilians in a claimed pursuit of terrorists.
It seems that the idea of American exceptionalism is pervasive across the political spectrum.
The idea is not challenged because the history of American expansion in the world is NOT a history that is taught very much in our educational system. A couple of years ago Bush addressed the Philippine National Assembly and said, “America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people. Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.” The president apparently never learned the story of the bloody conquest of the Philippines.
And last year, when the Mexican ambassador to the UN said something undiplomatic about how the United States has been treating Mexico as its “backyard” he was immediately reprimanded by then–Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell, denying the accusation, said, “We have too much of a history that we have gone through together.” (Had he not learned about the Mexican War or the military forays into Mexico?) The ambassador was soon removed from his post.
The major newspapers, television news shows, and radio talk shows appear not to know history, or prefer to forget it. There was an outpouring of praise for Bush’s second inaugural speech in the press, including the so-called liberal press (The Washington PostThe New York Times). The editorial writers eagerly embraced Bush’s words about spreading liberty in the world, as if they were ignorant of the history of such claims, as if the past two years’ worth of news from Iraq were meaningless.
Only a couple of days before Bush uttered those words about spreading liberty in the world, The New York Times published a photo of a crouching, bleeding Iraqi girl. She was screaming. Her parents, taking her somewhere in their car, had just been shot to death by nervous American soldiers.
One of the consequences of American exceptionalism is that the U.S. government considers itself exempt from legal and moral standards accepted by other nations in the world. There is a long list of such self-exemptions: the refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty regulating the pollution of the environment, the refusal to strengthen the convention on biological weapons. The United States has failed to join the hundred-plus nations that have agreed to ban land mines, in spite of the appalling statistics about amputations performed on children mutilated by those mines. It refuses to ban the use of napalm and cluster bombs. It insists that it must not be subject, as are other countries, to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
What is the answer to the insistence on American exceptionalism? Those of us in the United States and in the world who do not accept it must declare forcibly that the ethical norms concerning peace and human rights should be observed. It should be understood that the children of Iraq, of China, and of Africa, children everywhere in the world, have the same right to life as American children.
These are fundamental moral principles. If our government doesn’t uphold them, the citizenry must. At certain times in recent history, imperial powers—the British in India and East Africa, the Belgians in the Congo, the French in Algeria, the Dutch and French in Southeast Asia, the Portuguese in Angola—have reluctantly surrendered their possessions and swallowed their pride when they were forced to by massive resistance.
Fortunately, there are people all over the world who believe that human beings everywhere deserve the same rights to life and liberty. On February 15, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, more than ten million people in more than 60 countries around the world demonstrated against that war.
There is a growing refusal to accept U.S. domination and the idea of American exceptionalism. Recently, when the State Department issued its annual report listing countries guilty of torture and other human-rights abuses, there were indignant responses from around the world commenting on the absence of the United States from that list. A Turkish newspaper said, “There’s not even mention of the incidents in Abu Ghraib prison, no mention of Guantánamo.” A newspaper in Sydney pointed out that the United States sends suspects—people who have not been tried or found guilty of anything—to prisons in Morocco, Egypt, Libya, and Uzbekistan, countries that the State Department itself says use torture.
Here in the United States, despite the media’s failure to report it, there is a growing resistance to the war in Iraq. Public-opinion polls show that at least half the citizenry no longer believe in the war. Perhaps most significant is that among the armed forces, and families of those in the armed forces, there is more and more opposition to it.
After the horrors of the first World War, Albert Einstein said, “Wars will stop when men refuse to fight.” We are now seeing the refusal of soldiers to fight, the refusal of families to let their loved ones go to war, the insistence of the parents of high-school kids that recruiters stay away from their schools. These incidents, occurring more and more frequently, may finally, as happened in the case of Vietnam, make it impossible for the government to continue the war, and it will come to an end.
The true heroes of our history are those Americans who refused to accept that we have a special claim to morality and the right to exert our force on the rest of the world. I think of William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist. On the masthead of his antislavery newspaper, The Liberator, were the words, “My country is the world. My countrymen are mankind.”


Howard Zinn (1922—2010), author of A People's History of the United States, was a historian and playwright. This essay is adapted from a lecture he gave for MIT's Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies.

Source: http://bostonreview.net/BR30.3/zinn.php


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The Myth of American Exceptionalism


The idea that the United States is uniquely virtuous may be comforting to Americans. Too bad it's not true...

"the United States has behaved like all the rest, pursuing its own self-interest first and foremost"

BY STEPHEN M. WALT | NOVEMBER 2011


Over the last two centuries, prominent Americans have described the United States as an "empire of liberty," a "shining city on a hill," the "last best hope of Earth," the "leader of the free world," and the "indispensable nation." These enduring tropes explain why all presidential candidates feel compelled to offer ritualistic paeans to America's greatness and why President Barack Obama landed in hot water -- most recently, from Mitt Romney -- for saying that while he believed in "American Exceptionalism," it was no different from "British exceptionalism," "Greek exceptionalism," or any other country's brand of patriotic chest-thumping.

Most statements of "American exceptionalism" presume that America's values, political system, and history are unique and worthy of universal admiration. They also imply that the United States is both destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage.

The only thing wrong with this self-congratulatory portrait of America's global role is that it is mostly a myth. Although the United States possesses certain unique qualities -- from high levels of religiosity to a political culture that privileges individual freedom -- the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been determined primarily by its relative power and by the inherently competitive nature of international politics. By focusing on their supposedly exceptional qualities, Americans blind themselves to the ways that they are a lot like everyone else.

This unchallenged faith in American exceptionalism makes it harder for Americans to understand why others are less enthusiastic about U.S. dominance, often alarmed by U.S. policies, and frequently irritated by what they see as U.S. hypocrisy, whether the subject is possession of nuclear weapons, conformity with international law, or America's tendency to condemn the conduct of others while ignoring its own failings. Ironically, U.S. foreign policy would probably be more effective if Americans were less convinced of their own unique virtues and less eager to proclaim them.

What we need, in short, is a more realistic and critical assessment of America's true character and contributions. In that spirit, I offer here the Top 5 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. The British thought they were bearing the "white man's burden," while French colonialists invoked la mission civilisatrice to justify their empire. 

Portugal, whose imperial activities were hardly distinguished, believed it was promoting a certain missão civilizadora. Even many of the officials of the former Soviet Union genuinely believed they were leading the world toward a socialist utopia despite the many cruelties that communist rule inflicted. Of course, the United States has by far the better claim to virtue than Stalin or his successors, but Obama was right to remind us that all countries prize their own particular qualities.

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.

If only it were true. The United States may not have been as brutal as the worst states in world history, but a dispassionate look at the historical record belies most claims about America's moral superiority.

For starters, the United States has been one of the most expansionist powers in modern history. It began as 13 small colonies clinging to the Eastern Seaboard, but eventually expanded across North America, seizing Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California from Mexico in 1846. Along the way, it eliminated most of the native population and confined the survivors to impoverished reservations. By the mid-19th century, it had pushed Britain out of the Pacific Northwest and consolidated its hegemony over the Western Hemisphere.

The United States has fought numerous wars since then -- starting several of them -- and its wartime conduct has hardly been a model of restraint. The 1899-1902 conquest of the Philippines killed some 200,000 to 400,000 Filipinos, most of them civilians, and the United States and its allies did not hesitate to dispatch some 305,000 German and 330,000 Japanese civilians through aerial bombing during World War II, mostly through deliberate campaigns against enemy cities. 

No wonder Gen. Curtis LeMay, who directed the bombing campaign against Japan, told an aide, "If the U.S. lost the war, we would be prosecuted as war criminals." The United States dropped more than 6 million tons of bombs during the Indochina war, including tons of napalm and lethal defoliants like Agent Orange, and it is directly responsible for the deaths of many of the roughly 1 million civilians who died in that war.

More recently, the U.S.-backed Contra war in Nicaragua killed some 30,000 Nicaraguans, a percentage of their population equivalent to 2 million dead Americans. U.S. military action has led directly or indirectly to the deaths of 250,000 Muslims over the past three decades (and that's a low-end estimate, not counting the deaths resulting from the sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s), including the more than 100,000 people who died following the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. 

U.S. drones and Special Forces are going after suspected terrorists in at least five countries at present and have killed an unknown number of innocent civilians in the process. Some of these actions may have been necessary to make Americans more prosperous and secure. But while Americans would undoubtedly regard such acts as indefensible if some foreign country were doing them to us, hardly any U.S. politicians have questioned these policies. Instead, Americans still wonder, "Why do they hate us?"

The United States talks a good game on human rights and international law, but it has refused to sign most human rights treaties, is not a party to the International Criminal Court, and has been all too willing to cozy up to dictators -- remember our friend Hosni Mubarak? -- with abysmal human rights records. If that were not enough, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the George W. Bush administration's reliance on water-boarding, extraordinary rendition, and preventive detention should shake America's belief that it consistently acts in a morally superior fashion. Obama's decision to retain many of these policies suggests they were not a temporary aberration.

The United States never conquered a vast overseas empire or caused millions to die through tyrannical blunders like China's Great Leap Forward or Stalin's forced collectivization. And given the vast power at its disposal for much of the past century, Washington could certainly have done much worse. But the record is clear: 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.

There is more than a grain of truth to this version of American history. It's not an accident that immigrants came to America in droves in search of economic opportunity, and the "melting pot" myth facilitated the assimilation of each wave of new Americans. America's scientific and technological achievements are fully deserving of praise and owe something to the openness and vitality of the American political order.

But 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. President Bill Clinton believed the United States was "indispensable to the forging of stable political relations," and the late Harvard University political scientist Samuel P. Huntington thought U.S. primacy was central "to the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world." 

Journalist Michael Hirsh has gone even further, writing in his book At War With Ourselves that America's global role is "the greatest gift the world has received in many, many centuries, possibly all of recorded history." Scholarly works such as Tony Smith's America's Mission and G. John Ikenberry's Liberal Leviathan emphasize America's contribution to the spread of democracy and its promotion of a supposedly liberal world order. 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.

Once again, there is something to this line of argument, just not enough to make it entirely accurate. The United States has made undeniable contributions to peace and stability in the world over the past century, including the Marshall Plan, the creation and management of the Bretton Woods system, its rhetorical support for the core principles of democracy and human rights, and its mostly stabilizing military presence in Europe and the Far East. But the belief that all good things flow from Washington's wisdom overstates the U.S. contribution by a wide margin.
For starters, though Americans watching Saving Private Ryan or Patton may conclude that the United States played the central role in vanquishing Nazi Germany, most of the fighting was in Eastern Europe and the main burden of defeating Hitler's war machine was borne by the Soviet Union. Similarly, though the Marshall Plan and NATO played important roles in Europe's post-World War II success, 

Europeans deserve at least as much credit for rebuilding their economies, constructing a novel economic and political union, and moving beyond four centuries of sometimes bitter rivalry. Americans also tend to think they won the Cold War all by themselves, a view that ignores the contributions of other anti-Soviet adversaries and the courageous dissidents whose resistance to communist rule produced the "velvet revolutions" of 1989.

Moreover, as Godfrey Hodgson recently noted in his sympathetic but clear-eyed book, The Myth of American Exceptionalism, the spread of liberal ideals is a global phenomenon with roots in the Enlightenment, and European philosophers and political leaders did much to advance the democratic ideal. 

Similarly, the abolition of slavery and the long effort to improve the status of women owe more to Britain and other democracies than to the United States, where progress in both areas trailed many other countries. Nor can the United States claim a global leadership role today on gay rights, criminal justice, or economic equality -- Europe's got those areas covered.

Finally, any honest accounting of the past half-century must acknowledge the downside of American primacy. The United States has been the major producer of greenhouse gases for most of the last hundred years and thus a principal cause of the adverse changes that are altering the global environment. 


The United States stood on the wrong side of the long struggle against apartheid in South Africa and backed plenty of unsavory dictatorships -- including Saddam Hussein's -- when short-term strategic interests dictated. Americans may be justly proud of their role in creating and defending Israel and in combating global anti-Semitism, but its one-sided policies have also prolonged Palestinian statelessness and sustained Israel's brutal occupation.

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." Bush offered a similar view in 2004, saying, "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom." 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."

Confidence is a valuable commodity for any country. But when a nation starts to think it enjoys the mandate of heaven and becomes convinced that it cannot fail or be led astray by scoundrels or incompetents, and then reality is likely to deliver a swift rebuke. Ancient Athens, Napoleonic France, imperial Japan, and countless other countries have succumbed to this sort of hubris, and nearly always with catastrophic results.

Despite America's many successes, the country is hardly immune from setbacks, follies, and boneheaded blunders. If you have any doubts about that, just reflect on how a decade of ill-advised tax cuts, two costly and unsuccessful wars, and a financial meltdown driven mostly by greed and corruption have managed to squander the privileged position the United States enjoyed at the end of the 20th century. 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."

Given the many challenges Americans now face, from persistent unemployment to the burden of winding down two deadly wars, it's unsurprising that they find the idea of their own exceptionalism comforting -- and that their aspiring political leaders have been proclaiming it with increasing fervor. Such patriotism has its benefits, but not when it leads to a basic misunderstanding of America's role in the world. This is exactly how bad decisions get made.

America has its own special qualities, as all countries do, but it is still a state embedded in a competitive global system. It is far stronger and richer than most, and its geopolitical position is remarkably favorable. These advantages give the United States a wider range of choice in its conduct of foreign affairs, but they don't ensure that its choices will be good ones. 

Far from being a unique state whose behavior is radically different from that of other great powers, the United States has behaved like all the rest, pursuing its own self-interest first and foremost, seeking to improve its relative position over time, and devoting relatively little blood or treasure to purely idealistic pursuits. Yet, just like past great powers, it has convinced itself that it is different, and better, than everyone else.

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. 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.


Stephen M. Walt, an FP contributing editor, is Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He blogs at walt.foreignpolicy.com.






Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/11/the_myth_of_american_exceptionalism




                                            THE LIMITS OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM - Andrew Bacevich





THE MYTHS OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONAL-ISM ---- Howard Zinn (7 Parts)





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Hi All,


The below link will show a short list of my past posts (out of 540 posts so far) which I consider as basic topics about us native (indio)/ Malay Filipinos. This link/listing, which may later expand, will always be presented at the bottom of each future post.  Just point-and-click at each listed item to open and read. 


Thank you for reading and sharing with others, especially those in our homeland.

- Bert

PLEASE POINT & CLICK THIS LINK:  
http://www.thefilipinomind.com/2013/08/primary-postsreadings-for-my-fellow.html





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  1. THE FILIPINO MIND blog contains 531 published postings you can view, as of October 25, 2012. 
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2 comments :

Anonymous said...

Bert,
Thanks for another great blog entry. I've read Howard Zinn's piece before, eloquent as he always was.

Stephen Walt is new to me, never heard of him. Also excellent, and his list of Myths is "dead on". Thank you!

Chris

Bert M. Drona said...

Chris,

Thanks for the feedback.

Bert