Is America Exceptional?

We’re the shining city on the hill and the last best hope of Earth. Or are we?

Is America responsible for leading the Earth’s way to worldwide liberty and democracy? Or are we following a path of decline already well-traveled by nations older and wiser than we?

How you answer those questions probably says a lot about your political beliefs.

Alexis de Tocqueville first called America “exceptional” in its pursuit of commercialism and practical matters versus “science, literature, and the arts” in 1831’s Democracy in America. Jay Lovestone, the Communist leader from the late 1920s, noted America’s resistance to Communist revolution because of our strong capitalist mindset and natural resources, which Joseph Stalin refuted as “the heresy of American exceptionalism” ̶ ironically, the first time the phrase was used.

Although the idea that America is unique among nations in its global responsibilities has been embraced by both sides of the aisle, President Barack Obama observed that while Americans believe they are exceptional, so did other once-dominant nations such as Britain and Greece; thus, the delicate unwinding of a nation’s hubris begun by its leader.

He isn’t totally wrong: America has a history of expansionism and hypocrisy to contend with, and it isn’t pretty. In the Philppines at the turn of the century, in World War II, in Vietnam, in Nicaragua, in Iraq and Afghanistan, American forces have killed civilians, sometimes accidentally, sometimes not. And we are neither better nor the more popular for it.

Once upon a time on the campaign trail, President Obama promised that hostility against America would ease on his first day in office. He set out on a worldwide near-apology tour where he promised enraptured crowds that, if elected, his administration would treat the world with more respect ̶provided they respected us in return.

Yet just this past week the world watched as a strong wave of anti-American sentiment spread quickly across the Middle East as well as Australia, Africa and Europe, resulting in the death of our Libyan ambassador and staff. Rumors persist that the Libyan government warned the administration about the attack in advance, although U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice stated that the protests resulted from an Internet video that disparaged the Islamic prophet Mohammed, apparently made by an American.

Unfortunately, it seems that our policy of appeasement has resulted in little more than violence and threats. It’s also resulted in visible frustration on the part of our closest Middle Eastern ally and friend in democracy, Israel. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested a meeting with Obama to discuss the worsening situation in Iran, which apparently is attempting to enrich uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weaponry.

Obama denied the request. Who is on the calendar instead? None other than Muslim Brotherhood leader and newly-elected Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, who supports amending Egypt’s Constitution so it more closely resembles the Koran and Sharia law.

Of course, Obama has plenty of time to make an appearance on David Letterman and attend a reelection fundraiser hosted by Jay-Z and Beyonce.

A point of fact: the Anti-Defamation League identifies the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, as do many political observers. The Council on Foreign Relations referred to the Brotherhood as a stepping stone to membership in militant terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Hamas, and many dangerous terrorists are former Brotherhood members.

Although the U.S. State Department won’t classify the organization as a terrorist group, Obama won’t confirm that Egypt is a current U.S. ally, calling their relationship a “work in progress,” despite a decades-old treaty stating otherwise. And while it appears Morsi was elected fairly, foreign relations watchers can only purse their collective lips at what the Arab Spring will mean for Israel, and America.

Former Egyptian President (dictator) Hosni Mubarak at least stuck to the terms of the old peace treaty and kept a distance -- albeit a cold one -- from Israel. With the new leadership in place, and a potential alliance between the Brotherhood and Iran forming, one can only wonder how long that delicate peace will last.

Will our imperfect exceptionalism keep us shining on the hill? 

John P. Flanagan September 19, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Since you have to ask you clearly don't get it. We are, indeed, the last best hope of mankind despite people like you who put other interests ahead of ours. The President of the United States is just that and not a lackey of a foreign country. There has been no appeasement evident for the past three and one half years --- that's anywhere except in Republican, and/or fascist, fantasy. I'm sorry if little Benjy got his knickers in a knot because, when he attempted to embarass Mr. Obama and aid his long time friend little Willard Romney, the President of the United States didn't change his schedule. Our country's policy isn't dictated by Israel although Israel's continued existence is guaranteed by us. Our policy towards Iran will be conducted in our self interest --- not by little Benjy's tantrums. The myth of Israeli invincibility which started in 1948 when Prsident Truman recognized the country and got beefed up in 1967 while the American fleet stood off the shores of the Suez canal, is just that. It's a myth. Without the big kid in the background, it would get very lonely south of Lebanon. As the premier democracy in that section of the world, we stand behind Israel 24/7. No one forgets that ever. However, we do get to speak to Arabs too without clearing it with Benjy first!. But, after reading your opinion, it's absolutely clear that you don't get it! And that you are clearly placing the interests of another country over that of the United States.
Lisa Bigelow September 19, 2012 at 08:30 PM
John, Thanks for reading and commenting. I get it. We just disagree. I'm astonished that you think our weak M.E. policy is anything other than appeasement, frankly. And I certainly don't blame Mr. Netanyahu for expressing what I believe are serious, valid concerns. In this case, since America is the "policeman of the world," a real threat from a dangerous neighbor that endangers the lives of untold people is a serious problem indeed, and one that we share with all Israelis and peace-loving people everywhere. President Obama has made his Muslim outreach policy apparent since day one. It just hasn't worked, and we've openly angered a strong ally. Not sure how that means I put another country's interests before my own -- so we'll have to agree to disagree on that. Lisa B.


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