3 June 2015   Leave a comment

One of the most interesting aspects of American foreign policy is the extent to which there is a persistent theme among the general population that the US is an “exceptional” country.  That belief existed from the founding of the Republic, as the population genuinely believed that the creation of the United States was a new and different moment in human history.  And there is no question that the geographic circumstances of the United States are quite different from most countries in the world with its vast expanse of fertile but underpopulated land.  For some in the US, particularly among what are called the neoconservatives, the exceptional character of the US also gives it a special voice in world affairs–a point of view most certainly not shared by the rest of the world.

When President Obama first took office, he held a very limited view of American exceptionalism.  On 4 April 2009, US President Obama held a press conference in Strasbourg, France in which there was the following exchange between a reporter and the President:

Q.  Thank you, Mr. President. In the context of all the multilateral activity that’s been going on this week — the G20, here at NATO — and your evident enthusiasm for multilateral frameworks, to work through multilateral frameworks, could I ask you whether you subscribe, as many of your predecessors have, to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world, or do you have a slightly different philosophy? And if so, would you be able to elaborate on it?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.
And if you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.
Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.
And so I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can’t solve these problems alone.
Obama’s views have changed over time, and the Washington Post has a superb article describing the evolution of Obama’s views and the more robust view of American exceptionalism he now holds.   It is an America in which a young man of color with the name, Barack Hussein Obama, could become President of the United States.  It is a definition of exceptionalism that the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution probably never really imagined.   But it is not an America inconsistent with the ideas of those men.

Posted June 4, 2015 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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