Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 30, 2008
By: Cheryl Rofer

THE AIR WE BREATHE....A commenter at WhirledView put John McCain's nonproliferation policy into context the other day, but his point applies far beyond that.

The doctrine of "American Exceptionalism" is not especially radical in the US. The assertion that the US is uniquely selfless and fair-minded is a mainstream idea in American politics.
The United States is a big, wealthy, highly-defended country with friendly and weak neighbors. We are insulated by media that give us health and beauty tips in preference to the gritty realities that other countries face.

And most of us, most of the time, try to be selfless and fair-minded in evaluating what news we get and selecting our elected representatives. The problem is that blind self-righteousness is only a little way off.

I've been collecting examples. Every day's news provides something, but David Brooks gives us a bonanza today: Iran has to get their internal politics straight before we can talk to them. And that's in addition to shutting down their uranium enrichment plant. And, and, and, besides that, it's all the fault of the international community! They're feckless! They won't do it our way!

While claiming that the United States can't negotiate with Iran because we don't understand their internal politics, Brooks demonstrates enough understanding to indicate that possible strategies might include various ways of increasing divisions among their internal factions and molding paths for them. Our "feckless" allies have been pretty much on board with that sort of thing. They just don't see endless sanctions as being particularly effective. And, it's not an Iranian internal problem, so Brooks doesn't include it, but there's always the option of trying to assure the Iranians that they're not the target of US-imposed regime change.

One of the distinguishing marks of the Bush administration's foreign policy has been American exceptionalism. We've got to move on and get in touch with how others think.

Cheryl Rofer 9:33 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Duh. American exceptionalism is the neo-cons guiding principle. The notion that Americans are special underpins all of their policy positions. It justifies all of their actions.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 30, 2008 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

What's hilarious is that the "American exceptionalism" crew is the first to balk when the US is asked to act exceptionally, like take the lead in fighting global warming. Then its more like "well, we shouldn't have to do any more than developing countries." I agree that at one time America was exceptional, and still has the capacity to be so. But only after we get rid of leaders who have no understanding of what actually make a country exceptional.

Posted by: John Dillinger on May 30, 2008 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

The current working neo-con definition of "American exeptionalism" seems to be "America is special. Americans are special. We can do anything we want. We can help ourselves to anything on the planet we think we need. We don't have to live by the rules. We don't have to consider the needs of others. After all, America is special."

"American exceptionalism" neo-con style is the very definition of a selfish bully unfettered by even mildest nod to duty and moral responsibility implied in the (racist and sexist) phrase "the white mans burden" so popular back when the British considered themselves "exceptional."

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 30, 2008 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Friday SCATblogging, early this Friday because I'm flying to San Francisco this afternoon. Moose are on the rise in New York’s Adirondacks and moose scat helps scientists learn why.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 30, 2008 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

American exceptionalism is not an invention of the neo-cons nor the Repugs... expect to see American exceptionalism under an Obama administration as well... a mindset that has existed since about 1620 isnt going to go away that quickly... we are the "city on a hill" ("under God" as well) so until the Chinese and the Indians are able to supplant our dominance with their own "exceptionalisms" we will continue to see this credo guiding our policies.

Posted by: leftymn on May 30, 2008 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

We've got to move on and get in touch with how others think.

fuck that! they'll think how we tell to think. or else!

Posted by: cleek on May 30, 2008 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

It's as old as humanity.
"They'd be so much happier if they'd learn to be more like us."
The comment that nothing would change under an Obama administration fails to recognize that the man has LIVED in places where being an American (and a Christian) made him an outsider. My experiences growing up an Army brat taught me the same lessons. Seeing that others do NOT think or live like us, yet deserve the same respect, gives the man a perspective that others lack.
CONGRESS might refuse to change their viewpoint, but I sincerely doubt that someone who has lived among those who distrust and dislike us would fail to recognize this.
Humans are humans, around the world. Our ancestors left the Old World to escape the very behavior that they displayed to those they found already living on the land the newcomers wanted. What was the result?
We MUST put our arrogance aside if we expect to compete in the global marketplace, and that begins with acknowledging that we are FAR from perfect, and are right less often than we would like to admit.

Posted by: DonkeyOdie on May 30, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

One thing that seems obvious from the sanction efforts we have engaged in over the years is that they seem to always result in a destruction of the middle class and end up making any conversion to democracy less likely. Iran apparently has such an educated class that is chaffing at the rule of the Mullahs- does Brooks think it will cause the clerics to see the errors of their ways if we wage war on the economy and reduce the size of the group that can primarily effect broad based change?

If we are talking about American exceptionalism, let's look back at the unusually broad based (relatively for the time) property owning class that resulted from the availability of land when we were founded and the development of the middle class during this century as a reason for our success and stability, rather than looking to sanctions and/or military intervention to achieve liberal democracy in currently autocratic societies.

Posted by: BobPM on May 30, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

And most of us, most of the time, try to be selfless and fair-minded in evaluating what news we get and selecting our elected representatives.
I thought Republicans were just for the rich and Democrats stood up for the poor and we pick on the basis of self-interest?

Duh. American exceptionalism is the neo-cons guiding principle. The notion that Americans are special underpins all of their policy positions. It justifies all of their actions.
Posted by: Ron Byers

I would have thought it was more like Jews whose primary loyalty is to Israel or like-minded Christian Zionists. Is Brooks Jewish? I don't know. Generally if you find rabid, mad-dog quotes on Iran they come from so-called "neoconservatives," the euphemism we must use in these politically correct times.

Posted by: Luther on May 30, 2008 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

We've enjoyed abundance and relative safety compared to most nations. For some reason (lingering Puritan beliefs or human nature?) Americans assume it's because we deserve it. So if we deserve it, it must be because we're smarter, harder-working and morally superior, right? So our motives must clearly be better than those of all other nations, so they should just do what we say.

Never mind slavery, the dismal treatment of Native Americans, the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War and various subversive interventions for profit in the Mideast and South America.

"God bless America period" says it all.

Unfortunately I doubt most Americans will get over this without sharing a lot more hardship with the rest of the world.

Posted by: cowalker on May 30, 2008 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately I doubt most Americans will get over this without sharing a lot more hardship with the rest of the world.
Posted by: cowalker on May 30, 2008 at 11:09 AM
-------------
So, Miss Walker, what are you advocating?

Posted by: majarosh on May 30, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

The US must ask for forgiveness. A Christian idea rejected by a self-identified Christian nation.

Posted by: Brojo on May 30, 2008 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

cowalker: Unfortunately I doubt most Americans will get over this without sharing a lot more hardship with the rest of the world.

majarosh: what are you advocating?

We'll probably be sharing it soon, with or without anyone's advocating it. Call it karma, call it imperial overstretch. It's coming. I don't think it will make us better or more compassionate, though.

I need some cat pictures.

Posted by: thersites on May 30, 2008 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

The best quote in the Brooks article was the one headlined by the NYT: "We don’t understand the Iranians because the Iranians don’t understand themselves." Patronising or what. Needless to say, Brooks doesn't understand the Iranians because he's (a) not very bright and (b) only reads conservative American propaganda.

Posted by: wab on May 30, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Some basic facts to consider: the Sadrist trend is generally estimated as comprising between 3-5 million Iraqis. That would put his movement in the range of 15-20% of the entire Iraqi population

Assuming we are not counting children as Sadrists, and considering that 40% of Iraq's population is under 15, that would be 18-30% of the adult population (defining adult as 15 yrs old.)

Posted by: Danp on May 30, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody is 'advocating' anything majarosh, just stating the conditions needed to change the unshakeable sense of American pre-eminence.

While that change in attitude might be desireable, the painful change in circumstances that would probably be required to bring it about would definitely not be desireable.

Posted by: tanstaafl on May 30, 2008 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

As noted above, American exceptionalism is widespread throughout out culture and is not new and not unique to neo-cons or to the Right in general.

However, the Bush administration and the current and one-time supporters in the neo-con faction have taken this attitude to seldom seen before extremes.

Posted by: tanstaafl on May 30, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

don't get me wrong, an Obama administration would be better, and the Bush regime I admit is worse than most. This exceptionalism is inbred socially and culturally though... and it has formed the basis of our domestic and international policies since before the founding of the Republic. Because of our history our wars and foreign policies are always (with Republican or Democratic Presidents) wrapped in the mantle of bringing freedom and democracy. We have the largest military expenditure and infrastructure and weaponry in the history of the world, all spent and built to protect freedom and democracy and mom and apple pie.

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