Ideas are being voiced lately about America performing a historic mission in the world that emanates from a commitment to establish a liberal world order. However, it has to be recognized that in reality, such ideas present serious threats for mankind, and there is a historical experience to attests to that. Moreover, the challenges of resolution of emerging strife in different regions of the world are ought to be taken into account. Therefore, the fate of humanity becomes one thought-provoking issue.
Journey that started with the “Mayflower”
History of mankind has known peoples that considered themselves superior to others. This sense of exceptionalism usually stemmed from the political ideology. Ideology of Hitler’s Germany was among those. There could be other analogies of societies that were successful in building stronger empires. Still, it is utterly risky for one nation to fancy its exceptionalism in light of the historical phase conditioned by intricate and complex processes.
Such conclusions associated with the idea of American exceptionalism are often debated upon lately. It did not arise out of the blue. In his 10 September national address, President Barack Obama underscored that the U.S. foreign policy is different from the ones pursued by others: “That’s what makes us exceptional”. In his op-ed published in “The New York Times” the next day, Russia’s President questioned Obama’s idea. Putin argued that imposing this idea upon people could be dangerous, no matter what motivation was (see: Vladimir Putin. A Plea for Caution From Russia / www.nytimes.com, 11 September 2013). By doing so, he urged politicians to exercise caution when expressing their views as the sense of exceptionalism may prove to be disastrous for the world.
As if responding to those remarks, Obama reiterated his belief in exceptionalism during UN address several days later (See: Gracy Olmstead. American Exceptionalism Revisited / “The American Conservative”, 25 September 2013). Thereby, he emphasized once again that America was carrying out a special mission in the world. Some U.S. senators also backed the President. In his article, in the “National Review”, Republican Senator Marco Rubio wrote: “History teaches us that a strong and engaged America is a source of good in the world”.
Other media outlets in the country picked up the debate. Peggy Noonan wrote in the “Wall Street Journal”: “America… attempts to be a force for good because it is exceptional”. Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” stressed that: “…When you question American exceptionalism, you will find little support from any of us, liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, doves or hawks”. (See: Дмитрий Минин. Вера американцев в свою исключительность: от Обамы до Маккейна / ”Фонд Стратегической культуры”, 22 September 2013).
It is an evidence of deeply entrenched roots of the sense of exceptionalism. It is a psychological factor not just among the politicians and scholars alike but also with all strata of the general public. It dates back to the famous Compact signed aboard the “Mayflower” in 1620. According to it, the signatories took an obligation to unite in a civil society aspiring to build a perfect order (See: “Это мессианская героика” / “Взгляд”, 26 September 2013.) That idea underlay the mythical belief that America was capable of building an ideal society.
In the meantime, let us not forget that in his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington called upon Americans to be “reserved” and focus on domestic problems. He thought that was the only way to protect America from external threats. Surrounded by water, it was America’s geographical distance and detachment that he meant, when describing exceptionalism. Modern American exceptionalism, however, is understood in an entirely different context.
Dangers of “exceptionalism” disease
It must be recognized that this historical mission so fervently deliberated upon by America’s political quarters is dangerous for the entire world. It is obvious that we are dealing with a sense of superiority above others and the right to look down. In a nutshell, it is about freedom of acting unilaterally while addressing developments in different parts of the world.
There are facts to attest to that in the processes of late XX and early XXI century. Policies implemented with respect to Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and others testify to that. The most recent effort is to instill the idea of America’s historic mission to normalize the situation in Syria. It has to be stressed that even in the U.S. there is an opinion about the collapse of the exceptionalism ideology. In the article published in the “Los Angeles Times”, professor Timothy Garton of the Oxford University underscores that the U.S. fails to fulfill the task of building liberal world order (See: Timothy Garton. The end of the U.S. exceptionalism / www.latimes.com, 12 September 2013). This may imply the demise of the American exceptionalism as a whole. Notwithstanding, the idea is still valid in the political circles.
German exceptionalism of the last century amounted to the loss of millions of lives. The toll can be even greater during present historical period. Armed conflicts in several regions testify to that. On the other hand, in a political sense, a detrimental practice may appear – the Chinese exceptionalism, for example. Then, the world would perpetually have to suffer owing to such ideologies.
Obliteration of the idea of American exceptionalism from the historical context would be most desirable outcome. As there are several geopolitical forces in the world, none are entitled to interfere with internal affairs of the other. Syria issue demonstrated that no country has the right to tackle global problems unilaterally – mankind simply fails to embrace the idea. Washington, therefore, has to revisit this exceptionalism concept.
The point is that, today, independent states strive to secure their sovereignty. It is no secret that the urgency of the issue has reached its climax. Some aggressor countries are being patronized while the rights of the others are being trampled. In the meantime, even small and weak nations start fancying about exceptionalism. In the South Caucasus, Armenians are the ones permeated with the disease.
For several centuries, they disseminate the concept of exceptionalism as a nation; propagating ancient culture, and great traditions of statehood and morality. Under that disguise, they forward claims on culture, territory, cultural and moral values of the neighboring countries. There is no doubt that if America insists on its exceptionalism, attempts will be made to inculcate it regionally. Danger of spreading of such a trend is quite valid.
American exceptionalism also questions the objective and efficient functioning of international organizations. Thus, it begs a legitimate question – if the U.S. is carrying out a historical mission, what the purpose of the international law is? Based on the idea of exceptionalism, Washington rejects decisions of the international organizations, dismissing them as baseless. Such an approach may paralyze the global geopolitics. Apparently, American exceptionalism can be presumed as one of the greatest threats. Perhaps the course of history will help Americans to recognize certain realities.