The meaning of “American Exceptionalism”

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Dave Belton

Dave Belton

By Dave Belton

“American Exceptionalism” is a term that has been used a lot lately, both by Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. That a Soviet dictator misuses the term is not very surprising. That our own President does, however, is sad.

For most of human history, oppression by a tyrant has been the norm. The lives we live are (thankfully) so benign that we blithely believe that most people throughout time have enjoyed peaceful democracies. Actually – by a very wide margin – the opposite is true. The vast majority of souls have lived under cruel governments that suppressed or even brutalized their populations.

America is the exception. For the first time in history a nation was formed in the pursuit of life and individual freedom. Many nations strive to be like ours, craving the wealth and prosperity that this exceptionlism brings. Most others, however, do not… hating our freedoms and our comfortable lives.

American Exceptionalism does not mean Americans are better than other people. It means that because of our exceptional freedoms, ordinary people are empowered to do extraordinary things. That idea, unfortunately, is not the historical or global norm. The freedoms we enjoy are the exception.

In his bizarre primetime speech last week, Obama erroneously invoked American Exceptionalism as the reason we should do something about Syria. After promising to attack Syria if they crossed a red line, he later claimed, “I didn’t set a red line.” After vowing to array himself with international support, he then decided to go it alone. After saying the attacks must happen so swiftly that he didn’t have time to get Congressional approval, he later asked Congress to take a vote after their week-long break… and then played golf. After his Secretary of State promised our military response would be “unbelievably small,” Obama said “the United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.” After Kerry passionately pleaded for military action, Obama stalled. After saying, “nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security,” he then declared, “America is not the world’s policeman.” Finally, after he realized he didn’t have the votes in Congress to get what he wanted, he caved in to Soviet power.

All of this would be really funny if 100,000 people hadn’t already died. Gone, too, is America’s credibility around the world. Ever since Benghazi, America has appeared unbelievably weak. If we repeat this Syrian debacle with much stronger Iran, we’ll soon be facing a fanatical regime armed with nuclear weapons.

It is not too far a stretch to say that America has been the most stabilizing force for global humanity the world has ever known. We have made mistakes, but they were always made in the idealistic pursuit of a common good. We cannot expect the same of the former Soviets. The void America’s left behind has been filled with bad actors whose only goal is self-preservation and brute power. As we wring our hands about what to do in Syria, Russia – this week – promised to give Iran a bunch of high-tech missiles and, yes, a nuclear reactor. A year after Benghazi, Libya is a worse mess than it has ever been, with constant assassinations, bombings and massive drug trafficking. A year after the Arab Spring there are daily riots in Egypt, and nearly every foreign paper declares that Syrian president Assad was the big winner this week because Obama just gave him a “get out of jail free” card. Please keep in mind it was Russia who gave the Syrians their chemical weapons to begin with. Is there any doubt they’ll do so again? Also remember this whole Syrian crisis was Obama’s own making. It was he who set the red line – he who promised swift military intervention – he who failed to deliver. Now, Assad – and Iran – are boldly enabled, knowing we will do nothing to stop their brutal oppression. “In a sense,” writes a military expert in USA Today, “it gives Assad permission to fire as much as it wants,” noting that the rebels cannot win by themselves on the battlefield.

Putin schooled Obama in his op-ed piece in the New York Times, citing the Declaration of Independence better than our own president. “We are all different,” Putin writes, “but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” The piece is thoughtful and surprisingly inviting, evoking the Pope and our two nation’s common victory over the Nazis as reasons why we should join together. For some odd reason, I’d be a little more convinced if the author wasn’t trained by the KGB.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel wrote this week, “We will be asked by our children what we did against this mass murder, as we asked our parents about Nazism. We will then lower our eyes and have to remain silent.”

Dave Belton is the vice chairman of the Morgan County Republican Party.

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