American exceptionalism used to mean that America’s political system, its non-ethnic character and its history as a “propositional nation” rather than as a creature of geography, language and ethnicity gave it a unique character. America was not subject to the tragic sectarian and ethnic bloodlettings that plagued Europe since its founding 1,300 years ago. What the George W. Bush administration proposed was to make America entirely unexceptional, by showing that any country could adopt its political system and run its affairs accordingly within a few years, as opposed to a few decades or a few generations. America was exceptional according to the Bush “freedom agenda” only in that it was the first country to adopt a form of government that naturally suited every country in the world, regardless of culture, religion and history.
In contrast to the unfortunate President Bush and his advisors, I am an American exceptionalist: I believe that my country’s political system is well suited to our unique history, as a nation of immigrants not defined by ethnicity. Americans (with the sad exception of African-Americans) for the most part chose to become Americans and to leave their old hatreds on the hither shore.
What Charles Krauthammer called “democratic globalism” made America’s Constitutional system into something of a MacDonald’s recipe, in which the same fried potatoes and cheeseburgers could be turned out in any geographic location in the world. That is the antithesis of American exceptionalism. America can serve as an example but not as a cookie cutter.
As George Koo observes, the results were catastrophic: America undid the creaky, shaky but still efficient balance of power established in Syria and Iraq by the Sykes-Picot agreement and unleashed an unspeakable ethnic war. I have been warning of this result for the past fifteen years and am sickened by its arrival. To be effective in the world America has to return to exceptionalism and pursue a foreign policy suited to its unique character. As a starting point I recommend our colleague Angelo Codevilla’s book To Make and Keep Peace.
Categories: Chatham House Rules