Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times that was contrary to President Barack Obama’s mantra that America is exceptional.
Some of my friends were outraged at Putin’s remarks. After all, Putin is an ex-KGB thug and a dictator who controls Russia. He also has hang-ups about homosexuals. He has waged war on his neighbors and has been ruthless in expanding Russia’s influence. Yet was Putin wrong to write:
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”
But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.
Let’s focus on what Putin did not say. He did not say that Russia is exceptional. He said that America is no longer exceptional. It is a big difference, and the best way I know how to explain it is with a personal story.
One man in my group of friends 20 years ago was a gifted individual. He was handsome, had a degree from Yale and had been a competitive pianist and swimmer. He was even related to Hollywood royalty. One day after a group of us finished playing golf, he announced: “I have an exceptional body! I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 168 pounds.” I started laughing. Back then, I was in pretty good shape and so were the rest of my friends. His outburst cracked me up, and he was outraged: “What!? Myers, you think you have an exceptional body?” I told him that no, I never ever thought that and that just because I didn’t agree that his body was exceptional didn’t mean that I thought mine was.
Yet Obama tells the world that, under his Presidency, America is exceptional: his America, which has yet to recover from an ongoing recession; his country, which is troubled with worse race relations than it has been in 50 years; and his Nation, which is more politically divided than ever.
I have no doubt that, given the President’s ego, he is like that friend at the golf course with the exceptional body; both have been told they are exceptional their entire lives. But just because Obama believes he is exceptional doesn’t make it so.
Rather than exceptional, Obama has been unacceptable. Under Obama, America has become the biggest creditor and the largest debtor in the world. And when loans ran out (first from domestic creditors and then from foreign creditors), Obama has allowed the Federal Reserve to print as much money as needed just the way a Latin dictator would. No wonder that under Obama, America has seen its middle class decline while crime and poverty rates have soared.
Once Upon A Time
There was a time when America was exceptional. Yet in the past 50 years, Washington has thrust America into three insurgent wars. With the greatest fighting men and women in the world and the best military technology ever invented, America has lost one war (Vietnam) and at best eked out two ties (Iraq and Afghanistan). All that righteous intervention has cost the United States more than $10 trillion in inflation adjusted dollars and led to the deaths of more than 55,000 young Americans.
Given the spillage of red ink and American blood, it is hard for this writer to see how America has been exceptional since the 1960s, a decade when the Nation was a shining example to the rest of the world.
Now we are at the brink of default, with the Federal government unable to even function. What stands out most is a President who may secretly be a Muslim, who may not have been born in the United States and who rules more like a monarch than an elected leader.
Presidents before Obama refused to negotiate with terrorists. Obama has no qualms with talking with terrorists like Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the government he represents in Tehran, but won’t sit down with Republicans.
Our Federal government has shut down. America could yet default. Yet Obama and many other Democrats and Republicans believe they have not just a right but an obligation to tell other nations that speak different languages, have different cultures and customs, and are afflicted by different problems, how to best fulfill their destinies. To some countries that have to hear advice from America, it must seem like listening to a marriage counselor who has been through three divorces.
Writing for TomDispatch.com, Tom Engelhardt may have said it best:
Barack Obama is only the latest in a jostling crowd of presidential candidates, presidential wannabes, major politicians, and minor figures of every sort, not to speak of a raging horde of neocons and pundits galore, who have felt compelled in recent years to tell us and the world just how exceptional the last superpower really is. They tend to emphasize our ability to use this country’s overwhelming power, especially the military variety, for the global good — to save children and other deserving innocents. This particularly American aptitude for doing good forcibly, by killing others, is considered an incontestable fact of earthly life needing no proof.
How American Can Once Again Become Exceptional
The first thing that the United States needs to do is put its own house in order. That means getting back to the very roots that made America great. This means cutting taxes, getting government off people’s backs and rebuilding the economy. It means growing the middle class and focusing on growth while not shoving expensive legislation like Obamacare down the throats of tens of millions of Americans who don’t want it.
It also means electing a President who can get along with people and Congressmen who are willing to compromise to meet America’s goals and who are not obsessed with surviving the next election cycle. It mostly means dumping Democrats who think any humanitarian intervention is noble and Republican neocons who want to reshape the world in America’s image.
First and foremost, it means a return to American isolationism. It means the end to all foreign aid and any interference in the internal politics of other nations, particularly in the Mideast. It means making Israel stand on its own two feet.
It is not too late for America to again be exceptional, but it will mean hardship. We are already seeing that Washington has little ability to shape events in places like Syria, Egypt and even Iraq. Change also means a down and dirty fight with the American Jewish lobby who believe that America was put on Earth to support Israel from its inception throughout eternity.
There will be costs to becoming isolationist. It won’t be cheap or easy. Taxes should fall because less will have to be spent on the military. But higher energy prices, especially for gasoline, are a given. Withdrawal from the Mideast may mean the loss of cheap Mideast oil. It will be costly to replace, and it won’t be as clean. It will mean importing oil sands from Canada, using more domestic coal, oil and natural gas reserves. Most of all it will mean that new leaders in Washington will have to stand up to the military-industrial complex, which has been making a killing for 50 years by supporting candidates who are more warmongers than lawmakers.
If we take these steps, America can again be exceptional. Think about it and then decide. Ask yourself if you are willing to send your child or grandchild into another war. Ask yourself if fretting about global warming is more important than seeing your child or grandchild have a good career and a productive future. Ask yourself if you believe that if Islam is left alone, they will leave us alone.
Yours in good times and bad,
P.S.: Many great powers in decline labeled themselves as exceptional, including Rome, Spain and Great Britain. A good understanding of the history this can be found reading Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.