The Reality Of American Exceptionalism

It didn’t take long, but President Obama made the case for American exceptionalism, and why that exceptionalism requires us to bear exceptional burdens, much to the chagrin of many liberals, who need a dose of reality, and many right-wingers, who have long severed ties with reality.

Here is the part of the President’s address to the nation, absent from any network or cable news boilerplate commentary, that should ring in the ears of doubters who don’t believe that congressional authorization of American action is wise:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them. 

And so, to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America’s military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.  To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor.  For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

Indeed, I’d ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask:  What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.”  Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.

America is not the world’s policeman.  Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong.  But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.  That’s what makes America different.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth. 

We Americans, I believe and have argued, represent something exceptional. There is an “essential truth” at stake here: America is the “anchor of global security,” like it or not. And “enforcing” international agreements is sometimes one of the burdens of being that anchor. And the world is a much better place because, historically, America has often borne the burden of enforcement.

This is no time to retreat, especially since American presidential resolve and the threat of American military power has apparently, though not yet decisively, caused Russia and Syria to seek refuge in compliance with international norms. Congress should see the reality before it and, when the time comes, authorize the President, within the reasonable limitations it sets, to pursue the burdens of moral leadership.



  1. King Beauregard

     /  September 11, 2013

    Good speech; meanwhile, people on the far right AND the far left insist on digesting none of it, and are cheering their new hero Putin for saving the world from that madman Obama. Not a drop of genuine patriotism to be found in any of them.


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  September 11, 2013

    The President made the right decision, postpone any votes on using American military power and let, again, diplomacy try to resolve some issues in Syria, at least the CW issue. I also submit that it was the only choice he had. No way was Congress going to approve the use of military power in the near term, despite the President’s request to do so.

    A couple of other things were made clearer last night. Diplomacy will be conducted through the UN, the Security Council if you will, not unilateral negiotiations between Russia, Syria and the U.S.

    Read the fine print however in the goals of such diplomacy. Syria, with Russian encouragement is agreeing, for now, to “turn over CW to international contol”. The President’s position is for Syria to “get rid of CW”. That is a BIG divide in a negotiation with all sorts of “definitions” that must be spelled out in great detail before we even speak of “verification” of such agreement.

    The President, attempting to sound “powerful” said we would maintain our forces in the eastern Med to ensure the ability to strike Syria, if……… Well look at the forces arrayed there now. Russia has more ships in place and each ship is equivalent to or more powerful than four American “destroyers”..We don’t have a carrier battle g.roup to be deployed there for now and putting one in the Red Sea (look at the map) only provides some air power over the eastern Med, not real “sea power” of the type America normally deploys in such situations.

    So in “showing force” America has been trumped by Russia in the eastern Med. Such NEVER happened in the past and is yet another indicator of the decline in American military power, regionally for “hot spots”. Thru sequestration, 5 carriers tied up to a pier and unable to get underway for conflict) simply because the money to train and deploy is not there is now evident.

    We now have gained breathing room to avoid a military strike for now. OK, jump forward a month from now, consider a stalemate in negotiations in the UN, and then ask, what now?

    Even with the best possible diplomatic outcome in a month or so, consider what next in Syria as the civil war continues unabbated, dead civilions all over the place and more refugees fleeing that country? We return to the status quo on Aug 20, before chemicals were released in Syria by “somebody”.

    If “diplomacy fails” this time around (I would describe such failure as the inability to quickly remove all CW from Syria and destroy them), well it seems we go back to arguing over conducting a “puny” strike and the chances of actually doing so, launching a “puny strike” with Congressional approval is small indeed, this coming fall or winter.

    And THAT is just a brief summation about the Syrian crisis. Look what is ahead, forget Syria, this fall, in Congress. The only solution there is to conduct a PUNISHING strike on the House, to get anything done. Then we can all sit back and START the “War of 2014” in elections to see who gains advantage. Holy Cow!i



  3. I must confess that I felt a twinge of disappointment when the president said (emphasis mine),

    America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

    As I mused on my own blog, the Syrian affair might have been an occasion establishing an Obama Doctrine with regard for WMD’s and that the U.S. would be the “world’s policeman” in that limited sense. I see a distinct parallel between that idea and the Monroe Doctrine a century ago when a confluence of political and economic factors converged to make it ultimately meaningful to the world. I suppose an Obama Doctrine might still happen though. After all, the Monroe Doctrine only came to be called that well after president Monroe took his stand.

    The United States is the world’s policeman by default because of gross inaction by the rest of the civilized world. The Syrian civil war is a human tragedy on an epic scale with two million refugees now living in squalid conditions, many bereft of even running water. I don’t know what’s worse, 200 children gassed to death or several hundred thousand children deprived of every shred of human dignity, medical care and safety, and yet, there sits Europe, doing virtually nothing about this horror in their own backyard. And what about Japan, you know, the one with the third highest GDP in the world? Nobody even questions why they aren’t interested in the rest of the world – they’ve never even pretended to be.

    We are all on the same “blue marble” and must eventually suffer a collective fate. The oceans are dying, the climate is degrading, and millions are stuck in grinding poverty, but all that doesn’t matter. The principal passions of the world are centered not on those concerns but, unbelievably, on religious differences. Why should I care? After all, I won’t be around for the denouement. It’s just our kids and grandchildren. I want to picture them having a life secure from the horrors of chemical or biological attacks, much less nuclear annihilation.

    The president is probably right. Politics must center on what is possible and if lofty goals are to be achieved it won’t be by political rhetoric but by incremental progress. I can only hope the Syrian Affair becomes one of those incremental victories on the way to a better world.


  4. ansonburlingame

     /  September 11, 2013

    Monroe Doctrine and an “Obama Doctrine”, are you kidding me or anyone else.

    Geography dictates, among many other things, why the Monroe Doctrine worked. Aggressors had to “get HERE” to violate it. Hard to do, cross the Atlantic Ocean with real power in the early and mid 1800’s, for sure. Geography, more than American power provided the success of the Monroe Doctrine.

    As for an “Obama Doctrine” well I would love to see one, one that works “over there”. Put cyber war on the table and I am not sure any doctrine would work right here in America as well, despite “Top Secret America”, funded and supported by Obama, for sure.

    Somewhere in all the recent discussions about Syria, I even “suggested” a “doctrine statement”, one that progressives would agree with as well as conservatives. Trouble is of course we no longer have the power, resolve or even geography to achieve it!



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  September 11, 2013

    Not to leave anyone guessing, I paste my “suggestion” for a National Objective in Syria (and it could apply to other Arab Spring regions or even throughout the world):

    “Now permit me if you will, to take a shot at providing a reasonable National Objective in Syria, one that all Americans can agree with, today. “A national government in place in Syria that will be stable and conform, in general, with broad American values”. That is it, a stable government that will conform to American values over the long haul. I don’t care WHO runs that government, which “party” has control. I just want one, a “governor or party of governors” that will conform to American and yes, western ideals of government”


  6. Jane Reaction

     /  September 11, 2013

    When Roy Blunt said they were going to deny the president’s approval, the game was over. All following was a mere reaction.

    Jane agrees with Obama that we are not the worlds policeman.


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