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Thursday, March 20, 2008

American Exceptionalism on the World Stage

Jack Lynch

We see ourselves as a special people in America, with greater religious and moral force, and that individuals control their lives to a greater degree than much of the world sees in both reality and belief – so that kind of special mission and internal verity lead us towards a Roman tragedy, quite unlike the Greek ones, no pride and fatal flaw, just a bombastic, belligerent, puppetry of civil discourse, and too quick and unreflective overplay of a hand. It was first noted by French traveler Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831. War has come without a cost accounting, without a clear end, without a concern for the passions and peoples involved on the ground. American exceptionalism, a rich source of national community, soon degrades into blind arrogance and ignorant ranting in the footlights as the invisible stagehand changes the scenery. I crow, therefore I am.

The need to bomb and obliterate somebody lies beneath this civil surface. The inner child rages. Iraq shock and awe gives way to incrementalism in Afghanistan. We can expect little more from the Republicans and John McCain. Recent coalition claims have presented a false front to U.S, led invasions and long engagements of little effect.

Bill Clinton was an example of limited response and multilateral action. A few Blackhawks and a few thousand troops engaged in Africa, a couple cruise missiles launched against Al Qaeda camps. The danger of limited response is in failure, or largely symbolic defeats of very limited scale. That alone does not condemn the attempt to deal with world events in a minor key. Haiti was a quick effort that established a return to power for a homegrown dictator, cynical, but effective. Bosnia was a longer run effort, and seemingly, also effective.

Much of his war actions were officially U.N. peacekeeping efforts. Some would charge he failed to see and stop the terrorist efforts, but it's a bogus charge, to expect the dramatic success of a limited number of determined subversives out of a vague regional mass of cells and activity conflicted against several national conflicts, while somewhat expected in a general sense, had few specific actionable, and clear threats before 9-11.

But what are the foreign approaches of our Democratic candidates? How would power likely play out in their hands? What world view will reign over their actions on the world stage?

Barack Obama leaves the concern that an African focus will engage us in further fruitless efforts like Somalia, in Darfur and perhaps other internecine conflicts. The poverty and genocide calls out, but the establishment of civil stability and economy seem unclear, perhaps unachievable goals. Underpinning economic progress and stable community and simple order along with opposing false ideological information sources is most paramount.

He can claim early and complete opposition on Iraq, but that seems rather knee jerk and overly liberal a response given the background, although it was a false impression. Would he engage us in lengthy resolutions of conflicts with small gains to American interests? Or build a big picture vision of what outcomes are unacceptable to our interests?

Obama's embrace of Zbigniew Brzezinski suggests a number of things, lessened support of Israel, insurgency support in Afghanistan, but also President Carter's Camp David accords. Commentaries in places like American Thinker and the Cato Institute question Obama's judgment and experience and positioning, often malleable to the point of contradiction.

Hillary Clinton has ridden the changes in national mood more closely, supporting the war and accepting its false public causes, but now declaring it must end and quickly. She gains much credibility in terms of international relationships and engagements as part of her experience, she's somewhat a known quantity, and Bill's history adds weight and hope that she would likewise heed his council and take limited engagement efforts unless a clearly unrestrained response was required.

Clinton has accepted advisers with a similar vein of thought, such as Richard Holbrook and Madeleine Albright. Her changes of position in regards to Iraq may hint at a long term strength in viewpoint that is flexible and open to conditions – she has spelled out a broad overview of her policy propositions in Foreign Affairs. In Clinton, American Exceptionalism is wedded to concrete choices about approaches to the world that engage and unify, rather than supersede and ignore history and cultural frictions. She is clearly on mark in defining our interests as strategic, whether against terror, or in service of access to natural materials.

Barry Posen, writing in American Interest posits that we should conduct our foreign policy interest to "…conceive [our] security interests narrowly, use [our] military power stingily, pursue [our] enemies quietly but persistently, share responsibilities and costs more equitably, watch and wait more patiently."

Given globalization, the diffusion of power, the rise of a Chinese economic empire, and the two tragedies of humanity in the world's population, 2 Billion people lacking basic human needs, and the tragic miscommunication of ethnic and ideological identity, and revenge conflicts – we clearly need to pursue a smarter path, and while it is clear that Clinton understands, it is still questionable whether Obama can hold hands with genocidal regimes and still stand firm to traditional American values.

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