July 31, 2016 6:43 AM

American Exceptionalism: A license to make (and change) the rules as we go

I’ve been ruminating for the past couple days on a question posed by my friend, Sean Paul Kelley. He used an article by Glenn Greenwald as the basis for what really is a very simple question:

What is American Exceptionalism, and why does it make us superior to the rest of the world?

The answer goes straight to the heart of how we Americans define our place and role in the international community.

The advent of drone technology made it easy for the US military to kill “bad guys” from the warmth and safety of an office at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. It meant American power could be projected into places where ground troops weren’t an option and conventional air power was ineffective. America could kill anyone almost literally anywhere with the push of a few buttons and the maneuvering of a joystick. Because of the easy, risk-free nature of drone warfare, American Presidents have been able to attack “evildoers” anyplace, anytime, anywhere.

Americans uniformly and without question accept this state of affairs as the norm. It’s just what we do. We’re Americans, we’re at war with an unconventional enemy, and therefore we should be able to do what needs to be done whenever, wherever, and however it needs to be done.

This seems the very definition of “American Exceptionalism, the belief that

  1. American history is inherently different from that of other countries,
  2. the U.S. has a unique responsibility to transform the world, and
  3. our history and unique mission provides America with an implied superiority.

It’s interesting, but hardly surprising, that those who champion the idea of American Exceptionalism are without fail American.

Manifest Destiny, anyone??

IF you accept the premise of American Exceptionalism, what does that entail? What rights does that confer upon America? What responsibilities do we assume? Or is it merely the belief in Amerika über Alles without any accompanying responsibility or accountability?

American Exceptionalism in its purest embodiment: The U.S. is not subject to the same rules and laws as other nations, but instead is entitled to assert power and punishment that is unique to itself, grounded in its superior status. Indeed, so ingrained is this pathology that the mere suggestion that the U.S. should be subject to the same laws and rules as everyone else inevitably provokes indignant accusations that the person is guilty of the greatest sin: comparing the United States of America to the lesser, inferior governments and countries of the world.

Is the “exceptionalism” in American Exceptionalism limited only to Americans? Can (and/or should) other countries claim the same sort of privilege for themselves? For instance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is laying blame for last weekend’s failed coup d’ etat squarely upon Islamic imam and former ally Fethullah Gulen, who’s currently living in Pennsylvania on a green card.

Erdogan is demanding the US extradite Gulen in order that he might face Turkish justice (which, yes, may well be an oxymoron). Secretary of State John Kerry has indicated the US government will entertain any evidence presented by Turkey…but he’s made it clear accusations will not be given the weight of objective evidence.

In light of the presence on U.S. soil of someone the Turkish government regards as a “terrorist” and a direct threat to its national security, would Turkey be justified in dispatching a weaponized drone over Pennsylvania to find and kill Gulen if the U.S. continues to refuse to turn him over, or sending covert operatives to kidnap him? That was the question posed yesterday by Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor of Guantánamo’s military commissions who resigned in protest over the use of torture-obtained evidence[.]

Assuming the State Dept. declines to extradite Gulen, is Turkey then within its rights to claim “Turkish Exceptionalism” and take Gulen out via a drone strike? I know; it sounds silly, but it’s a valid question. If we can do it with impunity, what’s to stop other countries from doing the same on US soil? Are we really so arrogant as to assume that being American allows us carte blanche to do things we’d quickly and decisively condemn other countries for?

As if I need to answer that….

That question, of course, is raised by the fact that the U.S. has spent many years now doing exactly this: employing various means — including but not limited to drones — to abduct and kill people in multiple countries whom it has unilaterally decided (with no legal process) are “terrorists” or who otherwise are alleged to pose a threat to its national security. Since it cannot possibly be the case that the U.S. possesses legal rights that no other country can claim — right? — the question naturally arises whether Turkey would be entitled to abduct or kill someone it regards as a terrorist when the U.S. is harboring him and refuses to turn him over.

The only viable objection to Turkey’s assertion of this authority would be to claim that the U.S. limits its operations to places where lawlessness prevails, something that is not true of Pennsylvania. But this is an inaccurate description of the U.S.’s asserted entitlement.

When President George W. Bush demanded the Taliban turn over Osama bin-Laden, he was rebuffed. The Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, explained that if the US supplied sufficient convincing evidence, then they were prepared to try bin-Laden.

The likelihood of that happening is debatable at best, but it did point out that the rest of the world isn’t bound to respect US demands…on any level. The international community has every right to expect the US to adhere to international treaties and diplomatic norms. Instead, we cut corners, because…well, American Exceptionalism.

We’re Americans. We don’t follow rules, we MAKE rules.

Nor are such U.S. actions against individual terror suspects confined to countries where lawlessness prevails. In 2003, the CIA kidnapped a cleric from the streets of Milan, Italy, and shipped him to Egypt to be tortured (CIA agents involved have been prosecuted in Italy, though the U.S. government has vehemently defended them). In 2004, the U.S. abducted a German citizen in Macedonia, flew him to Afghanistan, tortured and drugged him, then unceremoniously dumped him back on the street when it realized he was innocent; but the U.S. has refused ever since to compensate him or even apologize, leaving his life in complete shambles. The U.S. has repeatedly killed people in Pakistan with drones and other attacks, including strikes when it had no idea who it was killing, and also stormed a compound in Abbottabad — where the Pakistani government has full reign — in order to kill Osama bin Laden in 2010.

As Greenwald stated, US drone killings of suspected terrorists (Due process? WHAT due process?) are enormously popular among Americans. Perhaps most distressingly, even Liberal Democrats are OK with our government engaging in extrajudicial killings (what some might refer to as “murder”)…because “terrorism,” don’tchaknow?

Yet it’s virtually certain that Americans across the ideological spectrum would explode in nationalistic outrage if Turkey actually did the same thing in Pennsylvania; indeed, the consequences for Turkey if it dared to do so are hard to overstate.

It’s the height of hypocritical nationalism for Americans to sanction our government murdering terrorism suspects outside our borders (denying them due process) while we decry other countries considering a similar course of action.

If we believe ourselves to be exceptional beings by virtue of our “Americanness,” there’s little to stop other countries from following our lead. As governments look to expand their reach in an effort to stifle dissent and resistance, what’s to inhibit them from projecting their reach beyond their borders? If America claims that right, what’s to prevent other countries from arguing they should be able to do the same?

If American feels no requirement to respect a country’s sovereignty, we have no cause to condemn others for doing the same thing we regularly do.

American Exceptionalism, don’tchaknow?

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on July 31, 2016 6:43 AM.

When you start thinking Fox News Channel might actually be about "news" was the previous entry in this blog.

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