While there were plenty of details on the current Syrian mess to mull over in Vladimir Putin’s remarkable op-ed for the New York Times, his chiding of President Obama for referring to American “exceptionalism” caught my attention. This sometimes arrogantly presented notion, a favorite among conservatives going back to Ronald Reagan’s “city on a hill” mantra, is worth debating but I don’t think Obama was going that far, as Putin suggests:
Russian President Vladimir Putin: I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” (New York Times, 9/12)
Putin’s riff sounds rather petulant and defensive to my ears, and hardly justified if you consider what Obama said beyond the sentence fragments that the Russian president quoted:
President Obama: 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.” (Address to the Nation, 9/10)
Is America exceptional?
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