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June 10, 2005

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Just... dang.

Athens. Syracuse. Hubris.

Cue Greek chorus.

Thought provoking and, I think, an excellent starting point for thinking about a future realistic foreign policy that can meet progressive expectations .

On one historical point, however, I'll have to take an ... er ... exception. U.S. policy in the American Hemisphere, since the time of the Monroe Doctrine, theoretically, but practically since the Teddy Roosevelt era, has not been tailored as a beacon of freedom and democracy plus hegemony. Sure, Batista, Pinochet, the Somoza dynasty, the Argentine generals, the Brazilian generals, the Peruvian generals, the Guatemalan generals didn't boil their foes in oil like Karimov, but they wouldn't have gained power or survived in power had it not been for a U.S. policy that generated hundreds of thousands of slaughtered civilians.

I must take exception with the history here. Surely the million or so US troops sitting in Western Europe and the other half-million occupying Japan had something to do with our predominance after WWII, yes? Let's not get too starry-eyed here. Power matters.

Neocon exceptionalism still exists, but more in the mode of Manifest Destiny: assume we are going to win the world-game (because we want to, or because the other players are inept, or because God wants us to, or because we've been dealt a winning hand), and then find the stepping stones to this end-point.

I think the formulation of a foreign policy that does not robotically assume, promote, and strive to maintain the mantles of exceptionalism and hegemony may make sense to people who think awful hard about these things (what is realistic, what's our reach and impact, etc), but will be seen as alien to a large majority of the American people. They'd ask why can't we be the shining city on the hill while protecting what is ours, even if it means meddlesome involvement with the rest of the world from time to time. As a foreign policy strategy, I agree that a reexamination of these two things you point to are in order...as an electoral strategy, it might be better to act as though there is never any doubt we can remain the city on the hill and keep a worldwide sphere of influence, whatever the reality, than to express doubts or second guess the current assumptions. Good post.

American hegemony is - for the moment - a fact. Whether we exercise hegemonic power wisely or foolish, we have it ... for the moment. If we continue the policies of the Bush administration, the moment will be over pretty damn quickly. Ironically, any plausible set of progressive policies we might come up with here would have the effect of extending the sell-by date of American hegemony, by making it more sustainable.

American exceptionalism? I'm not so sure about that one. We've had a few high points, and a low one or two. I would settle for common sense leavened with some common decency.

-- Ric

Well I'd let both exceptionalism and hegemony go. I find the former kind of offensive even though my ancestors were part of the new Jerusalem project. The hegemony stuff doesn't really seem to be in our national interest, since as emptywheel points out, so many of our challenges--especially global warming, but there area others--will require cooperative solutions.

MB:

Yes, I was thinking of Pinochet specifically when I said the Neocons (well, their forebears) have ALWAYS only paid lip service to exceptionalism. But as I said, we got to SAY it was exceptionalism because we got to pretend capitalism was the same thing as democracy. The example is apt, since our behavior toward Chavez is a really good example of how our own claim to exceptionalism (democracy again) is preventing us from effecting some changes we woudl like right now. We might yet come to blows with Chavez (or have Uribe do it for us). But until then, we can't claim we're promoting democracy AND get rid of Chavez.

praktike-

Thanks for pointing that out. You're right that I ignored the military base of our power. In a longer post, I would have included that.

But my point is that we have always had an institution through which to exercise power (the UN, the WTO) that allowed us to claim exceptionalism while we were really using that exceptionalism to rule the world. The military was necessary for both of these institutions to work. But when discussing exceptionalism (and even the means to exercise hegemony), it is really a silent base.

wd

Yes, you raise a critical point. While we might be able to develop a more realistic foreign policy by recognizing the era of exceptionalism (or hegemony) is past, that's not going to get us elected President. I guess I'd just advocate beginning to prepare the people for the eventuality where we lose hegemony. I hope--and believe--that eventually Americans will opt for sustaining a reasonable quality of life (that is, dealing with global warming) over endless wars to retain our power. But no one NOW will believe they need to choose.

emptywheel, I wish you did not move so gingerly in pointing out the obvious. The doctrine of US exceptionalism is a danger to the world. US global hegemony is a very fishy goal, as well as impossible except for the very short term. Everyone outside the US realizes this, as poll after international poll has shown.

As a Democrat I'm deeply, deeply ashamed that my party does not have the courage or vision to oppose the radical Republican world view of unending US global supremacy, which is both illegitimate and doomed to fail. I feel, as I did before the Iraq invasion, that I have nowhere to turn.

Outstanding post. I had this some intellectual breakthrough last night in an exchange over at TPM. Here's some of my comments:

Liberalism is not imperialism, and hegemony is imperialism. Of course, I'm realistic about the degree to which the US can and can't be de facto imperialistic given the situation we currently find ourselves: and I'm not talking about the current Iraq War, but a series of policy decisions that goe back many, many years. Indeed, we need to be pragmatic as well as idealistic as liberals who wish to govern. However, I certainly don't think we should offer a policy program that makes as one of our goals hegemony (a euphemism for imperialism). Mideast democratization is great, and should be supported, even (and indeed most vehemently when) the outcome won't be "western style." The real problem the US has in the developing world (and indeed elsewhere) is that it wants to claim it is an exceptional nation whose motives are pure while at the same time acting exactly like every other great power imperial hegemon has ever acted. The hypocrisy is bleedingly obvious to everyone outside our borders: if you want to know "why they hate us," your answer lies here. A liberal foreign policy must start from a less craven, more idealistic, more creative point than this. Or at the very least, it should have to recognize that these two aspirations - exceptionalism and hegemony - are in a zero-sum relationship to one another.

Praktike - good point. I would say the context in which US troops were allowed inside Europe were very different - for obvious cultural, military, and historic reasons. I think the differences between Iraq and Japan are perhaps not as obvious, but I think the military circumstances were very different. After all, we didn't fight a war with Japan to turn it into a democracy: we fought it because they attacked us, they represented a major threat to us, we fought a long and brutal war with them, etc..

Clearly, Korea worked out with a long term occupation, and Vietnam was a disaster and essentially the end of the era when exceptionalism and hegemony could plausibly. But, what's more, I think both of these conflicts had a greater moral justification than Iraq. OK, Diem was a joke, but S. Vietnam. For whom are we fighting this war, really?

I've seen arguments advanced that somehow the rules of international relations and warfare were radically changed by 9/11. But these arguments rest on national security arguments, not the reasons Bush is advancing.

I've said this for a long time, but if you want an analogy to what Iraq is going to become, your best models to analyze would be early 20th century Phillipines or Cuba.

Ben P

Ahh. Typos.

"could plausibly coexist" - ie era of high hegemony between 45 and 70.

"S. Vietnam" at least had a government who wanted defending, no matter how unrepresentative and corrupt.

Clearly, our intervention in Korea has been vindicated, because the S Korea government was a victim of aggression, and the people who lived under it accorded it a good degree of legitimacy, which clearly was much less the case in Vietnam.

I generally heartily enjoy the choice you want to make, ew. As a liberal, how could one seriously consider the other? We already have a hegemony party after all.

In other words, I believe that America can be exceptional exceptional, but in the sense the founding fathers imagined it, and generally how American statesman imagined the nation until quite recently - including the much misquoted and misunderstood Woodrow Wilson: that it does not play the typical great power games or indulge in tribalistic nationalism.

We're not exceptionalism simply because we say we are: we are because of what we do and the principles we adhere to. Somewhere since World War II, this important distinction has been lost, and exceptionalism has just become a warmed over (and hypocritical) justification for anything our state chooses to do. And as such, America becomes exactly the same as any other nation, at least on the international stage. If one wants to be exceptional, one cannot also claim to be a hegemon. Thats the same game that China, Britain, France, Russia, the Soviet Union, et al.. played.

The Latin American situation is very interesting, what with events in Bolivia unfolding, and Mexico looking likely to follow its Southern cousins next year.

Is there any government left in the hemisphere that isn't "left," "hard" or otherwise? I guess one of the advantages for Latin America about our current mideast fixation is that they don't have to worry about as much meddling as during the Cold War.

The Chavez example is pretty hypocritical on the US's part. I have no real illusions about the guy, but I don't think he's a Castro clone either. The guy is clearly popular in Venezuela, because at least he's trying to fix problems that the US-centric elites have done so little to address. Whether he succeeds or not is an open question: but the fact he is popular to begin with should maybe open a few eyes inside the Beltway.

The Latin American situation is very interesting, what with events in Bolivia unfolding, and Mexico looking likely to follow its Southern cousins next year.

Is there any government left in the hemisphere that isn't "left," "hard" or otherwise? I guess one of the advantages for Latin America about our current mideast fixation is that they don't have to worry about as much meddling as during the Cold War.

The Chavez example is pretty hypocritical on the US's part. I have no real illusions about the guy, but I don't think he's a Castro clone either. The guy is clearly popular in Venezuela, because at least he's trying to fix problems that the US-centric elites have done so little to address. Whether he succeeds or not is an open question: but the fact he is popular to begin with should maybe open a few eyes inside the Beltway.

Ben P,

Don't forget Uribe, in whose country we have hundreds, probably thousands, of military advisors and contractors. So, yeah, there is an exception to the Latin American trend. And the US no doubt intends to protect Uribe and Colombia as a military foothold in case we ever do feel the need to go after Chavez.

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