American Foreign Policy

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American exceptionalism is a term used to refer to the United States’ historical position as a superior nation among its developed counterparts. Its underlying premise stems from the understanding that the nation’s religious, political, economic and historical revolution throughout the years is ideal and employable as a standard in any democracy across the globe, its cultural environment notwithstanding. It is the privileging of America and its socio-political infrastructure ahead of any other nation and the attempt to impress upon the rest of the world to emulate it. However, recent developments have conjured an entirely different understanding of this concept. It has come to take a totally different and darker meaning (McCormick, 2013). The history of American exceptionalism is argued to be as old as the nation itself. It is believed that the country was formed from elements with Puritan origins who resented life as it was in their birth country. Through elect or exile, they migrated to the virgin land and turned over a new leaf. Their deep abhorrence for their nation’s political arrangement, which was majorly a monarchy and controlled by a blood dynasty, motivated them to aspire to create an idealistic nation with a utopic governmental structure. They developed structures that were to serve to expand democratic space and religious freedoms at the same time fostering trade and industrial advancements. Their most intrinsic desire was to create the perfect nation. For a moment, the nation appeared to be a poster child for posterity. This was until it was bequeathed with a couple of challenges (Niebuhr 2016, p. 111).

Centuries later, the term has morphed to take a new meaning. Critics use American exceptionalism to refer to the ruggedly muscular approach with which the United States advances its Shangri-La agenda without regard for other entities’ processes, social, religious or political beliefs. Within these quarters, the term loosely translates to an overbearing American government which fosters cultural and political oppression by prescribing its ways of life as the standard. The implications of this belief have been widespread and greatly informed how the U.S Foreign Policy is perceived. It has served to curtail its influence, especially in nations that consider themselves unfairly targeted (Renfro and O’Reilly 2014, p. 215-227). This paper desires to relish a balanced criticism of the subject of American exceptionalism as seen through the eyes of pundits across the supporting and opposing divide. It will offer an in-depth analysis of its implications on the global political fabric being keen to explore its neo-facets. Its effect on the reception of America’s foreign policy will also be discussed (Restad 2012, p. 53-76).

American History and the Notion of ‘American Exceptionalism’

American exceptionalism has been utilized historically to refer to credence that the United States is vastly different qualitatively from other first world countries as a result of the premise of its national credo, distinctive religious and political institutions, and historical evolution (Hastedt 2014, p. 221-316). This theoretical deficit is often expressed in American contexts as an uncompromising superiority to which is awarded alleged explanation or rationalization, which vary depending on context and the given period in history (Gilmore, Sheets and Rowling 2016, p. 1-16). In the present day, this term is used in a negative sense by critics of the nation’s policies in reference to the unabated ignorance of the liabilities exhibited by the American government (Hastedt 2014, p. 221-316). As a consequence, America’s foreign policy is ornately faulted. America has incessantly perpetrated this notion by its intervention in the world staged under the premise a moral and justified defence of democracy and freedom.

There is no better illustration of this than the invasions of Korea (1950-1953), Lebanon (1982), Grenada (1983), Gulf War (1991), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003-2010). Its position as a global prefect has been challenged on numerous occasions with allies of the affected nations faulting a misconceived moral standpoint (Chang and Lee 2015). The Iraqi war elicited the most criticism as it was established that America’s chief motivation to attack the Gulf nation was, indeed, nonfactual (Hook and Spanier 2015). America has been accused of having a “nation above nations” attitude and imposing its hegemony on other nations without utter regard for their interests. Historians have argued that the roots of American exceptionalism can be traced to its Puritan origins (Restard 2012, p. 53-76).

The Puritans hold utopian ideologies on how America would be a paradise on earth. Their escape from a socially and politically limiting origin in England further motivated them to create this perfect new society in which they would exercise their near-supreme ideals (Mead 2013). Their transatlantic exodus elicited the feeling of participation with God in creating a millennial kingdom of God on earth with aspirations of healthy souls and bodies, education, and an expanded democratic space being pivotal to the development of the mentality of American exceptionalism (Borstelmann 2015).

American Foreign Policy and Approaches Since The 1990’s

The last three decades have seen a tumultuous relationship created between the United States and numerous nations across the world as a result of its foreign policy (Cox and Stokes 2012). The U.S position as a big brother has been challenged with many claiming that its rampant imposition of its agendas and ideals is not only a breach of their sovereignty, but an unwarranted attack on their sense of self and culture (Hastedt 2014, p. 221-316). The American Foreign Policy is pegged principally on American exceptionalism. It is formulated on the understanding that it thrives on creating an international environment that exhibits the appreciation of peace and democracy as prescribed by the U.S (Neibuhr 2016. p. 111). It endeavours “to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community” (U.S. Department of State 2016). Many countries have borne the brunt of this statement as they have been politically and economically victimized as a consequence. A generous portion of these developments have occurred in the 1990s and 2000s with casualties, including nations such as Iraq (1991, 2003), Somalia (2003), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1994), Kosovo (1999) Afghanistan (2001), and now Syria (2015) (Bouchet 2013, p. 31-51) (Barrett, Bryan & Gibson 2016; p. 284-286). Observers have blamed American exceptionalism as the primary motivation for these developments. They feel that America’s desire to extend its idealistic beliefs to other nations has informed these exercises with the justification being its Foreign Policy (Moyn 2013, p. 339). This has resulted in the loss of legitimacy of the American Foreign Policy, markedly potentiating its weakening and loss of reputation (Hadenius 2015).

The American foreign policy and its implications on the global social and political infrastructure continue to be a contentious subject (Keukeleire and Delreux 2013). Many people believe it is to blame for the strife that bequeathed the regions its interventions have been applied. They decry its elevated levels of failure and relate it to an uninformed venture and one with vested ulterior interests.

One such illustration is the Iraqi 2003 War. The Persian Gulf incursion was pegged on the understanding that the oil producing economy was armed with weapons of mass destruction with nuclear capabilities (Barret and Brian 2016, p.284-286). The Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency conducted reconnaissance exercises and confirmed that this was indeed the case. What followed was a near-decade-long war that led to one of the direst humanitarian situations of that generation. Independent investigations by other human rights watch bodies such as the Transparency International, the United Nations, and even the C.I.A itself established that these weapons had never existed. It was even more fascinating when it was discovered the U.S intelligence infrastructure higher-ups were aware of this predicament and nonetheless, sanctioned the operation (Stritzel 2014 p. 117-142; Combs 2015). This realization and subsequent cover-up attempts painted the bald eagle in an unfavourable light. The conspiracy theories that ensued did not help circumstances either as the more persons delved into the matter, the more it acquired much notoriety. The American foreign policy and consequently, American exceptionalism, had once again fallen short of its fundamental aspiration.

This incident unprecedented degradation of the regard held for American exceptionalism at the turn of the new millennium. The justification of the attacks by the September 2001 terrorist incidence was also a major turning point in this argument. The conspiracy sphere was awash with ‘evidence’ of foul play, and the whole event began to be debunked. By mid-2000s, nearly 54% of Americans had withdrawn their weight from the war as they felt it was not vindicated. This weakened American exceptionalism as more people became doubtful of the presence of justice in government structures.

The numerous failed attempts by the C.I.A to dispose the former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, during pretty much his entire reign, has dealt a big blow to the perpetuation of American exceptionalism leading to its weakening. Incidences of poisoning and botched assassination attempts in the ‘90s and their subsequent revelations led to the rubbishing of the authority of the U.S as a moral big brother. This has decayed the vitality of the claim to strength by American exceptionalism.

Naturally, the American foreign policy was the butt of much criticism, losing the regard it had hitherto among many quarters. Six decades ago, North and South Korea were a single nation (Gibbons 2014). After the intervention of America in its struggle against annexation by Japan, the country was split into two with the South gaining favour with the U.S for leaning towards capitalism (Jian 2013). Every single attempt to reunite these two economies has since failed, with the U.S even aiding the establishment of a demilitarized zone (DMZ) and furnishing it with troops and weapons (Khong 1992). While the State Department maintains that the U.S government does this to protect the sovereignty of South Korea, many feel that the arrangement was unwarranted and should not have existed in the first place. Allies to the nations feeling offended and their sovereignty attacked naturally exhibit inhibitions relating to the U.S. They harbour a great disliking its politics significantly affecting how business is conducted between them. Because of the weakened sense of American exceptionalism, America’s moral authority comes under incredulity. Nations become bold against the U.S and take gallant positions on matters they would have otherwise been squirmish about, such as the development of nuclear energy and its subsequent arming.

In a bid to reclaim its face and strengthen American exceptionalism, the United States has assumed an isolationist approach to nations that it perceives are hostile to the application of this theory. Recent days have seen the U.S depart from its combative “boots on the ground” nature of political intervention to a more conserved external demeanour. It is as if it has discovered the isolationist approach favours its exceptionalism agenda as it reduces the backlash it was previously synonymous with, strengthening it in the process. A vivid illustration of this is the employment of economic sanctions, embargoes, and trade restrictions to nations it feels they threaten the fundamental premises of American exceptionalism. Economies such as Iran, North Korea and Russia have borne the brunt of this type of intervention. The United States government maintained that the development of the nations’ nuclear ambitions presented a threat to world peace. It rallied its allies and neutral members of the international community and imposed bans on exports or imports from these nations besides making the movement of the nationals of these countries to the U.S excessively difficult. This approach has not always been well received, but has, at least, served to strengthen American exceptionalism.

In conclusion, American exceptionalism has had a profound consequence in the globe’s political power balance (Kissinger and Wellings 1969, p.177-118). It has been a front with which interventions by the American government in other nation’s processes have been justified. Although its genesis was largely innocent and ambitious, critics decry the concept has become a rubber stamp for pronounced injustice and intimidation. They believe America misuses its position as a privileged economy to frustrate smaller countries into towing its line (Cox 2012). They abhor the forceful nature with which its position is communicated and feel its intrusion is unwelcome. Political commentators feel that there is no definite end to American exceptionalism as its leaps are far too spread for a relapse to be effected. They believe that America’s unyielding position that this status is justified further complicates the prospects of it being accommodated by other nations (LaFeber 1989). Consequently, the American foreign policy has suffered immensely. It has been branded as one of the means America uses to perpetuate its attitude of world dominance. It has been awarded an unfortunate status and subscribing to it is often tantamount to signing off a nation’s rights and identity. This belief alone had dented the reception of American exceptionalism making it weaker. More Americans have become involved in questioning the implications of American exceptionalism as they become aware of the
issues raised by other issues on the same. This criticism has led to the weakening of the support enjoyed by this concept and goodwill that came with it. This turn of events has inspired several protests and pickets with the citizens demanding answers for the reservations exhibited by American exceptionalism critics. The drone program, for instance, has elicited the wrath of citizens with many of them agreeing that it causes more harm than good. Reports of massive civilian casualties from Yemen, Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, and Somalia have eroded the feeling of American exceptionalism among residents who no longer throw their weight behind their government. This makes American exceptionalism weaker. Nonetheless, there are a number of positive remarks that have stemmed from the practice of American exceptionalism as some explain (Hersh 2013). A number of dictatorial regimes have been toppled with governments with horrible human right records being deposed. Many women, children and helpless men have been saved from the enclaves of faust-like establishments that have perpetrated despicable atrocities (Jervis 2013). A larger number have had their lives saved as a result of interventions by the American government as a result of its foreign policy (Hook and Spainer 2015). Therefore, the belief that American exceptionalism has strengthened the U.S Foreign Policy remains largely debatable even in light of insurmountable evidence that it has been weakened.

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