The belief that America is so good and so well-intentioned that it reserves the right to do what it wanted and go free, is nothing new. Since breaking away from Britain in the 18th century, and more recently after emerging victorious in World War 2, successive American governments and thinkers have advanced the view that their country is indeed “indispensable” and “exceptional”.
In fact, the exceptional theory myth is an overused currency in the age old quest for cultural, economic and cultural dominance by various groups and countries throughout history. When the Greeks and later the Romans called others barbarians, they meant exactly what Obama meant by American exceptionalism. When the British Empire invented the theory of “the Whiteman’s burden” to justify their colonial aspirations, they meant no less. When Hitler spoke of “the Aryan German race”, he was speaking the same language. When Jews say they are the “chosen people of God”, they mean they are exceptional. When North Africans refer to blacks as the other Africans, we know what they mean.
How many times have we heard American leaders saying America is a force for good and has done more than any country to maintain world peace? Are they right? Yes, to some extent the US has done a lot for the world and is indeed doing a lot. America is indeed exceptional. The only nation that has succeeded not once, not twice to send people to the Moon and return them back to earth safely is truly exceptional. A former colony that outstripped its former masters in everything admirable in under one hundred and fifty years has every reason to be proud.
But that is the American view of being the best and exceptional. Unfortunately for the US, there are many other ways of defining exceptionalism. North Korea too is exceptional. A country that we are told does not know how to feed its own people but understands the complexities of rocket science and nuclear physics, is exceptional. Vietnam, a country that did not know how to build a bicycle in the 1970s but knew how to defeat a first class industrial superpower (USA) is exceptional. South Africa, a nation that succeeded in transforming itself from ultra-racist Apartheid to democracy is equally exceptional. Is India, the nation that gave us the zero and the so-called Arabic numerals, on which modern science is arguably based, not indispensable and exceptional? Without the use of the Arabic numerals, the zero inclusive, scientific civilization as we know it today would have never been born. There would have been no computers, smart phones, laser, radar, radio, television, internet, drones, cars, trains, aircraft, the list goes on.
The Renaissance which to a large extent laid the foundation for Europe’s emergence from the Dark Ages to become the dominant part of the world in the past five hundred years owes its success to the introduction of the Arabic numerals. The Roman numerals used at the time were notorious for hampering the advancement of science since using them to do calculations was both inconvenient and unhelpful. They produced more errors and problems than solutions. It’s this European emergence that led to the “discovery” of America. Today, that America says it is indispensable and exceptional. Yes, Europe has indeed produced indispensable and exceptional children.
The good side of America that Obama talks about has been seen and felt by millions of people worldwide. When disasters, natural or made-made struck, it is usually American aid that comes first or is the largest. If you cannot stand the oppression in your country; America is usually the first choice of asylum. The Land of Opportunity where you can come empty handed and get rich in a few years’ time is another good side of this exceptional country. Twice, (in World War 1 and 2), America had paid in both lives and material to defend its allies in Western Europe. After World War 2, it was American money (the Marshall Plan) generously given, that rebuilt lives and restored hope to millions of Europeans. If Obama was speaking in 1945, hardly any Western European would feel offended if he said the US was indispensable and exceptional.
But times have changed. The world of today is in many ways light years from the world of the 1940s. America might be good and the most apparent superpower in the world but at the moment there are many others coming up to challenge the US global dominance. They deserve respect and recognition. Obama should know better, there is nothing the US can do to stop Russia, China, India, Brazil, and Iran from taking up their deserved or earned place on the world stage. If the mighty British Empire could not stop the then thirteen colonies of America going their own way in 1776, there is no reason to believe that the US can stop any country of some appreciable power in 2014.
For America to slowdown or even halt its declining global influence in the face of its emergent competitors, it now needs to make a radical shift in its foreign policy. In fact America no longer needs a foreign policy, its needs an international policy. Are the two not the same? No, they are not. US foreign policy has throughout been underpinned by the desire to dominate and impose American hegemony on the world. Those who agree with the US become friends and allies whilst those who disagree become rogue states at best and at worst enemies. Since becoming a superpower after World War 2, the US has adopted one of the most assertive or others would say aggressive foreign policies of all time. America has spent billions of dollars and fought many wars in the name of its foreign policy, in the process making many friends and many more enemies.
Since 1950, the US had at some point, dropped a bomb, or asked a bomb to be dropped or was happy that a bomb was dropped in Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, DR Congo, Angola, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Libya, Syria, etc.
Has American foreign policy succeeded in keeping America and Americans safe or enhanced US’s global dominance? Yes, considering America’s overwhelming influence on the world. No, considering the new challenges such as terrorism partly emanating from the country’s failed foreign policy. More people and countries are now questioning America’s role and position in building world peace. Does the world need more of America or less of it is an ongoing debate.
The new international policy for America instead of banking on the desire to dominate should recognise and acknowledge that the US can no longer eat alone. America should strengthen dialogue with China to resolve the tensions in the South China Sea. It should also talk to Russia in a more friendly way to ease the impasse in Ukraine. The US has to learn to live with the new powers. America’s declining influence is like dealing with old age. You cannot stop aging but you can cope with it. For any American president to think that the rising global powers will tolerate American foreign policy as before is unrealistic. The realistic thing to do is to see America as one of the world’s major players and not the only player whose voice matters. Whilst US foreign policy has for years been designed to force countries to negotiate on US terms and interests, the new international policy should allow all players to interact on mutually beneficial terms.
Though American influence in the world is declining, we must not assume that the US will disappear from the world stage soon. America is here to stay for a very long time if it can drop its current foreign policy in favour of a more dialogue oriented international policy. After all what matters is not an American, Chinese or Russian global dominance, what matters is global security and prosperity. Can this be achieved without international cooperation? I do not think so.
By Abdoulie Sey
The author can contacted at email: [email protected]]]>