Obama tells world: US Is ‘exceptional’ but (don’t worry) not ‘imperial’

In speech three times longer than scheduled, US president doubles down on "American exceptionalism" in address to UN General Assembly

In a display of what critics were quick to interpret as the rhetorical equivalent of U.S. military imperialism and its hubris in foreign policy matters, President Obama defended the idea of “American exceptionalism” and its outsized role in international affairs during his address at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

Dismissing the notion of “an American empire” as mere “propaganda” by some, Obama defended the dominance of U.S. military power as a necessary good in the world. He argued that despite more than a decade of war, which included the illegal invasion and subsequent occupation and destruction of Iraq, the U.S. should continue to use its military strength to defend its interests around the globe.

In his speech, Obama said:

The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is, that the United States after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all.

Obama’s comments were a clear reference to a broadly conciliatory yet strongly worded op-ed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that appeared in the New York Times recently and which criticized the U.S. approach to international relations. Amid the ongoing efforts to find a negotiated settlement in Syria, Putin called the habit of U.S. leaders—and specifically Obama—of invoking the idea of “exceptionalism” as insulting and dangerous to the world community.

Following Obama’s U.N. address on Tuesday morning, commentors on Twitter were blasting Obama for his repeated promotion of the idea of “American exceptionalism” and pointing out the pitfalls of continued U.S. arrogance. Some, citing the fact that Obama—who like other world leaders addressing the assembly was given 15 minutes to speak—delivered a 43-minute speech, said the length of the president’s speech itself provided ample proof of how the U.S. thinks it should stand above all other nations.

As Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Palestine Center in Washington, tweeted:

Yousef Munayyer @YousefMunayyer
Obama has almost tripled the allotted 15 minute talking time! Does he think he is exceptional or something? #UNGA
10:53 AM—24 Sep 2013

And independent journalist Jeremy Scahill applied his dry wit to the speech by paraphrasing the message underlying Obama’s defense of U.S. military imperialism:

jeremy scahill @jeremyscahill
Shorter Obama: the Gulf War was great and we need the Middle East’s oil
10:27 AM—24 Sep 2013

He then added:

jeremy scahill @jeremyscahill
The state of the empire is strong!
10:45 AM—24 Sep 2013

And a sampling of those fed up with the conceit of U.S. claims to superiority:

David Aragon @davidmaragon
So fucking sick of Obama’s “exceptionalism” schtick. This country is exceptionally abusive and opaque, if anything.
11:15 AM—24 Sep 2013

Joseph Chez @JosephChez
Pres @BarackObama @UN & while conciliatory w/ rest of the world, claiming #Exceptionalism contradicts #US notion all men are created equal.
11:11 AM—24 Sep 2013

Howard Brilliant @HDBtweets
The United States is not exceptional. American Exceptionalism is nothing more than deluded self-overconfidence.
11:09 AM—24 Sep 2013

Jon Queally, senior editor and staff writer, has been with Common Dreams, where this article originally appeared, since 2007 covering US politics, foreign policy, human and animal rights, climate change, and much in between.

Comments are closed.