tirsdag 3. mars 2015

Excerpt from "American Exceptionalism: An Idea that Made a Nation and Remade the World"

I'm happy to announce that the official book launch at the Literature House in Oslo last week went well. The room was actually packed (don't people have better things to do on a Friday evening?) and we (I) had a lot of fun. The research director at the Nobel Institute, Asle Toje, commented on my book and former Washington correspondent for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), Joar Hoel Larsen, had funny things to say about Rudy Guiliani. A good night, all in all.

Since my book is in the "ridiculous academic" price range, the least I can do is publish a tiny excerpt from my Introduction. So, here it is:

How to Be an American
It’s been our fate as a nation, not to have
            ideologies but to be one.
Richard Hofstadter[1]
In 2007, Barack H. Obama announced that he was running for president. His announcement set off a rather unusual series of events in the history of U.S. presidential elections. At first, Obama was accused of not being born in the United States.[2] Next, Obama was accused, in various and often not too subtle ways, of being anti-American. During television appearances on Fox News and NBC in June 2008, political commentator Dick Morris argued that “[T]he question that plagues Obama is ... Is he pro-American?” and stated that “[T]his whole debate about what kind of president [Sen. Barack] Obama would make has swirled around almost an existential level. Is he sort of a Manchurian candidate? A sleeper agent? Or is he the great hope of the future?”[3]
Democratic pollster Mark Penn advised Hillary Clinton to target Obama’s “lack of American roots” in the primary by “explicitly own[ing] ‘American’” in her campaign.[4] After Obama’s election to the White House, a third and subtler way of arguing that the president was not truly American emerged. Specifically, President Obama was accused of not believing in “American exceptionalism”. In an influential cover story for the National Review Online, Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru wrote:
It is madness to consider President Obama a foreigner. But it is blindness to ignore that American exceptionalism has homegrown enemies — people who misunderstand the sources of American greatness or think them outdated. If they succeed, we will be less free, less innovative, less rich, less self-governing, and less secure. We will be less.[5]
President Obama’s answer to a question of whether he believed in American exceptionalism at a G20 press conference in Strasbourg in 2009 seemed to give credence to this suspicion. Obama responded by saying that he did believe in American exceptionalism, but then added another sentence that seemed to qualify its very nature: “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exception­alism.”[6] His reported answer set off a hectic debate in the American media,[7] most of which ignored the rest of Obama’s answer. Obama, in the tradition of all U.S. presidents, of course went on to say that he was enormously proud of his country “and its role and history in the world.” In fact, he said:
If you think about the site of this summit [Strasbourg] and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that. … And I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality that, though imperfect, are exceptional.[8]
But the suspicion that the United States would be “less” under a president whom ostensibly did not believe in American exceptionalism had taken root. Further evidence of this, Obama’s critics thought, was to be found in the president’s handling of the Arab Spring from December 2010 onward. Aiming to lighten the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East after the Bush administration’s controversial “war on terror,” the Obama administration’s initial approach to the Arab awakening was perceived as somewhat hesitant. From the administration’s perspective, being involved in two wars in the Middle East while also being widely distrusted throughout the region necessitated a cautious strategy. This “wait-and-see” approach in the spring of 2011 amounted to the “unpatriotic acceptance of fading national glory,” critics thought.[9] In the specific case of a possible, and controversial, intervention in Libya, the strategy was labeled “leading from behind” by a White House official.[10] Republican presidential hopeful at the time, Mitt Romney, latched onto the phrase, declaring: “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America must lead the world, or someone else will.”[11]
The Argument
This book is about the connection between American exceptionalism and U.S. foreign policy, but one that aims to challenge the conventional manner in which the two have been coupled.
Most writers on U.S. foreign policy agree that domestic ideas about what kind of country the United States is affect its foreign policy.[12] Whether in the study of U.S. commitment to multilateralism,[13] post-Cold War policy,[14] or of the historic U.S. foreign policy traditions,[15] scholars write extensively about the importance of an American identity for its foreign policy.
In this book, I argue first, that American exceptionalism is a meaningful and helpful way of defining the elusive category American identity. This means, as we shall see, treating it not as objective truth, but as subjective self-understanding.
Second, I argue that the belief in exceptionalism has had a deep and lasting effect on how the United States relates to the world. Specifically, American exceptionalism has contributed to a more constant foreign policy tradition than commonly argued. I call this tradition unilateral internationalism, meaning that the United States has always been internationalist (engaging with the world politically, economically, and militarily) but has preferred to conduct its foreign policy in a unilateral, rather than multilateral, manner. As we saw from the reactions to President Obama’s multilateral strategy in Libya in 2011, engaging in substantive multilateralism is in fact seen as being “un-American.” The United States does not play by any other rules than its own, and will certainly not be seen as being led by others.
My argument differs from conventional literature, which argues either that the United States historically has vacillated between cycles of intervention and isolation, or that the early period of U.S. foreign policy was isolationist or at least non-interventionist, but that the United States became – with the harrowing experience of World War II – a committed multilateral internationalist. I will refute both the cyclical and the periodic theses of U.S. foreign policy.
In short, I will argue first, that the belief in the idea of American exceptionalism is a useful definition of American identity, and second that it has contributed to a more constant unilateral internationalist foreign policy than most other scholars recognize.

[1] Quoted in Hans Kohn, American Nationalism: An Interpretive Essay (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1957), p. 13.
[2] The “birther” critique was one heard quite often in the 2008 election, which accused Barack Obama of being born in Kenya, not Hawaii. Not being born in the United States makes one ineligible to run for president. See, for example, Ben Smith and Byron Tau, “Birtherism: Where it all began,” Politico (April 22, 2011). URL: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0411/53563.html.
[3] Brian Levy, “Today hosts Dick Morris, who says people are debating whether Obama will be seen as ‘sleeper agent,’” Media Matters for America (June 24, 2008). URL: http://mediamatters.org/print/research/2008/06/24/today-hosts-dick-morris-who-says-people-are-deb/143842
[4] Uri Friedman. “’American Exceptionalism,’ A Short History,” Foreign Policy (July/August 2012). URL: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/06/18/american_exceptionalism
[5] Richard Lowry & Ramesh Ponnuru, “An Exceptional Debate: The Obama administration’s assault on American identity,” National Review Online (March 8, 2010). URL:  http://nrd.nationalreview.com/article/?q=M2FhMTg4Njk0NTQwMmFlMmYzZDg2YzgyYjdmYjhhMzU=;
[6] Michael Scherer, “Obama Too Is an American Exceptionalist,” Time.com (April 4, 2009). URL: http://swampland.time.com/2009/04/04/obama-too-is-an-american-exceptionalist/.
[7] Monica Crowley, “American Exceptionalism…” in The Washington Times (July 1, 2009).
[8] Quoted in Robert Schlesinger, “Obama has mentioned ‘American exceptionalism’ more than Bush,” U.S. News and World Report (January 31, 2011). URL: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2011/01/31/obama-has-mentioned-american-exceptionalism-more-than-bush My italics.
[9] David Remnick, “Behind the Curtain,” The New Yorker (September 5, 2011). URL: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2011/09/05/110905taco_talk_remnick
[10] The phrase was attributed to a White House “adviser” quoted in Ryan Lizza, “The Consequentialist,” The New Yorker (May 2, 2011). URL: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/02/110502fa_fact_lizza For a critique of “leading from behind” see Kori Schake, “Leading from Behind,” Foreignpolicy.com (April 27, 2011). URL: http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/04/27/leading_from_behind
[11] Roger Cohen, “Leading from Behind,” The New York Times (October 31, 2011). URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/opinion/01iht-edcohen01.html?_r=0; For a short summary of the use of the term in the 2012 election by the various presidential candidates, see Frank Rich, “What makes us exceptional,” New York Magazine (July 22, 2012). URL: http://nymag.com/news/frank-rich/american-exceptionalism-2012-7/
[12] Indeed, this has been simultaneously the traditional lament on the part of realist historians and political scientists as well as the proof that those very same realist theories do a poor job of explaining U.S. foreign policy. Realists have consistently criticized the adherence to “idealism” or ideology that is demonstrably present in major foreign policy decisions such as Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations and the second Iraq war, for example. See for example Hans J. Morgenthau, In Defense of the National Interest: A critical examination of American foreign policy (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982); Robert Osgood, Ideals and Self-Interest in American Foreign Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953); Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994). For a critical overview of classical realism, see Michael J. Smith, Realism from Weber to Kissinger (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986).
[13] See for example G. John Ikenberry, After Victory (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); Henry R. Nau, At Home Abroad: Identity and Power in American Foreign Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002); Jeffrey W. Legro, Rethinking the World (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005); Ikenberry, Liberal Order and Imperial Ambition (Malden, MA: Polity, 2006); Stewart Patrick, The Best Laid Plans: The Origins of American Multilateralism and the Dawn of the Cold War (Lanham. MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009).
[14] See for example Melvyn P. Leffler, “9/11 and American Foreign Policy,” Diplomatic History, 29(3), 2005, pp. 395-413; G. John Ikenberry, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Thomas J. Knock, The Crisis in American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-first Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).
[15] See for example, John G. Ruggie, “The Past as Prologue? Interests, Identity, and American Foreign Policy,” International Security, 21(4), 1997, pp. 89-125; Michael Desch, “America’s Liberal Illiberalism: The Ideological Origins of Overreaction in U.S. Foreign Policy,” International Security, 32(3), 2007/08, pp. 7-43.

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