The world still looks to the US

Reuters

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the media after briefing the Security Council on the U.N. chemical weapons report on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Arabic Republic at the United Nations in New York September 16, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Over 70 years, US leadership has lifted millions from poverty & tyranny, while allowing for trade and innovation.

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  • Of late, Americans have been distracted by economic doldrums & seduced by the siren song of isolationism.

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  • Many (with a few notable exceptions), quietly miss the leadership of the US on the global stage.

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Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared in The New York Times' Room for Debate in response to the question: Has the belief in American exceptionalism helped the US protect its national interests or led it into military and diplomatic quagmires?

Barack Obama famously limned that he believes in “American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Like Vladimir Putin, who recently gave his own two rubles on the topic, Obama seems to believe that “all nations are equal.” Of course, that isn’t so. America has a democracy; Russia does not.

None of the recent clamor over exceptionalism has shed much light on the question of why Americans believe theirs is a special nation. Sadly, there is no concise way to answer this. It isn’t easy to explain why Americans fly flags everywhere; give so generously to charity; believe so fervently in freedom; fight so many wars on foreign soil; love guns; or work so hard. Perhaps the founding ethics of the country have trickled down. More likely it is that self-reliance, dogged independence and willingness to fight for the downtrodden are among the things that draw so many to these shores. 

Of late, Americans have been distracted by economic doldrums and seduced by the siren song of isolationism. Reliably, every two decades or so, the country frets itself into a Garboesque fit; we want to be alone. Reliably, the world refuses to allow the only great power willing and able to shift the course of history to disengage. 

Many (with a few notable exceptions), upon reflection, quietly miss the leadership of the United States on the global stage. Over 70 years, that leadership has meant a global compact that has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty and tyranny, that has freed trade and innovation and meant that far from fighting wars, most nations have chosen to live in peace. That is the world as we know and like, and though some suggest it is time for someone else to don the mantle of leadership, the reality is that there is no nation and no people exceptional enough to do it for so long, or so well, or with so little regard to their own aggrandizement or enrichment. 

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