Hillary Clinton has made perhaps her most dramatic pitch yet to her country’s neo-conservatives and war hawks. Speaking to an audience at the American Legion’s national convention in Cincinnati on Wednesday, Clinton vigorously promoted the notion of 'American Exceptionalism' — the idea that the U.S. is somehow inherently different to other nations and holds a special place and mission in the world.
Clinton also took issue with the claim made by her Republican opponent Donald Trump that the use of the term “American exceptionalism” is “insulting to other nations.”
Interestingly, Clinton was never this much of an "exceptionalism" devotee when she last ran for president in 2008 — or at least, she didn’t make it a cornerstone of her campaign. But it doesn’t take much to figure out why she is touting the ideology this year. Her hawkish stances have helped her rake in support from prominent retired military leaders and Republican national security experts, all of whom worry that Trump is not enough of a committed militarist.
Clinton praised her country in no uncertain terms as the “last, best hope of earth” — the “great, unselfish, compassionate country” with an “unparalleled ability to be a force for peace” in the world.
To believe this propaganda is to be delusional in the extreme. What’s more, such claims are entirely at odds with the entire concept of diplomacy for two reasons.
First off, by definition, diplomacy is about dealing with other people in a sensitive and tactful way to achieve mutual aims. There is nothing sensitive or tactful, however, about American exceptionalists. One cannot claim to selflessly build relationships with and between other nations based on respect and mutual interest — and at the same time claim one’s own nation to be inherently superior and fundamentally more important than all others.
The myth of American ‘values’
Second, many non-American Westerners have fallen just as hard for this ideological spin and will trumpet the same talking points with all the same buzzwords: freedom, democracy, peace, human rights. This mentality requires many inconvenient realities to be shoved to the side and treated as though they don’t exist. This has been rather easy with help from mainstream media, which is just as eager to present the US in hallowed terms.
In her speech Clinton promised “fierce commitment” to American values, which include standing up to “regimes that abuse human rights” and choosing not to “cozy up to dictators.” But it’s this selective memory which contributes to the futility of American efforts at diplomacy. When nations that fall out of favor with Washington hear Clinton pontificate to them about human rights and the rules-based world order, they know it means nothing. They know her words are essentially empty. They are not stupid enough to believe these decisions are based on anything other than current geostrategic interests.
When Clinton preaches about human rights, they see only a woman whose family foundation had no problem gobbling up millions of dollars in donations from countries like Saudi Arabia, where women are afforded practically no basic human rights and where being gay is punishable by death. They see a woman posing for a photo-op with Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov (who just died this week), whose government is known for boiling its opponents alive. One assumes that doesn’t matter when you need to ship military supplies through Uzbek land to get to Afghanistan? Indeed, all one need do to stave off criticism from the world’s “moral leader” is facilitate one of their many wars — and hey presto, you’ll be left alone to jail journalists and enslave citizens in labor camps. Easy as pie.
No, when other governments look at the U.S., they do not see a moral leader. Even those that attach themselves to Washington do so out of convenience or necessity — not because of some deep respect for the moral superiority emanating from the White House and a desire to follow its lead, as Clinton would have us believe.
Militarism dressed up as liberal philanthropy
Perhaps bored of the confines of military engagement on earth, Clinton also used her Cincinnati speech to worry about “US interests in outer space” which will be the “next frontier of military engagement.” She also threatened to respond to cyber attacks on earth with military force. The implications here are grave and can’t be understated: We’ve already seen what little “evidence” is needed to pin a cyber-attack on a convenient foe. Indeed, Clinton is already blaming “Russian hacks” for all of her own campaign’s corruption scandals.
One should not be fooled into thinking Clinton’s speech had anything whatsoever to do with human rights, democracy, diplomacy or peace. Clinton’s speech was in fact about war. It was about ensuring the Pentagon that access to funding will not be a problem under her administration. Clinton’s speech was a cynical exercise in hypocrisy — a rallying cry to war hawks at the Pentagon, a public commitment to aggressive militarism dressed up in a liberal cloak of goodwill and good intention.
One of the most sickening moments came when Clinton described how U.S. marines dealt with the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. The soldiers, she said, “took the time to move the women and children, bin Laden’s family members, to safety” before destroying a helicopter that had clipped its tail on the high wall of the compound. Soldiers from other nations might not have been so considerate, she said. They might not have bothered to move the family, or maybe they’d have taken revenge on them, but that is “not who we are,” she said. American soldiers, being American, are just inherently better.
Perhaps Clinton forgot about the rape and abuse of prisoners at U.S. torture gulag Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Perhaps she’s unaware of the illegal detainment of people like Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has spent 13 years behind bars without charge at Guantanamo — an American detention and torture camp located on Cuban land. Or perhaps, what doesn’t fit the Hollywood-style American heroes narrative simply gets thrown by the wayside to make room for the continual scolding of other nations.
Certainly, many nations and leaders engage in a similar kind of ideological propagandizing to distract citizens from their own present ills. Indeed, lauding the victorious moments in history over the shameful ones is only human nature. But a sense of national pride is one thing. Encouraging people to view themselves as exceptional while others remain "dispensable" is quite another.
The ideology of American exceptionalism is a towering barrier to creating even the bare semblance of geopolitical harmony — and the very notion of it is a myth unless we define it by its proper meaning: The U.S. believes it is immune from law or judgement, can act as it pleases, and that its endless aggressions must never be curtailed or questioned. That is the real American exceptionalism — and Clinton is now one of its biggest proponents.