We Americans have never been accused of being introspective…we just know in our gut that the United States of America is the Vanguard of Progress, ‘noble in reason and infinite in faculty’. We know, without a whisper of doubt, that we are the Good Guys. We are at the head of the class!. And that can’t be bad….can it?
“…from all that I can see of this president [Obama], all that I’ve heard of him, he apologizes for America, he criticizes America. … I don’t hear from him … about what a great country we are, what an exceptional country we are.” -Rudi Giuliani, Foxnews.com
These execrable comments by the former NYC Mayor, Rudi Giuliani, point to a deeper national problem than Republicans’ visceral and knee-jerk renunciation of President Barack Obama and all his works. In an era that has been rightly lampooned for being overly concerned about ‘self-esteem’, the USA has fallen madly in love with … itself. I submit that this self-admiration has skewed our perception of the rest of the world and has led directly to the present conflagration in the Middle East.
We are born believing, without question, that America is the cutting edge of social evolution. In our mental self-narrative, we are a people to be lauded and envied. ‘They envy our freedom/our ingenuity/our success’ are American truisms. We congratulate ourselves aloud – and in public – for being ‘exceptional’. As a result, we imagine that the deepest desire of those unfortunates who live in the ‘lesser’ countries is to become more like Americans. “Oh, if they only had the chance to be FREE!”, we tut-tut mournfully. Over time this perspective has led to our current, increasingly xenophobic, obsession with ‘protecting’ our borders. Republicans are nearly hysterical in their efforts to turn back the diseased, criminal, unworthy masses (known until only recently as ‘those yearning to breathe free’) who are imagined to be assaulting our borders. That’s today…but how did we get to this juncture?
To appreciate how much damage this obsession with ourselves has done, flashback to 2003, to the war the US originally titled “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL). In March of that year, our Narcissist-in-Chief, George W. Bush, decided to abandon the hunt for Osama bin Laden to declare war on a country which had nothing to do with the attack of 9/11. Fulfilling his own Make-A-Wish, George W. Bush made himself a ‘War President’ at last.
Remember that early in his presidency, Bush modestly related that God Almighty Himself urged him to run for President. This was not a metaphor … this was something that he deeply Believed and Christian America swooned. But his delusion of being sanctioned by God begs the question: Did the President of the United States rely on his gut understanding of God’s will and a storybook fantasy about American Exceptionalism when he chose to open the doors of Chaos in Iraq? He certainly cannot be accused of any careful reflection or planning. President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the other top US leaders were unconcerned about planning for a post-war Iraq because a full-fledged Democracy (“they want to be just like us!”) was sure to spring spontaneously from ‘The People’ of Iraq.
Americans allowed themselves to be mesmerized by our self-proclaimed ‘War President’ and to be goaded by our cheer leading national media. One of the fast-emerging memes of W’s war was that we were actually in Iraq attempting to bestow the ‘Gift’ of Western-style Democracy (albeit at gunpoint). We were assured that our armed invasion would ignite a democratic firestorm, ushering in a new era of Freedom, Human Rights and Justice in a benighted land. By virtue of ‘Shock and Awe’, and green-lighted by the Creator of the Universe, we would give the Iraqi people their long-awaited opportunity to be just like us! The problem was that Iraq is in a part of the world that had little or no concept of the individual freedoms being proffered. The rolling disaster we now witness in the Middle-East is a direct result of American hubris and utter disdain planning.
Well, we got the ‘firestorm’ part right anyway.
At the time of the US invasion of Iraq, American leaders were shamefully (willfully?) unaware of the 1,400 year-old schism which divided Islam. As a direct result of this blissful ignorance, religious intolerance and sectarian hatred which had slumbered (more or less) for centuries suddenly burst back to savage life. Over eight years, 2003-2011, the civil war that America ignited cost the lives of several hundred thousand Iraqi civilians; in that same time period, conservative estimates are that over a million Iraqis lost their homes and were displaced.
To put that in perspective, had the action taken place in America instead of Iraq, it would have been the equivalent of the loss of 2.5 MILLION American lives and 12 MILLION American refugees displaced from their homes! Just imagine how the surviving Americans might have regarded the invaders! It’s a cinch we wouldn’t admire them!
Because of our actions (the war-of-choice, indefinite detentions, torture) America has squandered its moral high-ground and much of the influence it once enjoyed around the globe. Our actions expose us as hypocrites when we protest that Putin invaded Ukraine (which is on his border) when we waltzed into Iraq (halfway around the globe) in defense of what we called our national security. Yet, the Right Wing Echo Machine has mercilessly pummeled President Obama for adopting a slightly more humble posture on the world stage. He is constantly derided as ‘apologizing‘ for America … as though America has never made a mistake … as though a little humility would diminish us somehow.
The results of the recent national election will only serve to ramp up our bellicose public bluster. Witness the Republican attempt to derail the diplomatic efforts with Iran (and before anyone goes off on me, remember that conduct of foreign policy is the prerogative of the Executive, not Congress). Looking ahead to 2016, we see the Republicans assembling the same crew of ‘experts’ (do the names Shultz, Rice, Wolfowitz ring a bell? YES, they were the ones who promised that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk which would pay for itself!) to support Jeb Bush or whomever survives the gauntlet of the upcoming Tea Party Primaries.
We seem to have learned little from our decade of ill-considered war, immersed as we are in our self-congratulatory-flag-pins-on-our-lapels-God-is-with-us culture. It turns out that America isn’t so much ‘exceptional’, as it is infatuated…with our image in the mirror.