“American exceptionalism” – the long and the short
In that strange way the history of ideas swivels and turns, an old internal Communist argument is back – but as so often happens, the sides reversed. And few recognize its origins.
When Josef Stalin was wrapping up his enemies inside the Soviet Union and its appendage, the Comintern, the world Communist headquarters, he ran into an ideological problem with the miniscule American Communist Party. Stalin wanted to reconstitute the U.S. party with his own hacks. But as happens among Communists – even to today in Beijing – Stalin needed a “theoretical” issue to justify his actions. He seized on a heresy rampant inside the hugely unsuccessful 1930s American left: namely, without Europe’s ancient class structures and conflicts, the breathtaking exuberance for life and opportunities on this side of the Atlantic would block Marxist apparatchiks bringing on “the revolution”. That was the climatic event Kremlin leadership [even if Stalinists were increasingly skeptical themselves] preached would solve the world’s problems
The then American representative to “The Socialist Motherland”, Jay Lovestone, called it “American exceptionalism” in Party councils, an unpardonable sin.
Lovestone, an old American revolutionary despite his ideological transgressions, escaped Stalin’s goons. But it was by a hairsbreadth with help from a fellow American Communist then in Moscow, one Dr. Juluis Hammer, New York City physician, abortionist, ex-convict, who had befriended V.I. Lenin, the Russian revolutionary who led the radicals to power in 1917-22. . [Hammer would found a dynasty of billionaires prospering from their Moscow connections through the long line of Soviet dictators.]
Lovestone, briefly an “independent revolutionary”, blossomed into an exceedingly effective anti-Communist, first with the WWII Office of Strategic Services [OSS], later transformed into the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]. Then working as international director for Mr. George Meaney, the old plumber who headed the AFL-CIO, Lovestone helped bring much of the European left into the anti-Soviet fold
American exceptionalism, as clever slogans are wont, metamorphosed over the decades. It has melded with the beliefs of religious reformers who originated some American colonies [the Pilgrims, Ann Hathaway, William Penn, George Lord Baltimore, etc.] They saw themselves as precursors of a new social order. Their phraseology often borrowed from Judeo-Christian thought, specifically Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Later, the American Republic Founders believed they were creating a new civilization on the western shores of the Atlantic, distinct from Europe’s old evils. When asked by a passerby the result of the secret conclave of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin, the grand old wizard of American Revolution international politics, told her, “We have created a Republic, Madame, if you can keep it”.
The latest to use the concept, if not the slogan itself, was Pres. Ronald Reagan. In his 1989 farewell speech, he explained:
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.”
This recurring theme divides the U.S. polity today as perhaps no other intellectual current. Much of the self-anointed, sophisticated “political class” [European jargon recently brought to America in defiance of the Founders’ dream of citizen-politicians] denigrates the whole idea. Pres. Barack Obama, for example, recently said in France he believed only in American exceptionalism as a rationalization every nation state has for the importance of its own credo. Some of his most loyal political base has long argued American exceptionalism camouflages rampant chauvinism, xenophobia, arbitrary use of power for self-interest — even opportunism and greed.
That line of attack was enhanced when in the post-World War II world, American exceptionalism took on new meaning. With a Europe in ruins and even in recovery dependent on the U.S. defense umbrella to prevent Soviet domination, America’s economic aid was overwhelming. Its support was not only brute strength but set patterns for economic development and world order. Official U.S. aid and private investment outflows created the norm for industrial countries’ international relations. American-style multinationals replaced, then dwarfed old European trading companies outgrowths of European colonialism. The dollar became the international currency in which most values were expressed.
Battered and tarnished as the current U.S. economy may be, when the EC attempted to meet “the Greek crisis” — which could lead not only to the destruction of the Euro but “the European project” itself — it begged for help from the International Monetary fund. There, indirectly, the American taxpayer carries a disproportionate load — more evidence of the U.S.’s still special role in world affairs.
American exceptionalism lives!
A version of this column is scheduled for publication on Monday, April 29, 2013, at http://worldtribune.com
Limiting U.S. influence
America’s prostituted mainline media and supercilious celebrity culture are helping to facilitate the Obama Administration’s destruction of U.S. government credibility.
The impression is growing that Pres. Obama’s pomposity on strategy and policy are hollow rhetoric despite their ballyhooing by a kept press, increasingly unconvincing to his domestic audience and to the U.S.’ friends and enemies abroad. That will limit Washington’s ability to manage the continuing domestic economic crisis with its high rate of unemployment and further erodes what Pres. Obama already has sought to curtail, Washington’s still critical international role.
The media, with its annual Washington garish gala this past weekend, is increasingly unable to distinguish between its appetite for starring roles and its traditional legitimate reportage. Nowhere was that more apparent than in The New York Times now failed campaign to try to sell the Administration’s line that the Boston Marathon Bombings had no relationship to international Muslim jihadist terrorism. It was matched by National Public Radio’s’ equally fervent propaganda to ascribe Sequester cutbacks as beyond the Obama Administration’s power to accommodate a still increasing if curtailed budget.
The various aspects of the Obama Administration growing credibility debacle are disparate but widespread:
Energy Having failed with its strategy of higher prices and huge subsidies to stampede the economy into new and yet unproved so-called alternate sources of energy, the Administration’s fanatical Environmental Protection Agency appointees wage a war against the economy. The EPA is still trying to limit the exploitation of natural gas resources with its economies and lower pollution levels. The long sought target of energy self-sufficiency – which would break the grip of politically unstable Mideast producers – is being sabotaged. The possibility of Canadian oil and gas exports through Texas refineries is blocked by delaying permission for the Keystone XL, despite sacrificing jobs for Mr. Obama’s own trade union constituency. All this perverted policy impacts on peace and stability with the huge surpluses which have poured into the coffers of the Persian Gulf states often used to finance state and private terrorism.
Sequestration The across-the-board slash, initially endorsed and signed by the President, was to have forced the hand of the Congress and the executive into new efficiencies. But Pres. Obama attempts to use it to war on benefits to the American taxpayer in an effort to discredit the Republicans and win next year’s congressional elections. He has had the audacity to refuse a Republican initiative for legislation – which many constitutionalists argue unnecessary – to readjust expenditures. Now, faced with public outcry over plane delays, the White House has accepted legislation which permits the Federal Aviation Agency – again playing the Obama game – to juggle internal funds so airport towers will not be undermanned.
Syria The Administration hung back from action to stop the slaughter of innocents by the Basher Al Assad regime, thus increasingly turning over the rebellion to Muslim Jihadists – many recruited abroad and promising to return for terrorism in Europe and America. Then Pres. Obama drew his so-called red line against chemical weapons. Whether to test the U.S.’ intent, or simply following in his murderous strategy, there is growing proof Assad has done just that. Sec. Chuck Hagel, turning on a dime, suddenly endorsed longstanding Israeli and European claims of their use, but the red line has turned pink. The President waffles on what he, again, announced was bedrock policy.
Iran Returning last week as a gift offering an Iranian expatriate who flagrantly violated sanctions, Pres. Obama continues to importune Tehran. He touts a diplomatic campaign to halt its weapons of mass destruction program. But all sides agree the sanctions are not working, in no small part because of the various exceptions the Administration has given various trading partners instead of pursuing financial tools which Washington has used in the past for sanctions enforcement. There is every reason to believe Tehran is progressing toward a nuclear weapon, which would not only become a threat to Israel, but would reinforce the mullahs’ efforts to become the hegemonic power in the Middle East controlling Mideast oil for the world economy outside the U.S.
China Having announced with great fanfare a “pivot” – naming specific times and elements of U.S. declining naval forces to be shifted to East and South Asia – the Obama Administration again waffled. It refuses to commit on the specific issues associated with such an arbitrary transfer of power in a totally volatile and unpredictable international strategic environment. For example, the Obama Administration has taken an ambiguous position on regard to the contest for the East China Sea islands between China and Japan, acknowledging Japanese long-time administration after their return by the U.S. with Okinawa following World War II, announcing Washington takes no position on their sovereignty. Despite bombastic statements refuting Beijing’s South China Sea claims, it has not been able to halt Beijing’s beginning oil drilling in the area.
Terrorism Whatever the origins of Pres. Obama’s refusal to name radical Muslim terrorism for what it is, an outgrowth of one particular religious environment, his campaign to minimize the enormity of the problem and its widescale international network is crippling law enforcement. Attorney-General Eric H. Holder, Jr.’s conflicted and highly politicized administration crossed up its own Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to elicit additional information from the surviving younger Boston Marathon Bomber which might have led to increasing evidence of a much wider international plot. The President insists, against the expressed legislative will of the Congress, to try to abandon Guantanamo as a repository for prisoners of war in the continuing war on terrorism. His refusal to acknowledge the American public’s preference rather than incarceration in U.S. prisons has now ended in a new scandal of maladministration and a hunger strike by some of the world’s most dangerous murderers.
Obamacare With the deadline of implementation or a sought for implementation of much of the touted medical legislation scheduled for Jan. 1, 2014, there is increasing prospect of near chaos ahead. None of the promised goals of the legislation have been achieved – freedom to select providers, lower insurance costs, complicated arrangement for covering the noninsured, etc. – are all in jeopardy. Most importantly, new fees and taxes loaded on small entrepreneurs is crippling the economy where most new employment originates. Furthermore, the opposition to the Obama initiative is now chaotic with some diehards demanding complete repeal and others seeking to amend the legislation which have already taken affect. The President, himself, blithely ignores the situation.
Over all this hangs a miasma of intellectual confusion, engendered by an increasingly ill-equipped and politically prejudiced academic community which dominates much of what passes for public discussion of national issues.
That incisive social critic, Patrick Moynihan, warned us a generation ago that U.S. society is “… said to be on the lookout for poor fellows getting a bum rap. But …there are circumstances in which society will choose not to notice behavior that would be otherwise controlled, or disapproved, or even punished. … what we in the United States have been doing of late. I proffer the thesis that, over the past generation … the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can ‘afford to recognize’ and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard. …”
What Moinyihan described has gone so far that convicted, terrorist murderers, who cost the lives of innocents and law enforcers, are now given honor in our most prestigious universities. Terrorists Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn and Kathy Boudin have become members of the faculties at leading universities. Ayers, a friend of the President, his told The New York Times on the ironic date of Sept. 11, 2001 that “I feel we didn’t do enough … (there’s) a certain eloquence to bombs, a poetry and a pattern from a safe distance.”
Can there be a more definitive indictment of the current intellectual climate that surrounds this Administration and permeates the so-called U.S. elite?
What Obama could do
The dust has far from settled on the Washington stalemate over setting a new debt limit. As Thomas Sowell pointed out, so logically, were an increase in the debt ceiling only “routine”, held up by pesky Congressional Tea Partiers, as the spenders charged, then what would be the purpose of having a ceiling at all? But while an indecorous debate encapsulated the larger ideological divide, America rapidly moves on, remorselessly, to threatening politico-economic issues cascading in from Europe and Asia as well as at home.
Ironically the current world crisis proved one thing: a continuing overwhelming faith in America’s importance, whether economically or culturally. Proof is “the flight to quality” by investors worldwide into the American Republic’s indebtedness as witness all-time record low interest in U.S. Treasuries auctions. Prime Minister David Cameron’s turn to American police [overcoming the usual our British Greek to your American Roman prejudices] in the face of chaotic English urban rioting is another indicator. But disquieting news from Libya approaching indecisive civil war and tragic events in Afghanistan where withdrawal leaves a highly vulnerable Pakistan indicate just how wanting is continued Obama Administration “leading from behind”.
US economic amelioration and patching up its world role would require extraordinary statesmanship. And as many observers, Pres. Harry Truman for one, have judged, the Constitution and history has made the presidency a very strong executive, and it sometimes matters less what he decides but that he act. “The buck stops here”, Mr. Truman’s pithy saying, remains a call for presidential courage on Pres. Barack Obama.
Here’s the kind of action that might result were that summons answered:
- Send Michelle and the kids off to Martha’s Vineyard while making a seminal Oval Office Labor Day speech on economic affairs. The spin might be: while holding to fundamental beliefs for a new era of economic justice, pragmatism demands that agenda be put on hold to meet the deepening emergency replaced by a program of cooperation with business to produce jobs immediately.
- Ask the Congress to skip vacation and reconvene in special session, if needs be three days a week, to consider economic-political measures necessitating legislative action, or simply as a forum to vent the public’s criticism.
- Call for a summit at the highest level with our allies in Europe and Japan on the world economy — including the simultaneous attendance of all central bankers –to discuss coordinating economic strategies and tactics.
- Begin weekly meetings in closed session with a group of recognized private sector leaders to brainstorm recovery strategies and tactics.
- Call for an immediate minimum two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, ask Congress immediately to cut capital gains to zero, and begin the examination of longer term tax alternatives including a flat tax.
- Propose a tax reform commission of experts modeled after the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission to suggest immediate incremental incentives for small businesses – the fountainhead of jobs.
- Lift all administrative restrictions on discovery and production of fossil fuels, especially in the Gulf and Alaska and Virginia, creating perhaps a quarter of a million jobs immediately.
- Use the extensive administrative powers written into Obamacare to suspend any implementation for at least five years and suggest its review by a body of medical, insurance and regulatory technocrats to be presented to the Congress before November 2012.
- Ask Congress for a one-time tax remission for multinationals to encourage repatriation of an estimated $2.5 trillion in profits held overseas, on condition 25% be invested immediately in an infrastructure fund [highways, bridges, airport, rail reconstruction, etc.], a private sector Reconstruction Finance Corporation administered by those companies in collaboration with local governments.
And then sit back and see the American economy take off!
Alas! I fear we have as much hope for such a program, either thematically or in its specifics, as the proverbial snowball in the nether regions. Hangers-on, leftwing Democrats and the kept mainstream media will continue to hope for victory in next year’s elections, clinging to an agenda designed to enthuse the President’s “politically correct” base, demonize his opponents and flimflam independents by pretending a position of compromise.
Unfortunately, it looks like that indomitable American economy with its incredible history of jobs creation will have to continue to tread water – as it will manfully — against a Washington tide.
Foreign policy by “prayer”?
In a region noted for miracles – Israel’s prosperous if beleaguered survival, despite attempts to mobilize 360-million Arab enemies, is a recent example – prayer could be a way to make U.S. policy. Although she now contributes only by inheritance, former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice voiced that possibility, woefully, recently: “…We have only one choice: to trust that in the long arc of history those shared beliefs will matter more than the immediate disruptions that lie ahead and that, ultimately, our interests and ideals will be well served.“
To quote John Maynard Milord Keynes, in the long run we will all be dead.
Reality is the Obama Administration cannot continue to abdicate America’s responsibility, leaving a worldwide vacuum to be filled by every would-be amateur Metternich. Obviously, policy is made with many unanswered questions. But leadership requires sorting possibilities, and decision-making, usually accepting the best of poor alternatives.
In all the uncertainties facing Egypt’s future, and indeed, the whole Arab world, by encroaching poverty pitted against rising expectations, none is so mysterious as current U.S. policy.
The talking heads more or less confirmWashington was unprepared for Cairo’s implosion. Okay, as some of us over 35 know, human events are largely unpredictable. Who could have guessed immolation by an unemployed vendor in tiny Tunisia, hardly respectable among the macho Arabs, would topple the dominoes?
But Egypt was notorious as a classically fragile third world country. There was always potential drama in rising unemployment, underdeveloped or depleted natural resources, literally thousands of years of bureaucratic malfeasance. Ruled by a highly personalized military dictatorship, no secure succession was in sight to its 83-year-old, ill, reactionary head. Yet Cairo dominated culturally a region because of its fossil fuel resources critical to the U.S. and the world economy. Yet destabilization came as a surprise? Yes, the U.S. is in a period of overwhelming domestic concern. Fickle Washington is notoriously a one-issue theater – and the Obama Administration is still winding down two wars. But surprise?
Looking for an explanation, the inevitable conclusion is the foreign policy establishment – in and out of government, for with the Inside the Beltway revolving door they are indistinguishable – is incompetent. Why?
“Group think” dominates analyses. Fads and instant expertise – instead of the long, hard, slog through history and anecdotal information – preclude originality. Even the Pentagon, supposedly noted for realism, bought into the most primitive “scientism”: the hypothesis scientific method could be applied to social problems. It spent tens of millions of dollars on “software” replacing the old crystal ball, the alchemist’s puttering, the Gypsy soothsayers on Manhattan’s Second Avenue, or the oracle of Delphi but didn’t see this coming.
Even now most media chatter trots out tired clichés. Basic problems are ignored or obfuscated. Not even the right questions are posed, at least not publicly:
1] How is any Egyptian regime going to meet growing unemployment and unrest among a notoriously young population? Will the new regime reverse largely protectionist, corrupt Murbarak policies which inhibited foreign investment and technological transfer. [Read the labels: Highly valued Egyptian cotton is made into sheets, towels and garments in India, China, Bangladesh – any place but Egypt!]
2] Fatuous rationalizations about Islam dominate the politically correct discourse. No one, probably including the Muslim Brotherhood itself, knows the fanatics’ strength in the new environment. But can there be any doubt a movement grounded in radical political and primitive Islam, threatens all modern values? Even if analyses arguing the Brothers are currently ambivalent are correct, will the obviously difficult days ahead not stir its original bowels of fanaticism as has happened elsewhere?
3] With continued military dominance likelihood, how far have the jihadists penetrated its lower echelons? Is a sergeants’ revolt likely – just as Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the original 1952 military coup instituting failed pan-Arab nationalism and a Soviet alliance? Doesn’t anyone remember Pres. Anwar Sadat was assassinated during a military review by the Brothers’ intellectual offspring in “borrowed” uniforms?
4] Most important, what role can America actually play? Is it wise to continue making public statements, often contradictory within 24 hours? Wouldn’t a quieter diplomacy – if such can be conducted given Washington’s official blabbermouths and wikileaks’ assistance – be more effective? Given past history in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, etc., isn’t the influence of the Pentagon on Egyptian military – despite the annual $1.5 billion aid bribe – questionable? Is America’s “soft power” being mobilized? coordination between policymakers and propaganda, official and unofficial, in a world of instant replay?
Pres. Barack Obama’s ideological proclivities will have to give way to realism if the U.S. is not to stumble further. Nothing was clearer when his feathers were ruffled by admonitions from old Egypt-hand Amb. Frank Wismer advocating a transition with Mubarak.
Running American foreign policy is not community organizing agitation, but a hard-headed, facts-based choice of always difficult alternatives. Choices have to be made, quickly, quietly, and judiciously. Harry Truman had it right: constitutionally and historically the presidency of the U.S. is a strong executive, and it sometimes doesn’t matter as much what the decision is but that it be made.
A world turned inside out
American prestige is now dependent on the swift feet and hard heads of its handicapped soccer team trying to pull off a “U-S-A/U-S-A” miracle in South Africa. Certainly, nothing substantial is likely to come out of the G20 or a subsequent meeting of the Big Boys, the G8, groupings of the world’s most powerful economies and hangers-on, convened as we go to press. That’s in no small part because the Obama Administration has abdicated the U.S. historic post-World War II economic leadership role as it pursues what the world sees as foolish economic policy.
Washington is, of course, too crises-ridden to take new international economic initiatives – or, in fact, to follow up old ones. The Obama Administration strategy which aims to produce recovery through pump-priming and government-subsidized alternative energy gets short shrift from its Western partners and Japan. They want to set their — and especially everyone else’s — budgets in order. Add that to the failure of Pres.Obama’s pre-conference letter to Beijing, again wheedling China to end currency manipulation. The Administration’s pleading – backed by a protectionist revolt among Congressional Democrats – was been met with confused official and semi-official signals, but in the end, stonewalling. Nor can America’s allies ignore Washington’s refusal to waive the Jones Act, purportedly protecting maritme labor and the desiccated U.S. ship industry, to welcome European skimmers and other help in the BP spill.
On the outer fringes of the world economy, Beijing reflects leadership and policy conflicts as confused if more secret than those in Washington. The Chinese first “vowed” [according to fawning media] to take action to permit its wildly undervalued currency to rise. But then after several days trading, it became obvious Beijing would not — and probably could not — take a disastrous short-term route to help rebalance the world’s currencies. [Beijing’s latest announcement of reduced export subsidies is only the reflection of growing inventories and saturated foreign markets.]
Meanwhile, longer term speculation on eventual massive Chinese reevaluation grows – evidenced by China’s real estate bubble and a casino stock market. Government infrastructure expansion — enough for the next century — absorbing most of the “stimulus” has reached its limits. All of these problems are intensified by all pervasive corruption. [Beijing claims more than 94 billion yuan, $14 billion, in misappropriated public funds was recovered from some 800 officials last year alone.]
Furthermore, as Pres. Obama presses a more and more reluctant Congress to pursue a policy that Maynard Lord Keynes would never have condoned despite the Greek chorus invoking his name, Europe’s relatively solid citizen, Germany, declines. Berlin will not dance with a partner carried away on the strains of unlimited expenditures for the public sector.Germany, itself, is hoisted on a dilemma: its export-driven economy has depended on pushing out goods for Euros which its customers, it turns out, had not actually earned. Greece is only the first of several Euro currency economies who will come a cropper over drunken sailor debt.
Even were Chancellor Angela Merkel to agree to pick up the burden, German taxpayers would not. And the Chancellor already has her hands full with a complicated political crisis over electing a new president. That’s why the Chinese are said to be worried more about the rapidly the deteriorating Euro than their vast hoard of devaluing dollars.
The only “bright spot” is with Britain’s new Prime Minister, David Cameron, like a proper Scotsman taking a meat cleaver to public expenditures. Throwing off suspicions he was “conservative light”, “a Rockefeller Republican”, Cameron has cut public expenditure 25% across the board. But will his Liberal Democrat coalition partners sweat it out long enough for the anticipated long-term results to come home?
With each passing week, world economic problems become more acute. Latest statistics show the bulk of recent international borrowing has been to prop up the Euro, not only against the Greek bailout but anticipating similar credit problems with the whole outer ring of the European Community. It was not for private sector recovery — and jobs, jobs, jobs. In Asia, Beijing’s East Asian partners depend on Chinese assembly operations using slave labor and increasing quantities of imported energy to cling to their export markets. It’s no wonder they have been hit by a wave of “illegal”, unprecedented strikes which Beijing leadership has tried to ignore – perhaps as long as they are foreign-owned firms?
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, like China, are export-led. [Tokyo’s autos and other high tech exports have come back after a second drop last year; $60 billion in May, normally accounting for 10% of the gross domestic product for the world’s second economy.] For different reasons none of these yesterday’s vaunted Tigers are capable of quickly making the dramatic, painful and complex changeover all have promised: to expand their domestic markets reducing reliance on exports to the West. With each passing day, however, it becomes more and more clear that recovery [and return of once halcyon exports markets] in the U.S. and the EU is a lengthening process – and, indeed, the danger of the industrial economies slipping back into recession again is ever present.