Dear President Putin,
Thank you so much for your letter to the American people! I am an American person, and when I learned on Thursday from the official Russian news agency, the New York Times, that you wanted “to speak directly to the American people,” I thought: How sweet!
I know I speak for many American people when I congratulate you on your English. It was flawless, with none of those dropped articles that plague so many of your countrymen. Please don’t be offended, but I have to ask: Did Edward Snowden help you with your letter?
It’s not just your English that impressed me. Your geopolitical points were smart — da bomb, as we American people like to say. (This is not the kind that would be used in Syria.) You were so thoughtful to bring up those memories of our days long ago as allies, and your references to “mutual trust” and “shared success” make me think that maybe we could be friends again. Your favorable mentions of Israel and the Pope remind me that we have so much in common.
Although some of us think it’s a good idea to have the U.S. military strike Syria, most of the American people agree with you that it would be a bad idea. (President Obama, you may have heard, is on both sides of the issue.) Your arguments against attack were creative, which is why it’s such a shame that, at the very end, you kind of stepped in it. When you told us that Americans are not “exceptional” — well, that hurts all of us American people.
I was surprised by this lapse because I think you really “get” Americans. When we saw photos of you shirtless in Siberia, you brought to mind one of our most celebrated American lawmakers, Anthony Weiner. When we watched you navigate around Russian laws to stay in power, you brought to mind another quintessentially American figure, Rod Blagojevich. The Harley-Davidson, the black clothing, the mistress half your age — you are practically American yourself.
This makes your crack about “American exceptionalism” all the more perplexing. “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional,” you wrote. “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” (Thank you for the considerate mention of God, by the way; American people respond well to that.) But I’m guessing what went wrong here is your translators let you down when they defined exceptional for you as luchshyy (better) rather than razlichnyy (different).
Americans do not believe they are better than other peoples. If you doubt this, you need only look at Congress. If we really thought we were superior, is there any chance we would choose them to represent us? There are exceptions — we think we are better than Canadians, for example, but please don’t tell them, because they’re awfully nice — but generally we accept that all countries have their strengths. We know, for example, that Russians are better than us at producing delicacies such as caviar and dioxin. (Kidding!)
When we say we are exceptional, what we really are saying is we are different. With few exceptions, we are all strangers to our land; our families came from all corners of the world and brought all of its colors, religions and languages. We believe this mixing, together with our free society, has produced generations of creative energy and ingenuity, from the Declaration of Independence to Facebook, from Thomas Jefferson to Miley Cyrus. There is no other country quite like that.
Americans aren’t better than others, but our American experience is unique — exceptional — and it has created the world’s most powerful economy and military, which, more often than not, has been used for good in the world. When you question American exceptionalism, you will find little support from any of us, liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, doves or hawks.
I hope you won’t take this criticism badly, because I offer it in friendship. I was in Slovenia that day in 2001 when President George W. Bush looked into your soul and liked what he saw. And had your ancestors not chased my ancestors out of Eastern Europe, I would not be here today, participating in the American experiment.
Anyway, it was such a pleasure to get your letter. Please write again soon. I think this is the beginning of an exceptional friendship.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 12, 2013
“Yes, Vladimir, America Is Exceptional”: It’s Much, Much Better Than That Pink Negligee Russian Kind
As I read Vladimir Putin’s sanctimonious op-edabout U.S. policy in Syria, I imagined the Russian president sitting at the keyboard in a lovely pink negligee.
You will recall that when a satirical painting of Putin in lingerie went on display last month in St. Petersburg, police seized the offending artwork and shut down the exhibit. The artist, Konstantin Altunin, fled the country and is seeking asylum in France. No doubt he wanted to avoid the fate of the punk rock group Pussy Riot, three of whose members were arrested and sentenced to years in prison for an anti-Putin performance in a Moscow cathedral.
So when Putin tries to lecture “the American people and their political leaders” from a position of moral superiority, no one on earth can take him seriously. As for Syria, the sinister and barbarous government of dictator Bashar al-Assad would not last one week without the military hardware that Russia generously provides. Putin thus has the blood of tens of thousands of civilians on his hands.
Putin’s piece in the New York Times does raise an interesting question, however: Has President Obama, the patient seeker of multilateral solutions, now embraced the idea of American exceptionalism?
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” Putin wrote. (Once again, I couldn’t avoid that truly exceptional image with the negligee.)
I, too, was struck by this passage at the end of Obama’s speech:
“America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”
If this sounds like a big change in Obama’s worldview, you’ve been paying too much attention to the right-wing echo chamber — and not enough to what Obama actually says and does.
It is an article of faith among Obama’s critics that he believes the United States is just a regular country, no better or worse than others, and that, accordingly, he seeks to abdicate any leadership role in the world. Where do these critics get such an idea? From their own fevered imaginations, mostly.
What is supposed to be the smoking-gun quote came in 2009, when Obama, responding to a question during an overseas trip, said the following: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Aha, said the critics. He believes we’re just like post-empire Britain and bankrupt Greece.
But if you read the rest of the quote, the president was clearly saying that most people around the world have national pride — but the United States, in his view, is indeed unique.
He spoke of unmatched U.S. economic and military power. He said he was “enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world.” And he added 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.”
Ronald Reagan said it more poetically with “shining city on a hill,” but the idea is the same. Obama has told audiences many times that his life story would not have been possible in any other country. If anyone doubts his willingness to throw American weight around, with or without support from other nations, go ask for opinions in the places where missile-firing U.S. drones circle ominously overhead.
To me, the concept of exceptionalism underpins Obama’s strongest argument for taking military action in Syria. When we see more than 1,400 men, women and children killed with poison gas, it is not our nature to look away. We ask ourselves whether there is anything we should do. We weigh the costs and benefits, the risks and rewards, and we do what we can. The moral case for a strike against the Assad regime is predicated on the fact that if the United States doesn’t do something, nobody will.
Yes, Mr. Putin, you can call that American exceptionalism. I like it a lot better than the Russian kind.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 12, 2013
Since Mitt Romney has decided, for reasons that are a bit obscure, to make foreign policy a major focus of his campaign at this sensitive moment of the presidential contest, it’s time once again to note a rather jarring contradiction nestled in the center of his and his party’s policies and rhetoric. It’s nicely presented once again in a Wall Street Journal op-ed signed by the Republican nominee himself.
It begins with the usual “American exceptionalism” rap: the world is safe if the United States not only walks tall, but walks alone in its status as the source of all virtue and power:
Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We’re unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law. We ally ourselves with like-minded countries, expand prosperity through trade and keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.
But Obama doesn’t get it, and isn’t maintaining our towering-colossus position:
President Obama has allowed our leadership to atrophy. Our economy is stuck in a “recovery” that barely deserves the name. Our national debt has risen to record levels. Our military, tested by a decade of war, is facing devastating cuts thanks to the budgetary games played by the White House. Finally, our values have been misapplied—and misunderstood—by a president who thinks that weakness will win favor with our adversaries.
But what is the supreme example of Obama’s “weakness” and refusal to keep the United States the world’s sole supremely sovereign super-power? Refusing to outsource our Middle Eastern policy to Bibi Netanyahu:
The president began his term with the explicit policy of creating “daylight” between our two countries. He recently downgraded Israel from being our “closest ally” in the Middle East to being only “one of our closest allies.” It’s a diplomatic message that will be received clearly by Israel and its adversaries alike. He dismissed Israel’s concerns about Iran as mere “noise” that he prefers to “block out.” And at a time when Israel needs America to stand with it, he declined to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values.
So the first step Romney urges is “placing no daylight between the United States and Israel.” And that clearly includes a shift in U.S. policy towards Iran away from opposition to acquisition of nuclear weapons to the “red line” Netanyahu is demanding, acquisition of “nuclear capability,” which because of the vague nature of the definition of “capability,” means a pre-justification for military action against Tehran any old time now.
Put aside for a moment the arguments about Iran’s ultimate intentions and its alleged historically unique indifference to nuclear deterrence, or about the actual balance of military power in the Middle East. Forget if you can the calamitous consequences, not only to regional peace and stability, but to the U.S. and global economies, of war with Iran.
Think about this: Mitt Romney is running for president on a platform of indistinguishable and conjoined exceptionalism for the U.S. and Israel. And because Israel faces a vastly greater military threat, this means America would abandon its own independence of action and consign its fate to Bibi Netanyahu, a man whose views on peace and security are highly controversial in Israel itself.
Republican foreign policy thinking has had to go through a lot of twists and turns to arrive at this extraordinarily anomalous place. But the bottom line seems to be remarkably similar to the one embraced twelve years ago by George W. Bush and his advisors, who took office determined to wage war with Iraq, despite the cover of all the middle-school bully-boy talk of preventing war by plotting it constantly.
If Romney wins and the United States supinely follows Bibi into yet another, and this time vastly more dangerous, Gulf war, nobody can say we were not warned.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Anmal, October 1, 2012
It’s treacherous for a US presidential candidate to travel overseas — lots of opportunities for mis-chosen words and getting drawn into other countries’ domestic politics. With Mitt Romney about to leave on his big trip abroad he may already have had his first big foreign stumble. At a GOP fundraiser in San Francisco last night, Romney said that Australia’s foreign minister had warned him that foreign leaders see the US in decline and — at least in Romney’s telling — was hoping for Romney-like policies to make things right.
That at least was the version of the comments that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald. A similar version, but without the full quotes, appeared in the AP.
Quoting Romney: ”And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that, he led the talk of America being in decline. See that’s not talk we hear about here as much as they’re hearing there. And if they’re thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America’s in decline they’re not gonna do it.”
Whether or not the SMH got it right is one question. The Hill notes that the pool reports did not have Romney clearly characterizing the comments as a warning.
And now, Australia’s Foreign Minister’s office has come forward to shoot down Romney’s characterization of the discussion, calling Romney’s interpretation “not correct.”
You cannot take a shoot down like this at face value in any case. Whatever Carr said, he almost certainly didn’t expect Romney to turn around and use it as ammo in a political speech. Allies don’t want to get publicly embroiled in a US election — especially on the wrong side of an incumbent who they believe is more likely than not to get reelected. So he’d be under a lot of pressure to walk away from Romney’s comments, even if Romney was accurately characterizing them. On the other hand, maybe Mitt just made it up or gave it — probably the most likely option — a negative spin the retelling. One way or another, it will be interesting to see how Romney navigates this sort of stuff when he’s overseas.
By: Josh Marshall, Editor and Publisher, Talking Points Memo, July 23, 2012
No, that’s not a trick question. Yes, the answer is that easy. Of course, it’s Mitt Romney.
According to the manager of his trust, Mitt Romney’s Swiss bank account wasn’t an exercise in tax avoidance—rather, it was a hedge against a decline in the dollar. I’m not qualified to say whether or not his explanation is the full truth, but it certainly doesn’t provide evidence that Mitt Romney hates America. Obviously, an investment that bets on the decline of the dollar might not sound good, but when you have as much money as he does, you’re going to end up placing bets that might not be great soundbites for a campaign. In substantive terms, Romney is going to have a much bigger problem explaining why Bain profited from destroying companies than he will have explaining this.
But while the mere existence of the Swiss bank account doesn’t by itself raise questions about Mitt Romney’s loyalty to America, it provides one hell of a way to respond to Romney when he engages his his now-familiar attacks on President Obama’s loyalty. Despite all the attention paid to Newt Gingrich’s “food-stamp” line, Mitt Romney himself is no stranger to the hate card. His preferred formulation: that President Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism, that he seeks to “poison the American spirit”, and that he wants to turn America into Europe and “keep us from being one nation under God.”
Of course, Mitt Romney is nothing like that at all. He’s just the kind of guy who bets on America’s decline to protect his own ass.