Thursday, October 19. 2006
On Tuesday, President Bush signed into law a bill that critics consider "one of the most un-American in the nation's long history," writes Dan Froomkin for the Washington Post:
The new law vaguely bans torture -- but makes the administration the arbiter of what is torture and what isn't. It allows the president to imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant. It suspends the Great Writ of habeas corpus for detainees. It allows coerced testimony at trial. It immunizes retroactively interrogators who may have engaged in torture. Here's what Bush had to say at his signing ceremony in the East Room: "The bill I sign today helps secure this country, and it sends a clear message: This nation is patient and decent and fair, and we will never back down from the threats to our freedom." But that may not be the "clear message" the new law sends most people. Here's the clear message the law sends to the world: America makes its own rules.And the LA Times points out that "the Justice Department moved immediately to request the dismissal of dozens of lawsuits filed by detainees challenging their incarceration."
The new law is relevant to the discussion about American Exceptionalism: Gregory Djerejian suspects in The Belgravia Dispatch that many historians will view the Iraq war as a "vanity" war.
David Rieff, the renown journalist, author and former fellow of the American Academy in Berlin, responded:
You write, correctly, in my view of the current administration's "Bloated sense of American exceptionalism." But I think it is American exceptionalism itself, as our official national ideology, that is now dangerous to our national interest in a way it has not been in the past. The reason for this is simple. During much of the 20th century, much of the world (outside of Latin America, that is, where we were always viewed as the empire) concurred with America's image of itself. Perhaps that was because of what we represented; perhaps, to take the realist approach you and I both favor, it was because it was in Europe's and much of East Asia's interest to do so. But at the very least, the sense we had of ourselves did not seem illegitimate to much of the world as it does now. But now is now, and we are still proceeding as if we get a kind of moral free pass no matter what we do, that we are exceptional.Re the old and new image see the Atlantic Review's post Europeans want "their" America back.
David Rieff really is a realist. He was very critical of the European and American responses to genocide in Rwanda and the humanitarian aid business in general. His latest book makes a good reading: A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (Amazon.com, Amazon.de)
For a more elaborate take on his views regarding American Exceptionalism check out his book review "We Are the World" in The Nation (June 2006). He starts by describing how he was welcomed by a Macedonian border guard to "the best country. And I do not say that only because I am Macedonian." Then writes:
After reading The Case for Goliath, Michael Mandelbaum's astonishingly complacent and sentimental glorification of the role the United States plays in maintaining global security, and A New Deal for the World, Elizabeth Borgwardt's more scholarly but, if anything, even more sentimental and self-regarding account of the American decision to put human rights at the center of the post-World War II international order, I wonder if that Macedonian official wasn't offering a far more moderate version of national self-love than what apparently passes for intelligent, dignified reflection in the United States these days about America's role in the world.Gregory Djerejian responds to David Rieff's letter :
I believe this decade will largely be viewed by historians as an era marked by profound incompetence and deep paranoia. These two have conjoined into something of a national mania, of late, and the key now is damage control. To accomplish same, even for those of us who have little faith in the Democratic party's foreign policy, we must nevertheless hope the Democrats win in November.Wow! As always, these are just some snippets. It's worth reading the entire blog posts and the book review. Clive Davis describes the belief in exceptionalism as The American Problem.
Another "Wow!": General Dannatt, the head of the British army, said that Britain has to withdraw "sometime soon" so that Britain still has "an army in five years time and 10 years time." Clive Davis quotes from a Telegraph leader about this affair:
The question therefore becomes a narrow one: are British soldiers helping to contain a civil war that would be happening anyway, or is their presence in fact exacerbating the insurgency?
Endnote about American Exceptionalism in general: In 1996 Prof. Seymour Martin Lipset published American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (Amazon.com, Amazon.de):
Defining exceptionalism as "qualitatively different," not "great," Lipset here analyzes attitudes characteristic of American society. He has been doing so for 40 years and here collects and connects his recent articles about what distinguishes America from comparable industrial societies in Canada, Europe, and Japan. Lipset argues that the social pathologies many deplore (crime, litigiousness, a nonsocialist medical system) are a consequence of values they presumably approve, such as individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.Prof. em. Howard Zinn, however, considers the meaning of exceptionalism as more than just "qualitatively different", but says it includes a belief in superiority and widespread self congratulation. The Fulbright funded SPURS program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides a video of Zinn's 2005 lecture "The Myth of American Exceptionalism".
Howard Zinn is the author of the bestseller A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present (Amazon.com, Amazon.de), which was just translated into German by Atlantic Review editor Sonja Bonin: Three of the ten volumes are already available at Amzaon.de: Band 1: Kolonialismus, Rassismus und die Macht des Geldes; Band 2: Unabhaengigkeitserklaerung, Revolution und das Aufbegehren der Frauen; Band 3: Die Umsiedlung der Indianer und der Krieg gegen Mexiko. The other volumes will be available soon and the Atlantic Review will write a more detailed post about this series.
POSTSCRIPT: American Exceptionalism extends into space? The BBC reports that "President George W Bush has signed an order which asserts the US right to block access to space to any country or group deemed hostile to its interests."
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan appreciated that the popular conservative talkshow host Bill O'Reilly "asked the president directly about a torture technique he has personally authorized - waterboarding."
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Tcobb - #1 - 2006-10-18 23:24 -
Please. Just about everyone from any nation and/or cultural group consider themselves to be exceptional. If a "a belief in superiority and widespread self congratulation" is so evil, people ought to start looking at the cheer leaders of the European Union or the truly wonderful Islamic Imams in Europe who want to turn countries like Holland into states governed by Sharia law. You'll find those qualities there in amounts that make the American variety seem quite mild by comparison. And what of the constant and never-ending comparisons of the the "European social models" to that of the system in the US by Europeans? No thoughts of superiority or self-congratulation there, right?
Christian - #1.1 - 2006-10-19 14:22 -
Not everyone from any nation. Hardly anybody does it as much as Americans do. And when they do, you label it Anti-Americanism.
Tcobb - #1.1.1 - 2006-10-20 03:40 -
Gosh. You certainly are exceptional. I certainly don't have sufficient knowledge of or experience with all the populations of the various countries of the world that would enable me to make generalizations about national traits that are irritating to others, let alone rank such traits as to show the worst offenders. I don't know what country you are from, but I would be glad to know what traits your countrymen exhibit that are most irritating to the other citizens of the world. Just asking.
Watcher - #2 - 2006-10-19 03:38 -
Habeas Corpus - #3 - 2006-10-19 04:06 -
Whoever wants to see what's this fuzz about habeas corpus is all about should watch this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59wc6i62UgI
Habeas Corpus - #3.1 - 2006-10-21 01:19 -
Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither. Benjamin Franklin "The Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume." --Thomas Jefferson to A. H. Rowan, 1798. ME "Freedom of the person under the protection of the habeas corpus I deem [one of the] essential principles of our government." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801. I guess you guys don't even know who these fine gentlemen were that I was quoting. GWB certainly doesn't know. The constitution "is just another goddam piece of paper".
David - #4 - 2006-10-19 14:37 -
Not sure which is more disgusting: the fact that the President guts the constitution by eliminating habeas corpus - the foundation of law - or the fact that many Americans actually cheered this. We have taken another step down the road to tyranny and Tom Paine is spinning in his grave.
Watcher - #5 - 2006-10-19 18:29 -
ADMIN - #5.1 - 2006-10-19 19:14 -
Please don't post entire articles here. Headline, Abstract and link is sufficient.
Zyme - #6 - 2006-10-19 18:47 -
@ Watcher Why do I wonder how many times there have been people writing in your style in history, yet the world did not stop existing? ;)
Don - #6.1 - 2006-10-19 19:55 -
Good point, Zyme. Facism has been imminently about to take over the US since 1945 (if not since 1935). Somehow it hasn't happened despite every US President since FDR being called a fascist. Particularly the Republicans.
Watcher - #6.1.1 - 2006-10-19 21:23 -
Despite your cynical comments, not a single president since FDR has abolished habeas corpus (which was in existance since 1215) or lifted the separation of the three branches of government. Only McCarthy came close to GWB. Not in my memory was a preemptive military agenda the military strategy of the US. I cannot remember that G Bush the elder was called fascist, neither was Bill Clinton.
David - #6.1.2 - 2006-10-19 23:50 -
I don't believe we were "waterboarding" detainees back in 1945. In fact, the US imprisoned a Japanese officer for 15 years for "waterboarding" a GI - the very practice the CIA uses in its "special interrogation techniques".
Don - #220.127.116.11 - 2006-10-20 16:22 -
Well no, David. Often enough we were taking no prisoners at all - on the Pacific front at least. The Japanese weren't taking prisoners either in most cases. It was an extremely dirty, racist war out there in the Pacific. Your comparing it favorably to the current war merely shows your profound ignorance....
David - #18.104.22.168.1 - 2006-10-21 12:53 -
Why don't you enlighten us about your own personal views on the "special interrogation techniques" (ie waterboarding) employed by our government. Since you prefer to smear those of us who deplore them, I can only presume you approve of these tactics. Is waterboarding torture in your eyes, and do you approve of it? A simple question....
Don - #7 - 2006-10-19 20:15 -
Joerg misses out on one very important facet of American 'exceptionalism' - the balance of power within the western alliance. Or should I say the [i]imbalance[/i] of power? It is that imbalance which is the cause of the vast majority of the problems. Judging by economic clout and technical capability the EU ought to be an equal partner militarily with the US. Counting the EU, Japan, Australia, Canada et al the US natural share of military power should in common sense terms be no more than 33-40% of the total. Instead it's about 85-90% particularly when one is talking about the ability to project force globally. This is bad for both Europe and the US but what is worse is the way Europe has chosen to redress the imbalance. Europe is doing very little to improve it's military capabilities: instead it has chosen to do everything it can to 'restrain' the US; That is to make it difficult or impossible for the US to play the role which Europe's chosen weakness has forced upon the US. This is putting enormous strain upon the alliance - from both sides of the Atlantic. Europe seeks to put the US armed forces under the 'rule of law'; to regulate them. This may be fine and desireable except for one thing: When regulating any activity one needs deep knowledge of what it is. Who in Europe has such experience (outside of the UK)? I wouldn't trust the pacifists in Germany, Belgium, and Italy to regulte the temperature of a cofeemaker much less something more important; they would (and have) screwed it up utterly. I would not exclude civilians from such discussions. The problem is that Europe cannot contribute anything BUT civilians; even your armed forces are civilians in uniform - because they lack the experience. I would very much prefer a world in which the EU contributed 100,000 combat troops to a conflict to match the US 100,000, in liue of the current situation in which the UK contributes 25,000, the US 175,000, and Germany, France, Italy, Spain contribute ???
VinceTN - #8.1 - 2006-10-20 14:57 -
That is a likely reality but it still doesn't solve anything, does it? Hard decisions have to be made including unpopular ones. If America were invaded today there is no "ally" who could help us and only a handful that would try if they could. With that kind of reality, fear of not being liked just isn't the fright many wish it to be. No is going to stand up for us so we will do it for ourselves and do it the best way we know how. All the polls and studies on earth won't do a single thing for making the world better. Those complaining now should have fixed the way they wanted it years ago. Of course, that would have required effort and even sacrifice of money and lives beyond your own borders and immediate business interests and that virtue is severly lacking in other nations. The peace that much of the worlds has is a peace that America has given it. Not the UN and most certainly not Europe. So cling to your polls and hope America's will breaks. Why you wish to kill the very foundation of your peace and prosperity, I can't imagine, but I can't really understand the historical choices of most other nations anyway. We can try to ignore the world but the world won't ignore us and ignorance will not bring bliss. The key point for outsiders is to realize they get no voice in our decisions until they are actively contributing to our security. You don't get to have it both ways no matter what the Democrat party says in their opposition to Bush. A Dem congress will piss off the world as surely as a Republican one.
JW-Atlantic Review - #8.1.1 - 2006-10-20 15:21 -
Vince, you are responding to a comment by an American, not a European, as far as I know. William Hallowell and his Public Agenda are based in New York. And their Anxiety Index is a cooperation with Foreign Affairs Magazine, a respected American publication [url]http://www.publicagenda.com/foreignpolicy/index.cfm[/url] "The key point for outsiders is to realize they get no voice in our decisions until they are actively contributing to our security." I understand that.
VinceTN - #22.214.171.124 - 2006-10-21 00:27 -
I'm not concerned with the source of the poll or post. The poll is pointless and provides nothing of value for dealing with the reality we face. Democrats that can actually win races will not pull out of Iraq nor dare impeach Bush. The bitter Leftists in the world and America are going to be sorely dissapointed in November no matter who wins.
Don - #126.96.36.199.1 - 2006-10-21 00:31 -
Maybe. A landslide one way or the other is unlikely - therefore the actual p0olicy is not likely to change much. So the people who believe (against all odds) that a Democratic 'victory' in November will make a policy difference are likely to be crestfallen. The ones who just root for teams might believe that their beliefs have been validated.
JW-Atlantic Review - #8.1.2 - 2006-10-20 15:56 -
RE polls: This is just in: "Seven in Ten Americans Favor Congressional Candidates Who Will Pursue a Major Change in Foreign Policy U.S. Public Wants Less Emphasis on Military Force, More on Working Through U.N." Survey [url]http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/home_page/262.php?nid=&id=&pnt=262&lb=hmpg1[/url]
David - #188.8.131.52 - 2006-10-20 20:30 -
VinceTN will be very disappointed on Nov. 7. Americans have evolved away from his position - in a big way!
VinceTN - #184.108.40.206.1 - 2006-10-21 00:40 -
If Americans truly want change at this time I can accept that. I don't hate my country or seek to use it for my own political ideology like so many on the Left. I won't waste precious years attacking the intelligence or fascist sympathies of my fellow citizens for not voting as I see fit. The world will see little change at any rate so I will go to sleep on election night knowing that Michael Moore and Kos will be as bitter and unhappy with a Dem (sell-out) Congress as with any other once the spiteful euphoria of "victory" ends.
Watcher - #9 - 2006-11-06 23:26 -
This is a good example of the American Police State as of today. The law about bottles and liquids is simply absurd, resulting from a fake "accident", probably staged, and is supposed to just add to absurd oppression of travelers. Getting them used to all kinds of crazy rules. Here is a live example of the crazyness of today's US airports: TSA Insanity - The False Authority Syndrome By David Gagne 11-4-6 Now, understand, that even when I am in a bad mood I am still one of the most cheerful men you're ever likely to meet. That goes triple if you work in a terribly unsatisfying job like checking boarding passes and identification when you just know that bitch at the top of the stairs is going to double-check your work every time. I have worked in crap jobs and I always try to be pleasant. "Good morning," I smiled at Alisha, handing her my California driver's license and printed-from-the-internet-but-ridiculously-easily-forged (link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5, link 6, link 7) Southwest boarding pass. She smiled at me, checked that the name on my license matched the name on my boarding pass, and used a yellow hi-liter to mark the boarding pass with what looked exactly like a one-inch line. (Do I need to tell you that they sell yellow hi-liters in just about every single store in America?) As she handed "my papers" back to me, she paused. She looked me in the eyes. She smiled. And then she said, "I can't see your eyes." I raised my hand to my face to remove my sunglasses and stopped. She wasn't smiling because she was nice. She was smiling because she was suffering from False Authority Syndrome! The poor child. In the most disarming, rational, peaceful, and kind voice at my command, I said, "You don't need to see my eyes." "You have to remove your sunglasses, sir." "No, actually, I don't." "I can't let you past here with your sunglasses on." "Yes, you can." At this point she became obviously frustrated and confused. She looked at me as if I was a freshly-shaved Osama bin Laden in a sports coat and khakis. She became stern. "Take them off, please." "There's no law that says I can't wear my sunglasses in the airport. ma'am" "Yes, there is. It's a rule." "It's not a rule." "It is. I can't let you pass." "Yes, you can." She took my boarding pass and used her yellow hi-liter to turn the line into an X. An X of shame and potential threat. She called to the top-of-the-stairs officer, "Threat alert!" No, I'm not kidding. Then she let me go up the stairs. At this point I expected to get into an argument with the top-of-the-stairs woman. I didn't care. I had two hours to kill and I wasn't in the mood to be pushed around by the TSA. But surprisingly LeVonda did nothing even remotely antagonistic. In fact she let me get into the extra short special security line! This was a bonus! Instead of standing in the "general" line with the hundreds of non-sunglasses wearing rubes, I got to get into the fast lane! The fast lane was occupied by a mother and her three children, a very, very tall black man, and a guy that looked like the most average, generic businessman possible. I didn't feel like any of them could in any way be as much of a threat as I was, but I guess you can't judge a book by its cover. We merrily zipped through the metal detector and had our carry-on bags x-rayed. The carry-on bag x-ray is my favorite part of flying and has been since long before 9/11. I haven't gotten on an airplane without a pocket knife since I was a Boy Scout. If my plane goes down, dammit, I will not be stranded on a desert island without any way of cracking into a coconut! Ever since 9/11 I've carried at least two, and sometimes three, back-up pocket knives. I've flown about thirty times since then, and only one time was one of my knives confiscated. For this flight I had two, and they both went undetected. But now a wrinkle! I wasn't allowed to get my bags. A tremendously grumpy guy grabbed my bag, my laptop, my jacket, and my shoes and gave me the double-ultra shakedown. He went through every pocket of my briefcase. He went through my jacket. He looked in my shoes. (He did not, I should note, ask me to remove my sunglasses.) He never smiled. He was a serious TSA. There was a uniformed LAPD officer standing nearby as well, but he looked like he just enjoyed standing there and flexing and wasn't very interested in all of the potential threats to national security that were being given the what-for by the TSA. The TSA double-security checker was not about to let me get past him. He knew I was a bad guy. I had a water bottle. I wasn't hiding it or anything, I just honestly forgot that liquids are dangerous nowadays. He held it in front of my face like it was a Nazi membership card that he'd found in my blazer. "You know you can't have this, right?" I almost - almost - said something snarky about how it was cool that he didn't care about my Swiss Army knife or my Leatherman tool. Instead my reply was, "Oh, yeah, right. Sorry about that." I reached for the water bottle, saying, "I'll just chug that now." You would have thought I pulled an UZI out of my ass at this point. He literally jumped backwards and told me, "Don't come any closer!" I laughed. I did. I couldn't help it. It was absurd. I looked at the LAPD officer and said, "Is he serious?" The policeman looked at me as if he was very sorry and trying to not laugh himself. He walked a little bit closer towards us but said nothing. "Dude. It's water. I'll drink it right now." "I can't let you do that. You have to throw it away." "What? Why? I'm going to drink it. I'll drink the whole thing. Right now. Right in front of you." "You can't do that." "Why not?" "It's against the law." "What law?" "You can't drink in the security area at the airport." Now this is where I got mad. "There is no law that says I can't drink water in the security area of the airport!" I looked at the cop, "Is there?" The cop said, "I have no jurisdiction where you are. You're not on LA property." This seemed pretty silly to me. What the hell was he doing there if he wasn't allowed to do anything? But whatever. He was a cool cop and I didn't have any beef with him. I looked back at the TSA guy and said, "Show me the law." He stared bolts of fire into my skull and said, "I don't have to show it to you. It's the law." "Uh." Yes, I really did say, "Uh." "There's no law, man," I said. He said - and I swear I am not making any of this up - "It's an SSI and I am not required to show it to you." "What is an SSI? Are you kidding? This is America. You can't enforce a law without showing it to me. I never voted on any law about drinking water in the security area of the airport. There is no such law." I really, really wanted to ask him if SSI stood for Super Secret Information, but I forgot. "I can't let you drink this water." "Fine. Throw it away. I don't care. It's an unopened bottle of water that I am willing to drink right in front of you. But whatever." "I can't throw it away. You have to throw it away." I picked up my bags and walked away. http://www.davidgagne.net/?p=6200
joe - #10 - 2006-11-07 04:10 -
Please define police state
Jonah - #11 - 2009-02-17 12:55 -
And where is democracy and human rights in there? I think that American president thinks too much of him and allow too much to decide to himself... such irresponsibleness won't bring to anything good, to my mind...
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