Realists argue that the United States (U.S) acts out of its own need for self-help and preservation in the nature of the competitive global political arena. However, as crystallised by the Bush administration, the notion of American Exceptionalism is a significant driving force in US foreign policy. Although realism may hold an undertone in US foreign policy, the entitled position that the U.S has constructed for itself has derived from the deeply rooted history and rhetoric surrounding religion, manifest destiny, responsibility and expansion that has now morphed into the belief of Exceptionalism. These manifestations of a common theme have been exemplified throughout U.S history, in particular the 20th century, however this discussion intends to focus on the Bush administration and Doctrine that used Exceptionalism as a guide to action in foreign policy, the use of force, the War on Terror and its rhetoric and the all-embracing spread of American freedom and democracy.
American Exceptionalism is argued to be adapted from the complex relationship between the U.S constitution and the vast Christian population that it governed. The American independence and the creation of the Constitution was built on the political experiment that would ideally create the perfect republic in which the American population would be granted the ultimate liberties and individual rights (Encyclopaedia of the New American Nation). This was an attempt at a separation from the ‘Old World’ that was Europe to the New World Order; a democratic republic that strove to avoid the class conflicts and socialism of Eastern Europe at the time (Tyrrell, 1991). Inextricably linked with this idea of separation is the U.S’s responsibility to lead the rest of the world to this New World Order in the political realm; as if enlightening the rest of the world to the greater political good that is democracy (Ceasar, 2012). The term ‘exceptional’ implies unique; different; special in either holding a certain quality or in determination of a certain pursuit (Caesar, 2012). Contextually-speaking, the government and Constitution of the U.S as a new world nation was unique and thus ‘overtones of natural superiority’ (Tyrrell, 1991, pg. 1034) and leadership were realised. ‘At the heart of this difference is religion’ and ‘the durability of American religious beliefs’ (Galston, 2014). During the American Westward expansion period in the early 1800s, the concept of a Manifest Destiny as a part of God’s plan, America’s pursuit of fulfilment and “in essence the doctrine that one nation has a preeminent social worth, a distinctively lofty mission, and consequently, unique rights in the application of moral principles.” (Weinberg, 1935, pg. 8). The territorial expansion of the United States was essentially a sign that the spread of U.S freedom and democracy must spread all over the globe, and this was certainly continued through the centuries following the initial acquisition of the American continent. It is pursuits such as these that are consequences of the sacred association of exceptional U.S foreign policy. However, the term ‘Exceptionalism’ was not discussed until Alexis De Tocqueville in his ‘Democracy in America’ wrote that ‘The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one’ (De Tocqueville, 1840, pg. 31). This was following on from Joseph Stalin’s ironic comment that the U.S was the exception in not having any presence of social classes or socialism (Friedman, 2012). During his presidency in 2001-2009, U.S President George Bush exemplified how the belief and now ideology of American Exceptionalism shaped U.S foreign policy through claimed responsibility, entitlement and leadership in spreading ‘the blessings of freedom and democracy with others around the world’ (Land, 2010).
When George W. Bush was inaugurated on January 20th of 2001, he delivered a bold and promising inaugural speech ensuring that America’s ‘faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea’ (Bush, 2001). Bush boldly declared that ‘If our country does not lead the cause of freedom, it will not be led’, a blatant appeal to the Exceptional position and responsibility to lead the world in the image of America; as if without America, freedom and progress would not occur. The presidential transfer to Bush was seen in in many eyes as a revolution, one that both threw off constraints from its allies and utilised its strength to progress and inspire the rest of the world (Daalder & Lindsay, 2003). After the events of September 11 2001, four coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre Towers and the Pentagon, it was clear that U.S foreign policy and foreign policy discussions would be changed forever. The Bush Doctrine had now developed into notions of pre-emptive and preventative war, the War on Terror, the spread of democracy, exemptions from international law and norms so that ‘The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake: America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom.’ (Bush, 2001). This paradigm shift in foreign policy provided a more aggressive direction of action, laced with religious rhetoric exemplified in Bush’s ‘We are not this story’s author, who fills time and eternity with his purpose. Yet his purpose is achieved in our duty’. Such emphasis on U.S fulfilment and duty to lead the course of action seemed to provide God’s warrant for U.S unilateralism and practices in its foreign policy. In Bush’s rhetoric lies distinct manifestations of the Exceptionalist position in terms of Bush’s feeling of being the exception to international law, the need to take the lead in the War on Terror, dismantling governing bodies in the Middle East so as to implement democracy, and creating false dichotomies of the U.S versus terrorism. These expeditions of unipolarity during the Bush administration were an exhibit of possible manifest destiny.
President George Bush and his approach to foreign policy was an evident illustration to American Exceptionalism and in particular, entitlement. When the Kyoto protocol was adopted and negotiations were being made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 1997, tensions arose between negotiators, notably the European Union and the U.S regarding restrictions and targets for the reduction of Greenhouse Gases, of which the U.S emitted a total of 6503.8 million tonnes (Freeland, 2001). Shortly after his inauguration in 2001, George Bush, although ‘committed to a leadership role’ in climate change (The Economist, 2001), announced that the U.S would be withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol on the basis that it would be detrimental to the U.S economy, that scientific foundations were insufficient and agreements made by other major emitters such as China and India were not binding enough (Freeland, 2001). This contemporary example of the U.S feeling constrained by terms of the rest of the world, rather than terms of their own, is a perceived attempt at the European Old World trying to dominate the New (Cox & Stokes, 2012), not in a territorial sense, but in a political one, and from Bush’s perspective an economic one also. The U.S withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol at the leadership of George Bush is a particular case that pertains to American Exceptionalism and its characteristic of entitlement and leadership. While a withdrawal from a less-developed nation may not have been as consequential, considering US support was highly prioritised (Freeland, 2001), George Bush went on to claim that the Kyoto Protocol was essentially ‘dead’ (The Economist, 2001). Political discourse such as this assumes that without the U.S support, there is no state that is as successful or committed as the U.S, as if to say it would have no progress without U.S support. This is perhaps due to global environmental law and its terms differing because the consequences of one states non-compliance in a climate treaty is far more severe upon other states, rather than simply not having support (Chalecki, 2007). ‘This means that a one non-party nation can render the entire regime ineffective’ (Chalecki, 2007, pg. 15). As supported by Elizabeth Chalecki, George Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol was a concrete example of aspects of Exceptionalism such as wanting to criticise other states, gaining exceptions or exemptions for U.S practises and most importantly avoidance or isolation from legal jurisdictions (Ignatieff, 2005).
After the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, George Bush declared that ‘America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world’ and that it was time to protect the ‘justice and peace’ that America supposedly stands for (Bush, 2001). It was during this speech that Bush referred to the pivotal turning point in U.S foreign policy as the ‘War on Terror’ or the ‘War on terrorism’ (Stokes, 2009). It was declared and frequently reinforced that ‘America has stood down enemies before, and will do so again this time’ and that ‘America will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts, and those who harbour them’ (Bush, 2001). It was this shift from political containment to an overt and aggressive ideology of anti-terrorism; as if creating and deterring terrorism provided a justification of U.S intervention and war (Stokes, 2009). These notions were put into legal action with the publishing of Bush’s National Security Strategy (NSS) in September, 2002 which announced the validation for attack with the introduction of prevention and pre-emption (Freedman, 2006). During his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush declared that he would ‘not wait on events, while dangers gather’ (Bush, 2002). The NSS articulated links between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and states that had Weapons of Mass Destruction capacities and capabilities, and it was the ultimate objective of the NSS to achieve full military superiority to an exceptional point where no other threatening states would have means to reach the same military capacities as the U.S and therefore deter them from attacking again (Stokes, 2009). Eventually, it was realised that the Bush needed some form of foreign support and so the Coalition of the willing was formed as an appeared multilateral effort, obviously led by the U.S (Daalder & Lindsay, 2003). President Bush felt that the U.S’s ‘responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil’ (Bush, 2001). Presenting the War on Terror in such a dichotomous way not only assumed the preventative and pre-emptive attacks were the only pathway to defeating terrorism, but also put the idea of a global concept such as terrorism, on the same level as a state, concluding that the U.S was in fact as powerful as terrorism and was going to be more so. The unipolarity disguised as the Coalition of the willing is a distinct illustration of the Bush administration’s claim to Exceptionalism. The abolishment of global terrorism was going to be Bush’s vision of America as the exceptional state whose pursuit of terrorism and global democracy needed to be fulfilled as its manifest destiny, and without U.S leadership in said pursuit, the world could not progress.
Following the announcement of the global War on Terror, the U.S intervention in Iraq in 2003 was an explicit demonstration of America’s supposed Exceptionalist position. Manifestations of American Exceptionalism including unconditional commitment and determination to a certain mission or pursuit (Ceaser, 2012), such as the War on Terror, meant that the U.S would stop at nothing ‘come hell or high water’ (Sloan, 2008, pg. 4) to fulfil their political, moral and religious obligation. The intervention was prompted by the belief that Iraq was harbouring both Saddam Hussien, who was at the time believed to be partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and harbouring and building weapons of mass destruction (WMD). By presenting the Iraq intervention as positively fighting terrorism and simultaneously promoting supposed freedom and democracy, the U.S’s right to intervene seemed almost unquestionable and President Bush believed that the intrusion was far too urgent for even the United Nations Security Council’s investigations of Iraq’s WMDs to be completed. Article 51 of the United Nations Charter articulates that an attack or intervention is only reasonable under pretences of proportionality and direct imminence of an attack or threat (United Nations Charter, 1945). However, the belief that Saddam Hussien was both building and harbouring WMDs was in fact incorrect, and the U.S’s involvement based on self-defence and pre-emption and prevention was now in fact a full-blown attack. One understanding of Exceptionalism is to believe that one is exempt from universal standards of morality or right and wrong (Bromwich, 2014). In the events surrounding the U.S intervention in Iraq it is simple to see that President Bush believed that America was in a position that was above moral and legal right and wrong in the standards of universally binding institutions such as the United Nations, as well as questioned its authority over U.S foreign policy (Daalder & Lindsay, 2003). In addition to this, it is often difficult to justify a war or invasion to the public, therefore by presenting to the masses as if the war on terror as not only a false dichotomy, but also an appeal to the exceptional nature of American people, Bush was able to rationalise the War on Terror to the American public.
Following the intervention in Iraq, a view that is widely held is that the Bush administration held no exit strategy and that Bush and his closest advisors felt that it would be best leave just as quickly as they arrived with no reconstruction effort (Daalder & Lindsay, 2003). However, in a quick thought transition, the Bush administration decided that part of the fight against terrorism would be to oust the current governing system and hold an election to implement a new leader and democratic government, based on the Democratic Peace Theory (Kant, 1795) and ‘undertake active measures to spread its universal political values and institutions’ (Harland, 2013, pg. 51). Robert Miller argues that there are three main components to the ideal of a Manifest Destiny: the special virtues of the American people and their institutions; America’s mission to redeem and remake the world in the image of America; and a divine destiny under God’s direction to accomplish this wonderful task’ (Miller, 2006, pg. 120). In January 2005 George Bush announced that after the first democratic elections held in Iraq that ‘the world is hearing the voice of freedom’ and that ‘By participating in free elections, the Iraqi people have firmly rejected the anti-democratic ideology of the terrorists’ (Alexander & Saadi, 2005). As Ceaser suggests, at some point in history the Exceptionalist idea of a mission somehow got skewed with ideals of American freedom and democracy (Ceaser, 2012) as a justification for democratisation around the world. Although allies expressed support for a war against terrorism, not necessarily all agreed on such pursuit and determination in disabling a government system and implementing American democratic policy; these were claimed expressions of concern for U.S hegemony (Warren, 2012). The revolutionary pursuit of a state and the rhetoric surrounding it exemplified the exceptional shift from a post-Cold War containment era to a foreign policy that made no distinction between states and terrorism and therefore felt that the only escape from terrorism was to implement the virtues of American liberty, in hope that such ‘a religiously inspired errand to promote liberty or liberal democracy in the world’ (Ceaser, 2012, pg. 8) would succeed in dogmatically promoting America’s image. Moreover, the sentiment that the U.S possesses in being separate from the Old World and being blessed with a religious and political mission to reform the world order (McDougall, 2012), was a direct driver in Bush’s decision to not only invade but restore a new political order in Iraq.
Since its first coining of the term, originally referring to the uniqueness of America’s conception, American Exceptionalism has been exaggerated as a guide to action in U.S foreign policy. The progress-oriented concept of a New World Order provided a political platform for the U.S, in particular the Bush administration to dramatically shift from a containment-based political posture to an overt, more aggressive and unipolar actions in regard to terrorism and asymmetrical warfare, deemed as the biggest threats to U.S security and leadership on the global political arena. Since the event of 9/11, President Bush’s foreign policy was dominated by discourse and decisions made to protect the exceptional liberties of the U.S, it is evident that the use of a supposed religious and therefore obligatory purpose as a foreign policy instrument was ambitiously adopted by the Bush administration, but was also ineffective as a idolatrous grand strategy of the Bush administration in attempt to reach a supposed unipolar moment in the name of American Exceptionalism.