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Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author Marija Sajekaite.

There’s no doubt that America is, well, quite exceptional. Nationalistic approach would argue whether Americans can be called a nation (if we think that concept nation definitely should include common ethnic origin) since it’s a few hundred year old political association based on immigrants. Institutional approach would reason that America is exceptional because of its political system and constant visible confrontation between federal and state powers. However, today American Exceptionalism is a term indispensable from international relations signifying unique and exceptional role of the United States. The very basics of America’s statehood and history are interlinked with this role because of five principles distinguished in the U.S. Constitution: liberty, equity, individualism, populism and laissez-faire. After all, it is difficult to think of another country which would be based on, let’s agree on that, very ideological premises. That’s an expression of G. K. Chesterton stating that “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed”.

Alexis de Tocqueville is the one who coined the term in his “Democracy in America”, a profound work scrutinizing American civil and political coexistence in 19th century. Plainly speaking, American exceptionalism indicates that U.S. possesses an exceptional role in international relations as a torch of liberty and democracy for other countries.One could reasonably argue that pressing promotion of liberal values is a rebirth of imperialism while the U.S. invasion  to Afghanistan (quasi preemptive self-defense) could be compared to Alexander the Great’s campaign in Kabul. M. G. Ignatieff, a Canadian scholar, divides American exceptionalism into 3 segments: human rights narcissism, juridical exceptionalism and American privilege. This is well illustrated by country’s Middle East policy, meanwhile, here I seek to analyse this trichotomy through America’s policy in Afghanistan. This topic takes point once again as U.S. troops are leaving Afghanistan until 2014th. More than a decade of U.S. activity in one of the most problematic and corrupted places in the world is a controversial case bringing many debates since 2001. Eventually, these actions became legal only because America is America.

Universality of Human Rights

In America political and civic liberties always came first than economical, social or cultural rights.Besides mentioning confessional freedom, the First Amendment stresses exactly civic rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances .”The scheme is simple: political and civic rights are viable only in a democratic system which includes free elections and a freedom of speech, that means, non-democratic systems violate the fundamental political rights. The perception of human rights is not defined by geographical borders – this must be a universal mode, mandatory to everyone, and it’s a responsibility of the U.S. to promote it.

February the 5th, 2001, when J. W. Bush just got into his new office, Abdul Wakil Muttawakil, the foreign minister of Taliban at that time, announced that they are ready to come to negotiations. Just a coincidence? Maybe or maybe not but it’s a fact that at the time, America maintained quite complex and confidential relations with Taliban. Anyways, after less than half a year it was all over and who knows, if not 9/11, perhaps Taliban would had become another America’s supported regime defying the principles of human rights. Artificially imposed democracy today didn’t increase citizen confidence in government – constant corruption scandals and parliamentary obstruction on woman rights reforms tell that so far this country is just not suitable to be democratic. True, Afghans obtained the freedom of speech but what corrupted elections indicate about political and civic rights is pretty evident.

Any Judicial Practise of Foreign Countries? Thank You, No

Juridical exceptionalism (a second segment by M. G. Ignatieff) is a product of the Bill of Rights which emphasizes that juridical precendents and practises from abroad are irrelevant to America. It’s the U.S., China and Russia who are the main opponents of international law and it was accented by Henry Kissinger ascertained that “Universal jurisdiction violated the sovereignty of a state”. This is a cornerstone of American exceptionalism. While iniciating most of international agreements, the United States clearly state that these agreements will never be above their national law.

There are actually no analogues to the war that was incited right after 9/11. It didn’t require any authorization by the Security Council of UN because it was proposed as a self-defence. John R. Bolton, a former U.S. representative on UN once stated that “there is no United Nations… there is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that´s the United States, when it suits our interests, and when we can get others to go along” .

Internationally privileged

Judicial exceptionalism brings judicials privileges and that’s a matter-of-course for America (these terms often overlap, that is a weak side of Ignatieff’s trichotomy). International jurisdiction can be easily modified when U.S. interests require that.

On the 7th of October, 2001, U.S. representative at UN John D. Negroponte send a note to the UN and at the very end of it he stated that this letter should be immediately treated as an official UN document. A letter doesn’t ask any authorization for a war, it simply informs that the intervention seeking “individual and collective self-defence” is about to begin. It’s a statement on possible yet vague future attacks on the U.S. with an exagerated statistics embodied by rhetorics leaving no space for any single objection.

What is Next?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union messianistic self-oneness is justified by the global threat of terrorism. Since rules of conventional war doesn’t apply anymore, new approach to self-defence is also required. U.S. established these changes by action, not by deliberative discussion, even though there were no evident facts about particular future attacks. Taliban was automatically identified with 9/11 attacks though international practise before clearly defined that regime is not equal internal terrorist factions, therefore a war against a state itself shouldn’t be started until there’s a clear proof that state is a collaborator.

Neorealistic approach would claim that unipolar international systems is the most unstable system and marching counterbalance today could be not only a state but an international or regional organization (UN perspectives seem obscure). Still, it’s only a matter of time when a proper counterbalance emerges: imperiology claims that all empires sooner or latter wither away though it’s difficult to imagined withering U.S. As long as it stays in this position, international community has no other choice but to deal with American exceptionalism. 

Image source: A View from Right