Wednesday February 4, 2015
Today, American politicians of both major parties — conservatives, “moderates,” and so-called liberals alike — insist that the United States is an “exceptional,” even “indispensable” nation. In practice, this means that for the United States alone the rules are different. Particularly in international affairs, it — the government and its personnel — can do whatever deemed necessary to carry out its objectives, including things that would get any other government or person branded a criminal.
This is nothing new. “American exceptionalism” goes back to the founding. When American politicians set their sights on Spain’s North American possessions, they were driven by the same attitude. In their view the new “Empire of Liberty,” as Jefferson called it, was destined to replace the old, worn-out empires of Europe in its hemisphere. They had no doubt that the Old World’s colonial possessions would eventually fall under the jurisdiction of the US government, either formally or informally.
Acquisition through negotiation was preferred over war by a good number of presidents, secretaries of state, and members of Congress, but if war was necessary, they intended to be prepared and to let Spain and her fellow colonial powers know it. Thus the push for a global navy under James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams before 1820. Manifest destiny! (Congress’s constitutional war power was a burr under the saddle for Adams and others, who thought war-making was properly an executive power.)