President Obama’s misunderstanding of American exceptionalism has found defenders among international-relations scholars and taken on an aura of legitimacy. Realist theorist Stephen Walt, in a recent article in Foreign Policy, exposes the “myths” of American exceptionalism. Walt echoes Obama’s view — namely that, since many nations have sincerely believed they were exceptional, no nation is truly exceptional. Yet America’s indispensable role in the world does not result from the sincerity of its leaders, but from the verity of its exceptional principles.
Despite dismissals of American exceptionalism and defeatist claims of America’s decline among some academics and left-wing pundits, the foundations of American statecraft are strong because they were well laid by the country’s founding fathers. Their commitment to the principles of liberty — as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and secured in the Constitution — had implications for foreign policy as well. Understanding the exceptional nature of America’s role in the world offers the best guide to confronting the international problems we face today. Dismissing them is not realism; it is surrealism.
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