There’s a very great deal that could be said about Vladimir Putin’s editorial in the New York Times.
It’s a curious experience, for one thing, to be lectured on morality and the rule of international law by Mr. Putin, of all people, and to see him expressing regret about the poor image that the United States has in many countries worldwide. Can anybody actually take this seriously?
But I was struck, as were others, by this passage in his essay:
My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.
I think I understand the danger of imagining one’s own group to be the “chosen race.”
But, as a matter of fact, America is, as a matter of fact, exceptional.
Within still living memory, for example, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Germany were ruled by aggressive and murderous variations of fascism, while China, even decades after the end of Mao’s regime (which killed scores of millions of people) is still an autocracy.
America? Not so much.
Take a good look at the brutal record of France in such places as Algeria and Indochina during the time of the winding down of European colonialism, and try, seriously, to argue that the United States did the same thing.
And the contrast is extraordinarily clear in the case of Russia. Even if you factor in such significant embarrassments as the denial of the franchise to women, the mistreatment of native Americans, and slavery, America fares very well in comparison to Russia, which, during roughly the same period, offered anti-Jewish pogroms, serfdom, violent imperial expansion, and czarist tyranny.
For the period immediately following the end of World War Two, the contrast between the Marshall Plan and General MacArthur’s consulship in Japan, on the one hand, and, on the other the “iron curtain” drawn down upon eastern Europe by Comrade Stalin and his successors testifies eloquently of the difference between the United States and the Soviet Union. Even the Berlin Wall alone should be sufficient evidence of “American exceptionalism” when the alternative for comparison is Soviet Russia.