American exceptionalism posits that the United States is unique, with a hint of qualitatively better, compared to other countries. This sense of distinctiveness has been used as a unifying force to inspire our nation in challenging times.
The term is often infused with Manifest Destiny, the iconic notion fostered throughout the 19th and 20th centuries that the United States is “predetermined” to expand westward and beyond. These two visions of America have, at times, been revisited to justify military and ideological interventions toward other nations. And so here we are with Syria.
Our current administration, while previously promoting a “new” foreign policy, now rails, with moral outrage, against Syria's unconscionable use of chemical weapons. While one could argue the fine points of government intelligence and geopolitics, there is a more worthwhile discussion if we examine exceptionalism and destiny against current events.
No one can doubt the power amassed through the United States' natural resources, technological ingenuity and fundamental ideologies — the Constitution, Bill of Rights, free markets, a land of opportunity.
The diversity of our populace has contributed to a vibrant economic and civic discussion. Hence, why so many people from so many places flock to our shores to find prosperity. It would be a fool's proposition to argue that this hinders American greatness. Does all this make us exceptional or merely emphasize that the U.S. is a darn cool place to live?
Now to the question of destiny. Merriam-Webster defines destiny as “a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency.”
Some say God gave us this land and we must follow His plan. Others say we should develop strategies through human creation and ideals to bring peace. Regardless of one's stance on this contentious continuum, we grapple with how to use our stuff and what to do with our place in the world. Presently, as a nation, we are internally divided and, externally, we are ambiguous.
The situation in Syria is a glaring example of our current, confused approach to international relations. Should we use our “moral imperative” to warn Syria's President Bashar Assad against the use of chemical weapons by the use of air strikes? Does the U.S. have a position of ethical authority to rain violence on another nation's property and, possibly, its citizenry? The larger question is whether we are justified in a way that furthers the fundamental principles noted earlier in this letter. Are the Constitution and Bill of Rights adhered to and promoted? Would this action perpetuate free markets and opportunities for Americans?
This moment in history is another one of those “crossroads” we find ourselves in periodically. Will we re-evaluate and alter our decades-old interventionist policies or continue in them until we can no longer redress them at all? As our infrastructure crumbles, our schools deteriorate, our economy declines and our national spirit splinters, we must determine how we use our natural resources, technological ingenuity and national identity.
I would put forward that if we go ahead with strikes on Syria, “tailored” or not, our standing on the world stage will continue to diminish and we, as a nation, will grow weary and confused. If we still can put our money where our mouth is, it is imperative that we consider how we speak in a world vastly changed from our earlier, unlimited past. We do have limits now. They can guide us to a different but energetic prosperity or they can cave around us as we refuse to alter our national vision.
The United States of America cries out for leadership that replaces the same old thing with bold plans to reinvent our international place while reinvigorating a job-bare economy. It is time to care for our families and communities again with solutions backed with dollars. We simply cannot afford to care for other nations' problems while our own nation slides into the mire.