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How long will the world tolerate US exceptionalism?

August 29, 2015 at 11:43 am

The Washington Post reported recently that Barack Obama has promised an extension of the military aid given to Israel. Instead of the current aid package of $3.1 billion every year, in 2017 it is likely to increase to $3.5 billion a year, making an increase of $400 million dollars over the next 10 years. This is in spite of the regular war crimes committed by the Israel Defence Forces and violations of international law by the Israeli government.

Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, which killed over 2,000 people, most of whom were civilians, demonstrated that it has no interest in complying with international law and no remorse about breaking it. Senior IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner even denied that Israel had bombed civilian infrastructure, including a UN school, which eyewitnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli strike. A year on, reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is negligible, post-traumatic stress disorder in children has reached record levels and normality has yet to be restored.

Despite the unsettling fact that the IDF has ruined a city beyond repair, killed innocents and destroyed the lives of the survivors of last year’s massacre, America still believes that it can justify an increase in military aid to Israel. Why? As long as the Israelis cite “security” and can sustain their hegemony, US exceptionalism is always on their side.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” said Obama on 28 May 2014 at a military academy. “But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” He spoke with confidence in his country’s policies, with his eyes carrying a glimmer of US elitism that silences the rest of the international community.

American exceptionalism means different things to different people. Those in Washington claim that it’s a way for America to exercise its power as “leader of the free world” and use military force to topple dictatorships and give those who roll their r’s too harshly for the average American tongue to comprehend a chance of some “modern liberal democracy and a taste of Western freedom.” Many others would define American exceptionalism as neo-imperialism, war apologetics or classism.

A WikiLeaks leak of a CIA memorandum, however, proves that not even the White House is convinced by the rhetoric that it appears to be selling, and that staff fear that their actions will make them be perceived as exporters of terrorism by America’s allies. They admit explicitly that the official narrative is inaccurate: “contrary to common belief, the American export of terrorism or terrorists is not a recent phenomenon.”

They then give examples of when the United States has exported terrorism, both state-sponsored and individual acts by American citizens. One example was that of American Jews committing acts of terrorism “against perceived enemies of Israel.” The case of Baruch Goldstein, a doctor from New York, was highlighted in the report. It was recalled that he moved to Israel in 1994 to join Kach, a neo-Nazi group founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultra-nationalist who refused to recognise the existence of Palestinians, let alone their right to a state. He believed that non-Jewish residents of Israel should have three options: “Israeli Arabs,” he wrote in They Must Go, “would be given the options of accepting non-citizenship, leaving willingly with compensation, or being forcibly expelled without compensation.” His stance on the Palestinians is both eerie and inhumane: “All kinds of foolish people today speak of the need to recognise the ‘Palestinians’.”

When Goldstein joined Kach, he shot and killed 29 Palestinians while they were praying in Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron; the CIA says that this was the trigger for a series of Hamas bus bombings in 1995. The agency believes that if the notion grows that the United States and its citizens contribute to the spread of terrorism, it could have an impact on American hegemony and the willingness of other states to cooperate with it.

“If the US were seen as an exporter of terrorism, foreign partners may be less willing to cooperate with the United States on extrajudicial activities, including detention, transfer and interrogation of suspects in third party countries. As a recent victim of high-profile terrorism originating from abroad, the US Government has had significant leverage to press foreign regimes to acquiesce to requests for extraditing terrorist suspects from their soil. However, if the US were seen as an ‘exporter of terrorism,’ foreign governments could request a reciprocal arrangement that would impact US sovereignty.”

In addition to arming states which evidently do not understand the concept of complying with international law and safeguarding the lives of civilians in wartime, such policies also fuel animosity against US citizens.

Illegal invasions, based on lies leading to a series of war crimes, including the torture jungle of Abu Ghraib, in which US soldiers committed unspeakable crimes — including the rape of underage boys — have been used by terrorist groups to justify their own terrorist attacks against America. This is evident in Al-Qaeda’s propaganda. The group’s Inspire online magazine, aimed at teenagers in the West, used US soldiers’ heinous crimes and barbaric actions against civilians to encourage similarly violent retaliation. The first issue of the magazine set this theme as a propaganda ploy very strongly:

“We are not against Americans for just being American; we are against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil. What we see from America is the invasion of two Muslim countries, we see Abu Ghraib, Baghram and Guantanamo Bay. We see Cruise missiles and cluster bombs, and we have just seen in Yemen the death of 23 children and 17 women. We cannot stand idly in the face of such aggression, and we will get back and incite others to do the same.”

It is clear that contrary to rhetoric that comes out of top American officials in Washington, they know and understand that their policies are not only defeating their stated purpose, which is homeland “security”, but also violating international law. Despite their hegemonic status, they still worry that the international community may one day not be so tolerant, and act against their illegal activities committed under the cover of America’s treasured — but much-misused — “exceptionalism”.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.