No Special Rights

Published on
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The Nation

No Special Rights

by
Laura Flanders

Nonbinding this and that, deadline lah-di-dah, Bush/Cheney are going to ignore the mandate of the midterm elections and every pressure from Congress on Iraq, because Bush/Cheney know their opponents' bark has no bite. And that's because those opponents have yet to renounce the Bush/Cheney vision of US supremacy in the world. In fact, mostly, they share it.

William Pfaff writes about US Manifest Destiny in the New York Review of Books: "It is something like heresy to suggest that the US does not have a unique moral status and role to play in the history of nations," he writes. Bush/Cheney tap into a belief that's as old as the state itself. (Pfaff quotes Paine: "The case and circumstances of America present themselves as in the beginning of the world… We are as if we we had lived in the beginning of time.")

Belief in US "exceptionalism" is the hop-skip-jump that led to US intervention in Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Central America--and now Iraq. It's the "exception" that okays the breaking of global rules, from the Geneva Convention, to the conventions against torture to the chucking-out of Habeas Corpus. Like Dirty Harry, Bush knows Americans believe "good" cops can break the rules if they're on a mission to save the world from terror, evil, tyranny.

Neo-cons came up with the chilling phrase "The New American Century," but even their critics accept the concept. In his testimony to Congress on global warming, Al Gore referred not once but a handful of times to the US "unique" role to save the planet.

At the risk of being burnt at the stake I'd like to suggest that this month provides a special chance to review all this stuff about specialness. March 25 marked the 200th anniversary of the British Parliament's abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (A US law took effect in 1808.) To take a second look at the foundations of the country is to be reminded of the reality behind the rhetoric.

The New World wasn't so new. Ask the people who lived here. Slavery wasn't a new beginning. It was ancient. The first place to throw off slavery was Haiti in 1801, sixty-three years ahead of the United States. That makes Haiti special. Does it give Haiti a unique role in the world, to invade other countries and pursue a Project for a New Haitian Century?

We've got the brawn, but does that give us the right or the responsibility to rule the world? The problem isn't this deadline or that. The problem is the ideology of supremacy. The same ideology (that some are by nature better, or more valuable than others) that undergirded slavery in the first place.

Laura Flanders is the author of BLUE GRIT: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians, forthcoming April 9, from The Penguin Press.

© Copyright 2007 The Nation

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