"Shock and awe" diplomacy confronts American exceptionalism

Forcing American media to give front page coverage to what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez had to say this week from the podium at the United Nations – a very appropriate political closing to the summer – could be described as “shock and awe.” Truth was dispensed via a large syringe instead of an eyedropper and to many people that represents shock and awe.

If not the measured remarks on the unfairness of the UN by Iran’s president, what Hugo Chavez had to say certainly had a “shock and awe” effect domestically. Americans are raised in the belief that they are the possessors of unquestionable moral authority for the entire world because of their “original virtue” – American exceptionalism – in total contrast to the rest of the world who are born with the “original sin”… out of grace simply for not being Americans. Yes, it all started back in 1831 with Alexis de Tocqueville.

But “American exceptionalism” has been debunked as nothing more than a 21st century attempt to globalize the 19th century Manifest Destiny – a pseudo moral authority to annex much of Western Continental US, which resulted in kicking Indians and Mexicans out of both their cultures and their lands. Unfortunately, such Manifest Destiny, even with its Monroe Doctrine addendum, only covered “our rights” to the Americas, a puny hemisphere for a nation with an apparent galactic appetite to govern or influence.

Down to the nitty-gritty, American exceptionalism, whether a few generations ago or today, is not an iota different from what European imperialism was centuries past. And the idea that America sets the norm for human rights behavior, or even adheres to it, has proved to be presently, if not always, wrong. America’s behavior since the end of World War II has shrunk the idea of American exceptionalism to that of a self-centered, chauvinistic justification for Americans to portray themselves as a people they are not. Yes, Americans are different, powerful in many ways, but definitely not superior.

The bottom line as to what Messrs. Ahmadinejad and Chavez brought to the table is simple and to the point: peace and tranquility in the world are unlikely to be achieved with present international structures, such as the UN, which are unfair to a majority of nations and peoples in this planet. A product of the WWII conflict, the United Nations has only catered to the desires of the victors in that conflict – those already powerful – and not to the needs of emerging peoples – those who lack any power – and who are most in needs of institutions that can give them a fair hearing in their political, social and economic struggles. To these two gentlemen, whose thinking probably parallels that of most nations, the US brings forth a behavior counter to peace and tranquility… or even social justice. And driving that behavior is President Bush.

The preppy squatter living in the White House may not be the devil, as portrayed by Chavez, but indeed the trail he leaves behind, in both domestic and international deeds, stinks of sulfur and hydrogen sulfide. Infinitely more important than the odor, however, is the pain, death and destruction caused by his myopic decisions.

One surmises that Hugo Chavez spoke in jest to get our attention, and his point across.The reality is that George W. Bush does justice to a common definition of the Prince of Darkness, and the association we have made with some horrendous historical people. Even a benign idiot crowned with an office of tremendous power, such as the US presidency, can cause insurmountable damage to mankind… become a he-devil. [I am convinced that if a devil does exist, it is not a she-devil, nor gender-neutral.]

Americans, whether members of the media, politicians of both fraternities, government officials or the public at large, have for the most part become irate to what they consider the impudence of these two people, branding them with demeaning and highly insulting names. [American exceptionalism is alive and well, and bipartisan in political affairs.]

Whether or not the truth made a dent in Americans, Ahmadinejad and Chavez gave a moment of glory to the disenfranchised many, whether nations or peoples, who aren’t offered a podium from which they can voice the iniquities they suffer. Mahmoud and Hugo, if for a moment, became their voice to the world… whether anyone listens or not.

Did these speeches bring diplomatic “shock and awe”? Not really, not when those who have the reins of power are heartless and shock-proof. But hope springs eternal.