Thomas Palley – American Exceptionalism and the Liberal Menace: the US and Ukraine

This article was written two weeks ago, before the invasion, but raised the right questions that remain relevant.

Thomas Palley is an American economist who has served as the chief economist for the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He is currently Schwartz Economic Growth Fellow at the New America Foundation

Cross-posted from Tom’s blog Economics for Democratic and Open Societies

Obama, Biden, Clinton (US Government wikimedia commons)

Photo:Obama, Biden, Clinton (US Government wikimedia commons)

American exceptionalism is the most dangerous doctrine in the world, and it has been on full display in the current Ukraine crisis. Worse yet, the loudest advocates have been America’s elite liberal class.

The doctrine of exceptionalism holds that the US is inherently different from and superior to other nations. That superiority means the US is subject to a different standard. Its actions are claimed to be benevolent and above international law, and the US is entitled to intervene at will around the world, including building a global network of military bases and garrisons that it would never permit another power to have.

The Liberal Menace

In today’s United States, liberals are the most extreme proponents of American exceptionalism. In contrast, Republicans and conservatives are inclined to justify foreign policy by appeal to raw power, with the US doing what it wants because it can.

For myself, I have long been leery of American liberals. I term them the “liberal menace”. That is because they have been a major obstruction to progress toward a social democratic society for the past forty years.

In economic policy the liberal menace operates by putting society in the permanent position of having to choose between “bad” and “worse”. In foreign policy it operates by appeal to moral judgementalism that overlooks US moral failings, violates the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, and ignores the real-world unviability of policies it recommends for others.

The Liberal Menace and Ukraine

The menace has been in full swing over Ukraine. Elite liberal media has been at the forefront of arguing for military confrontation with Russia, continued eastward expansion of NATO, and rejection of any legitimacy to Russia’s position.

The menace has been oblivious to the asymmetry regarding US behaviour, beginning with the obvious question what is the US doing on Russia’s borders?

It has presented a substantially false characterization of Ukrainian society and Ukrainian politics.

And it has failed to engage the unsettled history of the region and Russia’s fully justified national security concerns.

Hypocrisy and the Liberal Menace

Many have noted the inconsistency between the US’s self-proclaimed Monroe doctrine and US rejection of Russia’s opposition to eastward expansion of NATO. The Monroe doctrine asserts the US has a right to preclude any foreign military presence in the entire Western hemisphere – and not just on US borders.

However, the hypocrisy runs much deeper. Staring us in the face is the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which is just the beginning.

In 1998 the US bombed Belgrade in Serbia, hitting the Chinese embassy. Thereafter, the US sponsored the secession of Kosovo from Serbia. That is akin to Russia bombing Kiev, hitting the British embassy, and carving out the Donbass region as an independent republic.

A third example of hypocrisy concerns our NATO partner Turkey, which illegally occupies one-third of the island of Cyprus. The US government and US liberal elites are silent on that, and there is no talk of economy busting sanctions against Turkey. Europe is the champion of perverse lack of principle. On one hand, European NATO countries want to sanction Russia if it acts regarding its justifiable fears about Ukraine, yet they do nothing equivalent regarding Turkey’s seizure of the territory of a European Union member state.

A fourth example concerns Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestinian lands. Again, both the US government and US liberal elites are silent on that.

The Liberal Menace and the US problem with truth

The US has a truth problem. Donald Trump is the posterchild for that problem. However, the Liberal Menace is also part of it. If you are only truthful when it suits you, you are not truthful and you tarnish the standing of truth.

The lies, aggression, and militarism of liberal menace foreign policy trickle back into society. If US liberals are serious about fixing our truth problem and stopping the rise of proto-fascism, they should begin with their own views on foreign policy. The Ukraine is a good place to start.

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