Last week was my family’s 25th anniversary of coming to America (right between the Halloween and Thanksgiving snowstorms in 1991), and through all those years my conviction that America is an exceptional country just grew stronger – despite being aware now of many problems here that I didn’t recognize when we came. Regrettably, I see more and more people disagreeing with this exceptionality notion and even ridiculing those who still insist on that. So let me prove it — twice: by addition and by subtraction.
First, America is the only country in the world that is wealthy, powerful, and free, which adds up to three great qualities. There are plenty of countries that possess two of these qualities but having all three is … well, exceptional. The problem with the comparison game is that we are not really comparing apples to apples. There are plenty of European countries that are legitimately better than America in something. But we all have to remember that all those “better” countries are either fully under protective American military shield (meaning that they barely spend any money on defense) or totally homogenous (meaning that immigration and diversity are minimal), or, quite often, both. (In fact, if America could spend just 1 percent of its GDP on defense — like most European countries — it would have money to solve so many problems.). So while America is not perfect, and health benefits or new mothers’ protection may be better across the ocean, no country is better overall.
Now let’s look at the subtraction method. Imagine that tomorrow the American president, with approval of Congress, closes all foreign military bases, stops all military equipment development, halves the armed forces, dismantles the NSA and the CIA, quits NATO, disassembles all nuclear weapons, and tells the world to figure out everything on its own. Will the world be safer and better off a year after this? The simple answer is, not at all. China will take Taiwan and the entire China Sea, Iran will get nukes and take anything it wants (unless the Saudis develop their own nukes), Russia will annex Ukraine and all the old satellite states, and so on. Remember that Europe was not even able to deal with Yugoslavia and Libya without the American military. The oil prices will skyrocket and emboldened terrorists will be happy to deal a final blow to this weakling that used to be America.
People who claim that America is not an exceptional country are extreme left, such as Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald, people who I think view themselves not as citizens of a specific country but rather as citizens of the world. In their minds, they stand for the benefit of the entire humanity and are above unsophisticated nationalistic ideas because they care about everyone everywhere, which is why they assume that the main culprit in the world is the strongest party (because all others are weak and oppressed to a certain degree), i.e. America.
World is full of bad guys
Unfortunately, this position is totally misguided for a simple reason: The world is full of bad guys who would do bad things and these people misjudge who is bad and who isn’t. South American dictators, Putin, Iran, terrorists – all are good so long as they stand up to American arrogance and power. This relativity theory allows those who deny American exceptionality to judge everyone as at least somewhat good compared to the big bad wolf that is America. These people hold America to impossibly high standards, which no country, even an exceptional one, can maintain (any state should look out for its own interests in a dangerous world), and they never forgive America any misdeeds while easily overlooking the same acts committed by other countries.
That does not, of course, mean that America is doing everything right – far from that. It misjudges where to get involved and how (by no means should America become the world’s policeman), it overestimates its power thus trying to do things it can’t, and it underestimates its strength thus withdrawing from where it can do some good. But one thing is clear: A strong America means a safer world and fewer regional conflicts. In fact, that multi-polar world that the left craves so much is the most dangerous thing possible. Having witnessed the realities of the bipolar world during the Cold War when proxy wars were fought everywhere, one can imagine what would happen in the multipolar one where everyone will be jockeying for global or regional power and everyone will be against everyone; unfortunately, we are actually beginning to see this right now.
Disarray would be worse
It is not by accident that countries without a strong central power are always in disarray, and the world as a whole is not any different. Clearly, hopes that the United Nations will resolve all the world’s conflicts are naïve. An organization whose majority is made of undemocratic, underdeveloped, corrupt nations cannot help its members become wealthy and free considering that everything is decided by the majority. The U.N. track record is abysmal, and it still needs American involvement every time. So in real life the safest route for the world would be to cheer for America to stay the only superpower to assure global stability.
Sadly, many people in other countries do not and never will like America because American exceptionality breeds resentment and envy from others. It is often suggested that it is American selfishness, greed, and meddling in other countries’ affairs that lead people around the world to dislike it and try to harm it. But all countries are driven by self-interest and would interfere in their neighbors’ affairs to benefit themselves. But for this superpower, the entire world is its neighborhood — so sure, America acts in its own interests. But in most cases what is good for America (stability, safety, free flow of goods) is good for the world, and America is the only one that can deliver that. And we should not be shy in claiming American exceptionality and always consider the alternative: a world dominated by bad guys.
So this Thanksgiving, my family will get together and thank this country for the life it gave us an opportunity to have as it is important to keep in mind: America doesn’t owe us anything, but we do owe it our gratitude. And speaking about togetherness, at large scale, this election year it is vital to remember that America as a country should also get together for the common good because everyone deserves a chance.
Ilya Gutman is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who now lives and works in Marshall, Minnesota.
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