“American exceptionalism” means different things to different people. Every nation has its exceptional features, and some of our features are pretty good. But I worry a bit that “American exceptionalism” to some means that important laws and rules of international conduct apply to unexceptional, average nations but they don’t apply to us because, for reasons of our general excellence and altruism and indispensableness, laws and rules that apply to others do not apply to us.
We are currently very focused and upset about the likelihood that Russia interfered in our election to help the current incumbent in the Oval Office become the current incumbent. I share this suspicion and the upsetness about it. In my humble opinion, it is worse than obnoxious – it borders on an act of war – for one country to interfere in another country’s process of choosing its leaders and its government.
But, when wallowing in said upsetness, my mind has a tendency to move to forbidden thoughts and questions. Like this question: Is it always wrong for one nation to interfere in the election of another, and, if so, does that include the United States when it interferes — or is that one of those rules to which we are an exception?
The problem is that people like me carry around in our cortexes a pretty long list of cases in which our dear old nation has not been content to follow the general rule about allowing other countries to choose their own governments. And sometimes these cases even involve interfering in other countries elections. I’m pretty sure that the United States has participated in more “regime change” actions than any other nation in the last century or so, the one we sometimes call the “American Century.”
Unless I’m deluded about that, does it perhaps raise an obnoxious “sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander” problem? Is it outrageous for some other to interfere in the way we choose our leaders but much rageous (or do I mean “inrageous”) when we do it to them?
I can’t recall exactly what I was Google searching for on Saturday but something brought up this online Washington Post “Monkey Cage” piece from a couple of months ago headlined: “The U.S. tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War.”
Written by Lindsey A. O’Rourke, an assistant professor of international politics at Boston College, the piece broke the forms of U.S. meddling into categories, including “16 cases in which Washington sought to influence foreign elections by covertly funding, advising and spreading propaganda for its preferred candidates.”
Presumably all or most of the cases did not involve Facebook, but so what?
O’Rourke also noted that of all the ways the United States tried to change the governments of its target nations, “meddling in foreign elections is the most successful covert tactic (as Russia may not be surprised to learn).”
I found 16 cases in which Washington sought to influence foreign elections by covertly funding, advising and spreading propaganda for its preferred candidates, often doing so beyond a single election cycle. Of these, the U.S.-backed parties won their elections 75 percent of the time.
As in the case of Russia’s role in helping candidate Donald Trump and undermining Hillary Clinton back in 2016, O’Rourke acknowledges that in those instances when the United States meddled in other countries’ elections:
“it is impossible to say whether the U.S.-supported candidates would have won their elections without the covert assistance. Many were leading in the polls before the U.S. intervention. However, as the CIA’s head of the Directorate of Intelligence, Ray S. Cline, once put it, the key to a successful covert regime change is “supplying just the right bit of marginal assistance in the right way at the right time.”
You can (and should) read Prof. O’Rourke’s full piece and decide the sauce-for-the-gander question for yourself. The details are interesting. But the mere fact that the U.S. government arrogated to itself the right to try to change the governments of other nations 72 times, including 16 cases that involved interference in elections, could complicate one’s moral outrage over the possibility of having been on the receiving end of similar interference.