Some days the barbarism of my nation terrifies me.

In his speech before the United Nations, President Obama pulled out an old Republican trick. He objected to the phrase “American exceptionalism” as if the term were an assault on the idea that America has special qualities. “I believe America is exceptional,” said the president.

The president knows very well that is not what the term means. He was responding to Vladimir Putin’s editorial in the New York Times accusing the U.S. of “exceptionalism,” which means seeing oneself as the exception to the standards one holds for everyone else. It is a polite word for arrogant hypocrisy at the national level.

For example, in his speech the president accused China and Russia of obstructionism for using their veto power to protect Syria from military action. This is manifest hypocrisy. In the same period of time that China has used that power 8 times, and Russia has used it 18 times, the US has used its veto power 83 times.

In 2003 the US blocked a draft resolution to make the Middle East a nuclear weapons free zone. Why? Because it does not wish to hold Israel to the same standards it holds the other nations in that region. The US has practiced that double standard numerous times.

Stephen Zunes gives a nice summary in the Progressive:

“UN Security Council resolution 487 calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency. UN Security Council resolution 1137 calls on India and Pakistan to eliminate their nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles. But the Obama Administration has not only refused to support implementing these resolutions, it provides all three countries with nuclear-capable jet fighters and other military assistance.” 

No, Mr. President, we are not the exception to international law. We are not better than human beings born in other nations just because we are infinitely more powerful than they. The moral arc of the universe does not bend around our American interests. If America has ever been “exceptional” it was for values and principles you and your predecessors have almost completely betrayed.