Exceptionalism Reborn: The Rise of Race-Neutral Imperialism
by, 8th November 2008 at 01:25 (6713 Views)
The election of Senator Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States has been met with joy and a renewed faith in the “American dream” around the world. Rama Yade, the black French junior minister of Human Rights, remarked “On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes.” Egyptian feminist Iman Bibars commented "When Obama won, I felt it was the return of the American dream.” Obama’s election, however, raises some critical questions, as does the world’s embrace of him.
President George W. Bush brought severe condemnation upon the United States for bellicose rhetoric, hardcore unilateralism and a disregard for world opinion. His invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, open policy of torture, state terrorism, support for authoritarian regimes in places such as Pakistan and Colombia, undermining of international institutions, subversion of international law and agreements, and insistence on shoving disaster capitalism down the world’s throat pushed many in the global community to the brink of discovering the nature and causes of American imperialism. Heads of states rose to power and international fame on the wave of anti-imperialist populism, including Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The United States lost considerable power, prestige, and respect globally, thereby discrediting American intervention and its underlying rationale of American exceptionalism more than under any president prior to Bush. The more intelligent sectors of the American ruling class understood this well, and thus threw their support behind Senator Barack Hussein Obama – the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, who was born in Hawai’i and raised in Indonesia.
Prior to Obama’s victory, the forty-three previous presidents were all white Protestant males, save for John F. Kennedy, a Catholic. To be sure, the new President-Elect is not the only candidate to have “inspired hope” in the hearts of people. Comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy are often made, both presidents promising a fundamental shift in American foreign policy. With Franklin Roosevelt, it was a “Good Neighbor Policy” toward Latin America, the region afflicted by American imperialism the most aside from North America itself. It is of no small note that Roosevelt trotted out this policy when he did – during the apex of the Great Depression – when American hard power and soft power were at their weakest. As NYU professor of Latin American history Greg Grandin notes in his book Empire’s Workshop regarding the Good Neighbor Policy, “Rather than weaken U.S. influence in the Western hemisphere, this newfound moderation in fact institutionalized Washington’s authority, drawing Latin American republics tighter into its political, economic, and cultural orbit through a series of multilateral treaties and regional organizations.” This, Grandin explains, is what taught the United States to use soft power effectively.
Upon becoming president, John F. Kennedy faced a world with potentially bleak prospects for American hegemony. Revolutionary sentiment and movements had engulfed the poor and oppressed nations of the world, from Asia to Africa to Latin America. Most troubling of all, however, was an island a mere 90 miles from the coast of Florida – an island coveted by imperialist slaveholders in the 19th century who sought to form a “Golden Circle” of slaveholding states – Cuba. Not only had a revolutionary, mass-based movement led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara overthrown a US-backed dictator, but Cuba had disobeyed the then 136 year old Monroe Doctrine. Kennedy ushered in decades of subversion, state terrorism and economic strangulation against Cuba to preserve hegemony in America’s “backyard.” Kennedy also attempted to co-opt the revolutionary fervor in Latin America, employing American exceptionalist rhetoric as a rallying cry for the poor and oppressed of the hemisphere: “Let us once again awaken our American revolution until it guides the struggles of people everywhere.” Perhaps Rama Yade and Iman Bibars should take note of this tactic. For the world’s critique of American hubris, it sure does enjoy reinforcing its underlying assumptions.
Still, Obama is no Franklin Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy. He is, as one member of RevLeft put it, a “biracial white man.” Looking at Obama’s political history, it can be argued that he is considerably calculating, despite the façade he erects. In 2000, Barack Obama ran for a seat in the US House of Representatives against a former Black Panther, Bobby Rush. The district, on the South Side of Chicago, is primarily African-American. In the race, Obama ran on the familiar theme of opposing a politics “rooted in the past.” He lost. Bobby Rush criticized Obama for not being sufficiently rooted in the African-American community. Obama attempted to compete with him in this regard, as opposed to trying to reframe the election. From this loss, Obama learned the value of a “postracial politics,” which propelled him to victory in 2004 and 2008.
With Senator Obama’s election, millions of minorities warmed up to the idea that America has overcome racism. That Senator Obama had to run a campaign which disregarded any legitimate grievances articulated by minorities and marginalized groups is of little matter. Obama’s reimagining of American history – of the “Founding Fathers” as freedom-fighters instead of staunch imperialists and of minority resistance to oppression as giving life to “American ideals” instead of resisting “ideals” whose only purpose is to provide euphemistic value, is telling. Regardless of whether or not Obama delivers on policies he won the Democratic nomination on, it is clear that a great number – millions – of Asians, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Indigenous peoples have finally been converted into wholehearted Americans who now feel they have a true stake in America’s success. Barring an absolutely catastrophic Obama presidency, the American bourgeoisie has won a definite victory over the global left, which will set the left back two or more decades. The American Empire is looking less like the American Empire of the past two centuries and more like the Roman Empire of two millennia ago. Although racism will continue in the United States, the broader society may embrace a race-neutral form of imperialism. Minorities have signed a Faustian deal. In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud wrote: “No doubt one is a wretched plebeian harassed by debts and military service, but, to make up for it, one is a Roman citizen, one has one’s share in the task of ruling other nations and dictating their laws.” People in the Third World can no longer count on segments of the American population for much sympathy and support based on common experiences. Instead, they can expect to be condemned not by rich white capitalists with a few brown faces sprinkled here and there, but by an increasingly multiracial society in which whites will soon be a minority.
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