American Exceptionalism

Revised 21 August 2019

The United States has exploited its unique circumstances after the end of World War II (e.g., its undamaged industrial base) to be able to operate differently from all other nations.  However, these conditions may not persist for much longer. It is important to take a systems perspective on the basis for this exceptionalism, how things could shift, and the possible consequences.

U.S. Asserts It Is the World’s Exceptional Nation

  • The U.S. effectively asserts that it can do whatever it wants in the service of “national security”, as a consequence of being the world’s “exceptional nation”.  The U.S. takes the position that norms, rules and international laws don’t apply to it in the way they do to other nations.
  • The U.S. refuses to join any international organization that would have a say over its affairs.  For example, the U.S. refuses to participate in the International Criminal Court, because it could potentially prosecute Americans for war crimes.
  • The United States asserts that it has a sovereign right to not adhere to international agreements or even its own treaties and promises—e.g., the solemn promise it made to Russia after 1991 to not expand NATO eastward into the former Soviet Republics.
  • The U.S. is outraged at any attempts by other nations to influence its domestic elections.  However, it has a long history of intervening in the political affairs of other nations around the world, including coups and direct military actions to install U.S.-favorable regimes, often involving dictatorial leaders.

Domination through Military Predominance

  • Despite recently closing hundreds of facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains roughly 800 formal military bases in more than 70 countries and territories. In contrast, Britain, France and Russia currently have about 30 foreign bases between them, and China has a total of one.  Some 138,000 U.S. soldiers are currently stationed abroad.
  • The collapse of the Soviet Union removed the primary military opponent to the United States that had dominated U.S. military planning since the end of the Second World War.  Yet the expected disarmament did not occur. U.S. military, intelligence service, and homeland security spending failed to decline from Cold War levels, but instead increased substantially, particularly after September 11, 2001.

Domination through Control of Oil Resources 

  • U.S. foreign policy has long been based largely on the control of oil.  This has led the United States to actively oppose initiatives such as the Paris accords to mitigate global climate change.
  • The United States is currently conducting a New Cold War against Russia, China, Iran, and other oil-exporting countries such as Venezuela.  The U.S. is trying to isolate these countries if it cannot control their governments, central banks, and foreign diplomacy.
  • In nations such as Iran and Venezuela, the U.S. is actively seeking to foment regime change, with the goal of having their oil reserves opened up to exploitation by the Western oil majors.

Domination through Control of Other Economic Sectors 

  • Countries that fail to give the United States control of their resource and financial sectors or privatize their public infrastructures to benefit U.S. investors are being isolated by the U.S. through trade sanctions and unilateral tariffs.  This is in violation of pre-existing trade agreements with these countries. 
  • The U.S. defines the term “democracy” in its promotion to other nations to mean pro-American.  It opposes land reform, national ownership of resources, and public subsidies of local agriculture and industry as attacks on “free markets”.  What the U.S. actually seeks are markets controlled by U.S. financial interests, along with external ownership of a country’s land, natural resources, and financial institutions.

Some Effects of U.S. Policies and Actions  

  • U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East have supported Israeli expansionism and the extension of Saudi Wahhabi fundamentalism throughout the Islamic world.
  • A wave of refugees is flooding Europe, fleeing ISIS, Al Qaeda and other groups unleashed by U.S. actions in the Near East.  A similar wave of refugees is fleeing oppressive regimes backed by the U.S. in Central America. The refugee movements are major contributors to the rise of right-wing nationalist parties in Europe and white nationalism in the United States.  

Domination through the U.S. Dollar  

  • Much of the U.S.’s international power is based on the fact that the dollar is the standard unit of international finance and monetary transactions.  It is the de facto basis for central bank reserves, world trade, and international lending. 
  • U.S. Treasury bonds held outside the U.S. have become the medium of exchange for the world’s central banks to enable them to settle payment imbalances among themselves.  
  • As the world economy has grown, this has enabled the United States to run balance-of-payments deficits for nearly seventy years.  This is in spite of the fact that these ever-mounting U.S. government IOUs have virtually no likelihood of ever being paid off.
  • The United States is the only nation that can run these sustained deficits without having to sell off assets or raise interest rates to be able to borrow money from foreign sources.
  • Today, the U.S. federal government borrows approximately $1 trillion dollars each year for a federal budget of roughly $4 trillion.  This borrowing allows the U.S. to avoid taxing its own citizens to pay for its expenditures.  
  • As the loan balance increases, the interest bill grows ever larger.  This.requires the U.S. to keep interest rates as low as possible so that interest payments don’t consume all funds.  
  • Low interest rates force investors of all types to focus on corporate stocks, driving up stock prices to unsupportable and unsustainable levels.  
  • The U.S’s policy is to impose regime change on nations that seek to use other approaches than the U.S. dollar for their exchange reserves.  Libya’s Kaddafi was overthrown and killed by the U.S. after he sought to base his nation’s international reserves on gold.
  • International financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are largely controlled by the United States and are run to benefit U.S. financial institutions.  The U.S. has veto power over any policies that it regards as not letting it “win”. The ideological basis of the institutions’ policies is neoliberalism.

Threatened Independence of the U.S. Dollar Standard and Consequences

  • U.S. diplomats are threatening to destroy regimes and economies that try to be independent of the dollar standard and the purchase of U.S. debt, using trade and financial sanctions backed by military action 
  • Today, a number of major nations are exploring alternatives to using the U.S. dollar and U.S. debt as the mechanism for international financial transactions.  If they succeed, the U.S. will no longer be able to free-ride on ever-greater borrowing from the rest of the world to support its economy.
  • If the U.S. dollar is no longer the preferred currency in world trade, it is unclear how the U.S. economy can manage.  The U.S. has offshored almost all of its industrial capacity and is able to produce very little entirely domestically.

Reference: Michael Hudson, “U.S. Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses”, Counterpunch,, July 22, 2019.    

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