Small Wars Journal

Putin is Afraid of American Exceptionalism

Sun, 09/15/2013 - 1:13am

Putin is Afraid of American Exceptionalism:

Still reeling from the Defeat of Global Communism in the War of Ideas

David S. Maxwell

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New York Times OpEd has stirred much emotion as he challenged the idea of American Exceptionalism.   While many are taken aback by such an affront to American values and ideals, it might be worth a brief look at some historical data points on the evolutionary trail of American Exceptionalism that culminated with the defeat of the Soviet Union in the ideological realm on the battlefield of human terrain.

As most know the roots of American Exceptionalism lie in three figures, Jonathon Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexis de Tocqueville.  However, it was not until President Kennedy invoked the concept that it became the ideological tool for victory in the Cold War.

In 1630 Winthrop gave us the first words that laid the foundation for American Exceptionalism: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”[1]   De Tocqueville provided a quite different description of why America is exceptional: “The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one… Let us cease, then, to view all democratic nations under the example of the American people.” [2]

Thomas Jefferson vacillated between the concept of America as an exemplar and as a crusader.   Clearly his words describing inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence support the notion of America being a city on hill as the exemplar for all to emulate.  According to Walter Russell Mead Jeffersonian Foreign Policy can be described as a form of “supple pacifism” and isolationism.[3]  Yet Jefferson also felt that for America to flourish, democracy and free market economies must spread throughout the world which of course influences the crusader form of American Exceptionalism.

Jefferson’s final views can be summed up from his letter on Foreign Affairs with this excerpt: “Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence.”[4]

Despite this final “benign influence” view and the roots of what Joseph Nye would later coin as “soft power,” Jefferson set America up for the continuing conflict between exemplars and crusaders.  In their seminal work, Empire of Liberty, Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson succinctly summarized Jefferson’s conflicting positions that endure today. They note that American foreign policy had two broad views:

             “…to advance liberty only by remaining separate from the world.  Only by avoiding enormous economic and constitutional threats produced by entangling alliances and foreign wars would America fulfill its mission as an example or asylum for oppressed peoples everywhere.”

 “…free political and economic institutions would flourish in America only if they took root elsewhere, an idea that has underlain much of the crusading impulse in this century.”[5] (referring to the 20th Century)

These two ideas really illustrate the exemplar and the crusader Exceptionalists.

After de Tocqueville little there was little focus on Exceptionalism until the 20th Century.  Putin is not the first to challenge American Exceptionalism.  Stalin himself used the term to criticize the American Communist Party for thinking that it did not fall in line with Marxist history because of its geographic location and access to resources, its industrial capacity along the lines of de Tocqueville’s description some 80 years earlier.[6]  Perhaps he foreshadowed what would become of the US-USSR conflict and realized that even American Communists could not divorce themselves from the unique American experience.

However, it was President Kennedy who re-invigorated and cemented the concept in American presidential lexicon that continues to this day when in 1961 in an address to the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts he called America a “shining city on a hill.”[7]  Since that time every American President, regardless of political party, has used various forms of this metaphor and invoked American Exceptionalism. 

Why did Kennedy do this?  Although political scientists and historians can challenge me because I have no hard data to prove this, I will offer the following hypothesis.  Kennedy inherited the most effective grand strategy in American history, the policy of containment of Soviet Communism.  The diplomatic, economic, and in particular the military instruments of national power were strongly represented but what Kennedy needed was an information component that would not only unite and motivate Americans but would also serve as an example for the free world.  What better way to offset Communist ideology than to describe an American ideology that would be the shining example.

Although US and Soviet forces never directly met on the field of battle during the Cold War; on the battlefield of human terrain and in the war of ideas, American ideals dominated Communism.  Democracy and free market economies spread across the globe and American soft power was one of the major influences.  Putin’s KGB was unable to counter this and today he sees the opportunity to try to obtain some satisfaction and perhaps even a form of revenge for his failures by discrediting America in the New York Times.

Of course many people criticize American Exceptionalism.  It is the subject of fierce debate among Americans.  They can be divided into three camps.  We have talked about the first two.  The crusaders are aggressive proponents of exporting American principles and following the proverbial concept of “making the world safe for democracy” because they believe it will improve the chances for global stability and economic prosperity which are obviously in U.S. interests.  The exemplars are the soft power advocates.  They believe that the American example should be sufficient for others to adopt and that the ideals do not need to be aggressively pushed.  The third category is one not yet discussed.  These are the “apologists” for American Exceptionalism.  These are people who believe the concept of American Exceptionalism is arrogant and leads to poor strategic decision-making, entangling the US in overseas adventures, and leads to conflict and harm to America.  Although critics of American Exceptionalism will deny this they see more eye to eye with Putin than with any American President since Kennedy, whether it be President Reagan or President Obama.

However, it is true America has made mistakes in foreign policy.  There can be no denying that and there are too many failures to list here.  But there have been many successes, again most notably victory in the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Again, political scientists will challenge this hypothesis but I would submit that our failures can be attributed to the exemplar and crusader camps becoming out of balance.

When the balance has shifted too far to the crusader side of the ledger and foreign policy is too aggressive America has made mistakes and perhaps intervened in the affairs of others when and where it should not.  When the exemplar side is too dominant and suppresses the crusader side, perhaps conflict has occurred in places where it may have been prevented.  But when the balance is correct, America is strong and is able to exercise international leadership that helps to maintain peace and stability.

There are two things to conclude.  First, Putin and apologists have the right to criticize America and its belief in its own Exceptionalism.  However, if we harken back to de Tocqueville and read his description carefully what he is really saying is that America had unique circumstances that led it to develop and evolve in its own way and it did so like no other country.  Could the same not be said for any country in the world?  Each has its own history and culture and developed in its own unique way.  In that way every country, even Russia, is exceptional by definition. 

The second is that Americans should not apologize for American Exceptionalism because it describes the fundamental principles and ideals upon which America was built.  Rather than criticizing the concept, what America needs to do is ensure that American leaders, regardless of political party, strive for balance between the exemplar and the crusader.  This is what we must get right.  We cannot change our history or our identity and it is certainly nothing for which to apologize.

Lastly, we should understand why Putin wrote what he did.  He remains in fear of America.  American ideals helped to defeat the Soviet Union.  As Putin tries to raise the Russian bear and regain some semblance of the power the Soviet Union once held, it will have to compete with the United States.   He cannot compete head to head with American instruments of national power.  Therefore he must try to undermine them and the most important one in the 21st Century is the informational instrument.  If he can attack and undermine American ideals he may have a chance to achieve his goals.  This was his objective and as in the Cold War let’s make sure he fails.

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University. He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with 30 years of service.

[1] Governor John Winthrop, “A Model for Christian Charity” (1630 on board the Arbella),, last accessed July 21, 2103.

[2] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America,  p., 363 (, last accessed July 23, 2013.

[3] Walter Russell Mead, “The Jacksonian Tradition and American Foreign Policy,” The National Review,  (Winter 1999-2000),

[4] Thomas JeffersonMerrill D. Peterson (editor), The Portable Thomas Jefferson, (Penguin Books, New York), p. 435.

[5] Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson, Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1990), p. X.

[6] Albert Fried, Communism in America: A History in Documents (1997), p. 7

[7] John F. Kennedy, Address to the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1961),  (accessed June 13, 2013)


About the Author(s)

David S. Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Previously he was the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.


Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 11:55pm

It's like it's 1985 here, all the time. Like a little time capsule, a time capsule of frozen thought.

From "Moon of Alabama" twitter act:

<blockquote>Russian jets were in action against Islamic State on Tuesday. Assad also still enjoys military backing from Iran, which has sent forces to Syria along with Lebanon's Hezbollah.</blockquote>…

Like Patrick Cockburn says, you only have to look at the ISIS videos that they post about the Syrian Army to understand.

Not that I do. Given the surveillance state (and given my time rotating through the morgue as a resident, however brief that was), I really don't want to look them up.


Wed, 12/10/2014 - 9:54pm

In reply to by Bill C.

If it were only that simple. The reality is that Americans, like any other tribe, will do whatever it takes to survive when threatened, even things we claim only others will do. The things that were supposed to separate "Us" apart from "Them." So there is no Us and Them. There are only humans, who all act the same under the same conditions. We are not exceptional. We are just richer than everyone else.

Bill C.

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 10:36am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


If we accept that other nations would not do as America has done and drag all this out into the sunshine.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 10:54am

This following pdf is about Whit Stillman and his films but it has an interesting passage on American exceptionalism. Apparently, his movies or writing is on lists for Chinese business students? Or is it the military? I can't quite remember:

I still think the Putin op-ed embarrassed the American establishment which only added to the fury and distrust the group dynamic apparently feels toward Russia. The foreign policy establishment has been looking for a big overreaching cause since the fall of the Soviet Union. I had hoped that cause might have been protecting American interests but the phrase 'American interests' is just a way to advocate doing whatever someone wanted to do anyway. None of this is addressed to any one person, it's just meant in the way of an overall discussion.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/17/2014 - 2:29pm

In reply to by carl

I don't hate anyone, but to engineer an entire campaign--or its Afghan surge component--through the eyes of one man writing about one small patch of land during one colonial campaign ages ago is exceedingly foolish. Doesn't terrain, proxies, contemporary local political landscapes, needs and desires of political masters--any of the rest of it--countwhen designing a successful campaign? Yet all of this was ignored. Why?

The creation of a campaign is not about worshipping at the altar of any one man, or lighting mystical candles to a myth, it is a practical business, a very practical subject.

Max Boot devotes, what, a partial passage to Kashmir in his book? And that too to the British Army of his romantic schoolboy colonial imagining? And this is the comprehensive book on guerrilla warfare that everyone should read, especially for Afghanistan, when the US itself trained many people in that part of the world on guerrilla warfare, so that when the dreadful time, NATO met a mix of tactics that were both learned and expanded upon based on our own American Cold War doctrine and then applied to 90's Afghanistan?

Why did we think we'd meet from-the-past Algerians in Afghanistan?

Why would we ignore every lesson of value to focus on a man whose lessons were not the most pertinent to the campaign? And there is even disagreement from others that were there at the same time as to whether is observations were correct or not.

Can I flip the question back on you and ask why you are fixated on the life of one man instead of trying to understand how we might accomplish concrete goals today, in the here and now? Why the need to shove everything through the lens of one man's writing when war is such a complicated business that it requires the widest possible education?

Afghanistan deserves to be understood on Afghanistan's terms. And an American military campaign needs to be built on the political end state desired by its civilian masters, not serve as a template for proving abstract theories and bolstering academic/military careers or the bottom line of contractors.

Fukuyama once wrote that we Americans might find Peace boring. What kind of mentality thinks that? I am afraid that is the mentality of many in Washington, many who seem to view every crisis with extreme alarm and cannot prioritize. Prioritizing is not isolationism. Only a fool thinks we need to fight everything, everywhere, all the time, and that every conflict in the world hinges to the fact that the Americans don't take some posture on some internal conflict.

Funny you should mention Patton because I had scribbled down the following from an essay by Carlos D'Este from a collection of essays called <em>On War</em>: "Major General Kennth Strong, intelligence officer for Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), recalled that Patton demonstrated "an extraordinary desire for information of all kinds." "

Well, pro-Patton or anti-Patton, focusing on one man's opinions halted the "extraordinary desire for information of all kinds," we ignored any information that didn't fit the template because we didn't need to be curious, we had all the answers.

It doesn't work like that. We must examine the world and then decide how to proceed. There are no shortcuts, there is no room for intellectual laziness.

I have nothing against the so called Coindinistas because we civilians handed the military a crap sandwich in Iraq and they came up with what they came up with in the midst of madness. But it went to our head, the stories we told ourselves, State and the Military and a whole slew of academics whose careers and livelihoods were made.

RantCorp is correct, the world is a Machivalellian place and we doctors are, I am betting, pound for pound, worse than the military officer class. No doctor in academic medicine that I know would disagree, no one would even break a sweat at such a suggestion, only express sadness that we failed as a profession.

Yet we physicians can't start wars or maneuver nations into conflict or create the most dangerous nuclear crises between nations. So, again, I stand by my complaints about the information operations performed, almost continuously, on the American public by various factions within State, DOD, think tanks, political DC players. How many talking heads on television, in print, willing to ignore facts, create selective impressions, destroy the careers of any dissenters, in order to own American public opinion?

Why should I respect that? Carl, anyone that reads our fights here online doesn't know that we are blog comment buddies, we're fine with each other, no one hates anyone around here. It's not about David Galula, none of this. The fantasies we've created about him are more to do with we Americans. We can't live in fantasy anymore. It's no longer a unipolar world and we did that to ourselves, bled away our own power, handed manufacturing over to others, acted rashly, just within two decades depleted good will toward us.

This is the very sign of hubris and the fixation on Galula versus studying the world as it is, is only a symptom of a people that refuse to be serious.


I don't quite get the hate on you have for David Galula. He was apparently fairly unprepossessing guy who did his bit bravely when called upon, led a very interesting life and had a lot of useful ideas. Reading what you write you'd think he combined all the worst qualities of Montgomery, Patton and Benjamin Butler.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 08/24/2014 - 10:42am

In reply to by RantCorp

A comment from Move Forward really brought home how my comments have come across. Hand on heart, I didn't realize it until now. I wrote to him on another thread:

<em>I have nothing against everyday retired military guys supplementing retirement income, but making millions off of insider knowledge and contacts, and making war more likely in order to extend conflict, is not anything I can respect.</em>

And it's not the millions that I have a problem with (no class warrior here), especially if they are gained in a reasonably honest way, it's the less than reasonable stuff that I am talking about.

I have a bad habit of talking to some generic "YOU" in comments, some imagined readership, maybe I'm even referring to the MAN or whatever.

I've never meant any one person, simply the phenomenon of influence peddling which occurs in any large money making enterprise. Medicine is a disaster. If I could quit academic medicine a second time, I would. I still remember asking some ridiculous CEO at an open meeting why he thought people and medicine were equivalent to widgets or interchangeable in management with making cars. And politicians show up for photo ops with hand-picked docs and nurses and CEOs, but no one else in the hospital is ever invited. Believe me, the ways in which information is manipulated for the public, this I know.

My apologies to everyone reading. It's a tough economy out there, I know that.

But some of my first rotations were in the medical examiners office. That kind of experience stays with you. The surface is not what lies beneath the beating heart of the city.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 1:45am

In reply to by RantCorp

Don't get me started on medicine. So-called ObamaCare is basically a vote of no confidence in the "leadership" (ha!) of medicine.

During the go-go nineties, we in the medical field watched while all sorts of manufacturing was outsourced, but, hey, we were educated, in charge, enlightened, globalized! No one was going to outsource our jobs, you losers, so get with the program, man. College loans for all, that's the ticket.

Now radiology images are sent all over the world. Should have stuck up for those guys back then, but it <em>was</em> the go-go 90s. Have the right identity politics, and get a pass on having contributed to the oligarchical nature of today.

If you think I am hard on the military, my comments around here are practically love letters compared to anything I'd write about medicine. I wrote the following here at SWJ some time ago and I still believe it:

<blockquote>I know that comment is just kidding around and dark humor but it's not even remotely true. No way do "we suck", at least, not everybody.

NATO set insanely ambitious goals for itself, the kind of goals it takes generations to accomplish, the kind of goals decent people wish for their own and for others, and, within that background, a lot of good stuff got done. Maybe it isn't the job of a military to vaccinate little kids or improve infant mortality but it happened, it exists, it cannot be undone, it's on the good side of the ledger in a larger world filled with a lot of really evil stuff.

And a lot of bad actors were dispatched too, including one very high profile manhunt. I'm not making a case for what happened. I am not justifying decisions. I am not a propagandist. I am only trying to make sense of it.

Two steps forward, one step back is the only way human beings ever do anything, trial-and-error is all that we have.

<blockquote>A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.</blockquote> - the novel <em>Stoner</em>

But I know what some of you have been. You stuck it out. That's the man--or woman--you have been.</blockquote>

I believe that, with all my heart.

I don't think you are more or less unethical than you have been in the past. The system is just messed up because its unmoored to the will of the people. The all volunteer military and the military industrial complex. Bacevich gets this right.

And I stand by my criticisms of some of the more politicized think tanks and their more unsavory connections to some retired military, as well as factions in the Pentagon. I bet most people in the military are trying to do the right thing. How is it that the a-holes always seem to win? Same for medicine.

Power and money corrupt, and those fascinated with power are more likely to rise because they actually care about getting close to it?

On WWII, you make interesting points. TCM had a tribute to James Garner recently and showed some of his best films. I watched The Americanization of Emily. An entire movie about service rivalry, and that during WWII! Can you imagine that movie made today? Even the anti-war films romanticize the military. You are monsters or heroes for a lost cause, or lost troubled souls. But we can't let you be human. You have to be stand-ins for something, symbols.

I remain optimistic, although it's tough to tell from my comments. We are in a period of adjustment. Painful, slow, depressingly ready to slide into a new Cold War (how can this have happened? The word possible strategic outcome for Americans!), but we are adjusting. As long as we do that, we will be okay. I believe that, too, with all my heart.

(And I'm not being a troll about David Maxwell, he is one of the better thinkers I've encountered on this stuff. Why wouldnt he be, given his background and education? At least when he writes something, it makes sense, it's not loaded down by jargon and buzzwords, it's logical and forward thinking. I just think in this one area, perhaps, the thinking needs a bit of an update. At War on the Rocks, an author Killebrew, I believe, talked about containing Russia just like in the old days. Really? Given India and China and their relationships to Russia and her arms sales? It's too globalized and interconnected a world, and, anyway, why would we want to shove Russia and China and India too closely together in an anti-US alliance out of fears of what the US is going to do? Doesn't make sense, today, in 2014).


Fri, 08/15/2014 - 1:15am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu wrote:

‘I don't want to hurt anyone, but once you start to see the fiction--and it is an entire giant fiction, even if sincerely believed by some-- it is hard to take the world of military or foreign policy intellectuals entirely seriously. There are lots of ways to make a living, still. I can't take some of the think tank world (this is not directed at Dave Maxwell!) seriously because is it worth it? The quiet sort of compromises you must make to stay in that world? Well, I am not you and I make the same sort of compromises.’

I was always under the impression that the only profession that was more Machiavellian than medical academia was the clergy. My understanding was that politics and the law come equal third and the heavy-footed military are somewhat dim and distant down the order.

I grant you the staggering expense has probably promoted the Military’s position in this league of the damned but the medicos and the pharmaceuticals are no shrinking violets when it comes to screwing the public for money.

I agree military integrity has fallen from the lofty heights attained by the post-WW2 generation. I am sure there are numerous reasons for this but IMHO the main factor is the comparative lack of KIA in the post WW2 wars. Obviously for family and friends the death of a loved one in Iraq or AF is a life changing tragedy but the fact remains the number of KIA in recent times is minuscule compared to the hell that produced the ‘Golden Generation’ – a sobering indictment of progressive society if ever there was one.

Two thousand US military personnel died every week during WW2 – think a 9/11 every week for nearly 4 years. Add the British Commonwealth and that goes up to 4000 a week. Add our Soviet allies and it goes up to 55,000 a week! Add the Germans and you have 80,000 young men KIA every week for 4 years and then you can add the Japanese and Chinese KIA.

Both my parents served in WW2 and they loathed the military and anything to do with it. My mother’s brother was KIA and my father’s battalion was wiped out by the Waffen SS. His brother had his jaw blown off in the Pacific but lived - just. After the war their entire local community was blighted by ‘golden’ men who were physically and/or psychologically broken.

One evening we were watching the news as a few flag-draped coffins from Afghanistan were unloaded from a C-5. Various political leaders gave a salute and it was all very dignified and somber. My father didn’t sneer but he stood up walked out of the room mumbling something. My mother got up and turned it off and said somewhat bitterly to no-one in particular “Anyone would think they were burying a goddamn Field Marshal.”

What all this bitterness and death meant was no-one and I mean no one; whether lowly privates, munitions workers, ship-builders, air-raid wardens, farm workers, Generals, merchant seaman, nurses etc etc tolerated bullshit or bullshitters – or as you put it ‘male military fantasy’, ‘fetishization of Galula, T E Lawrence etc.’ or ‘ self-glorifying mythology’ .

Perhaps the most famous example of the WW2 generation’s intolerance of bullshit came about in the British General Election of July 1945. Churchill, the Establishment and the Media believed his adoring public would elect him Prime Minister. However, bolstered by returning serviceman the ‘Golden Generation’ let him know what they really thought of him and threw him out in a landslide.

If the type of person you allude to (toxic leader, power-point ranger, Five o’clock folly, REMF etc. in modern parlance) did make it onto the battlefield of WW2 the carnage that ensued either got them killed(along with thousands of others) and if not, hastily removed. Furthermore the gruesome body-count meant the ‘chancers’ or ‘dashers’ – no doubt prevalent among the WW2 ranks as much as now, kept a very low profile.

To finish on a more positive note, perhaps the enormous stakes got the better of their conscience and they carried out their duties with an intellectual rigor that you suggest is lacking in today’s military officer class.


Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 2:06pm

More in the nature of "working an idea", from the same piece I linked below on American Exceptionalism:

<blockquote>It’s that identification of ourselves with something quite radically not our own that I take as definitive of the moral imagination—as opposed to what people now like to call empathy (I feel for you because you’re just like me and I’ve been there) or what I call energetic fantasy, the idea that you and yours, your people, are out to do good for the world and therefore ought to be supported. This sort of fantasy is, I think, deep in the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which has stolen on my country over the past twenty years with a grip that now baffles and disturbs me very much.</blockquote>

What has been quite interesting for me as an outsider is the way in which a kind of male military fantasy has played a part in the development in doctrine, and by that I mean the fetishization of Galula, T.E. Lawrence, etc., so that instead of studying documents and campaigns and information most pertinent to a situation, the main military doctrine is approached through the desire to save the oppressed, to be the savior in a situation, the enlightened one.

Nothing novel in my observation and one long made, but I was so innocent of this world that I had no idea what a strong part military fantasy played in terms of how the American military created its own intellectual world.

Reading lists are always filled with a kind of self-glorifying mythology of the campaigns that mean the most to the military as opposed to a more holistic approach to study.

I don't wish to be cruel or to mock-and I am not mocking-- only to be honest in my observations.

PS: The linked article also mentions Orwell and the streak of cruelty that seems, to the observer, to be part of the desire to tell the truth.

I certainly have that streak, don't I? But we American people have been lied to so often and so consistently....

And what happens to those that are hurt? They often wish to hurt back.

I don't want to hurt anyone, but once you start to see the fiction--and it is an entire giant fiction, even if sincerely believed by some-- it is hard to take the world of military or foreign policy intellectuals entirely seriously. There are lots of ways to make a living, still. I can't take some of the think tank world (this is not directed at Dave Maxwell!) seriously because is it worth it? The quiet sort of compromises you must make to stay in that world? Well, I am not you and I make the same sort of compromises.

The Human Domain. Anyone really interested wouldn't be afraid to chase down funding, and associations, and all that.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 1:05pm

It has been pointed out to me recently that when I am being bad, I am too personal, and when I am being good, I work an idea.

This is working an idea, and is meant to add to the discussion on American exceptionalism:

<blockquote><strong>There are stronger and weaker versions of that exceptionalism aren’t there? One of the interesting points you make is that, over the last twenty years, what happened to American exceptionalism was that “being exemplary”, as you put it, got confused with being “evangelical”. And that’s something new.</strong>

Absolutely. There is a famous statement about the exemplary status that America might have in the world of moral conduct by Lincoln in his speech on the Dred-Scott case. There he says that the idea that all men should be created equal was meant by those who signed the Declaration of Independence as a standard maxim for a free society, which should be “constantly looked to,” “constantly laboured for” and “constantly approximated.” That’s the way Lincoln talks about it. It’s in that setting that he says the United States ought to be exemplary. Lincoln was an anti-imperialist. He made a big speech against the Mexican war of 1847.

You find this in Martin Luther King as well. I quote in the book his great Riverside Church speech of April 1967, exactly a year before he was assassinated, which closes with a wonderful quotation from James Russell Lowell: “Once to every man and nation/Comes the moment to decide,/In the strife of truth and falsehood,/For the good or evil side.” There King is, so to speak, putting his hand on the bible of American patriotism, but saying that this means that we should be judged against our best ideals; that it’s those ideals we should try to live up to. But the standard use of exceptionalism now is from people who are American treating the United States as the “indispensable country,” as Madeleine Albright called us, the sole superpower. This has roots in the Protestant, Puritan exceptionalism of the 17th century. And I talk about that a little in the book. But in those cases, it had not yet acquired its full nationalist weight and import.</blockquote>…

So, I was a late late Cold War teen and that too during the Reagan years and what seems so very different today from that period is the explicitly evangelical--in terms of using our military to spread democratic values--nature of today's view of exceptionalism. Despite the grand rhetoric of the Cold War, there were some ways in which we were restrained and not just by the nature of the Soviet Union.

This switch from we-are-something-special-and-unique to a sort of crusading mentality is really quite striking.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 11:43am

The linked article by Julia Ioffe is being widely, well, linked at various sites I read. In it, she questions "what happens next" if sanctions topple Putin or meddle too widely with the internal affairs of Russia.

When other critics of current US policy and discourse toward Russia--such as Stephen F. Cohen made this point-- they called Putin apologists. Is she now a Putin apologist? No one tell Joshua Foust or Omar Ali or C. Christine Fair.

Trying to game out scenarios and think how they might play out in reality versus the fantasy of regime change proponents is important. It is what I learned from the Iraq War and from the conversations about COIN and the surge. Why people should be discredited for saying, "hey, it's 2014, have you considered this? Maybe our actions won't work?" is beyond me but that is exactly what happens.

And anyone that speaks up is somehow disloyal or uncivil or not a team player. This is not aimed at Dave Maxwell, it's just that her article is a good counterpoint various points made here. Michael McFaul the activist let his activism cloud his diplomacy. A common mistake we have made and are continuing to make:…

She is Russian-American, yes? Well, look at my Indian-American comments, don't I sometimes go too far because I am emotionally invested in one side of conflict via my background? It doesn't invalidate what I say, or what she says, but you always have to be careful of these things. You have to ask yourself, "how much of this is what I really believe because facts lead me in this direction" versus emotionalism?

And this is a common problem with the idea of a Special Forces centric military, although of course I admire you. But the limits of meddling seem not to sink in, seem to be almost at odds with the ethos. It is astrategic.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 2:17pm

I thought part of the Reagan/Kirkpatrick doctrine was that authoritarian government was different than totalitarian govs. That allowed some of you to go to bed with authoritarian Latin dictatorships at night during the cold war and still feel good about yourselves in the morning. Now everyone is telling me it is all the same. By the way Ned, the best research shows the credibility argument is bunk. People decide on local conditions, not because we didn't bomb some far off place. You all can look it up. It is out there.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 2:24pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

How do you know if your advice to counter another strategy won't make things worse if you ignore all this other stuff to focus on your favorite and most personally flattering narrative?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 2:20pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

And by the way, asking hard questions does not make me an apologist. A republic if you can keep it.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 2:09pm

@Outlaw & others:

My point is that certain narratives or propaganda are more likely to take when some people view the US as meddlesome as the Russians in the internal affairs of others. You may object to the parallel but plenty others buy it.

The situation is far more complex than the simplistic narrative of 'Russian unconventional warfare perpetrated on a sovereign ally.' For all I know, Brennan and the CIA and State gave lousy advice to the government and added to the instability just like the Russians or whatever other intelligence agencies are skulking around. Civil war conditions are too complex strategically for simplistic military doctrinal overlays in place of understanding.

Ned McDonnell III

Sun, 05/04/2014 - 5:34pm

In reply to by Bill C.
To me, at least, the best articulation of modern American exceptionalism came from President Roosevelt in early 1941 in his 'Four Freedoms' Address.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 2:08pm

In reply to by Bill C.

The truth is, quite a lot of people are sick of the claims of American exceptionalism when it is tied to military activity and a sort of "whatever we do is okay, when you do it, you are breaking the rules." It's a very emotional response. No intellectualizing it neuters that feeling, judging by actions and polls from other nations, etc. Iraq, Abbottabad, and the wikileaks stuff showing that we were meddling in the internal affairs of other nations really made us look terrible. This sort of talk grates within that background, unless someone is trying to cajole us into doing their work for them. Then all sorts of people try emotional appeals like, "why aren't you helping us fight our battles even though we screwed up big time and didn't listen to good advice?"

In another thread, I mentioned Strobe Talbott's 1995 writing on NATO expansion. There is a letter in reply to that which I will post. Many other schemes were being considered that would protect the newly independent post Soviet countries but this has been forgotten in the conversation. There were, and are, other ways.

A question:

If Putin is so afraid of "American exceptionalism,"

Why then does he feel so free to thumb his nose at the United States? (This question applying to other states, societies and leaders who also appear to feel more-free to challenge/ignor the United States.)

Could this be because, today, the power, appeal, etc., of American exceptionalism is not so much on the rise as it is on the decline?

This because it (American exceptionalism) is no longer seen by many leaders and, indeed, by many populations around the world, in such a favorable light and, thus, as the way forward?

This helping to explain why states and societies today are often seen to be moving (unless they are thwarted by military forces as in Egypt) more toward their "roots" and away from trying to transform themselves so correctly, so completely (and so impossibly?) along modern western lines?

Outlaw 09

Sat, 05/03/2014 - 2:26am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu----there are a few specific points you seemed to either not understand and or ignore when it comes to Putin, Russia, and the Ukrainian adventure both of them are on.

1. Seriously go back and read intently what Putin has been saying since he took power actually in 1999 and has not let go of it since then---he is basically an authoritarian at heart
2. really look at the develop of ethnic nationalism which Putin is one, and see how it has been developing in Russia since the 1999 timeframe
3. seriously understand that Russia is unlike anything you and or others have seen, read, and know about---it is built on a five legged stool 1) the security services, 2) the military, 3) the oligarchs, 4) Russian Mob/gangs and finally 5)the Russian Orthodox Church all layered over with cover of down to earth ethnic nationalism
4. Putin is a master of playing all five elements in his foreign policy which most western countries neither have nor do
5. the Russian speaking population of Russia has been in a PTSD coma since the traumatic for them breakup of the Soviet Union

What you are now seeing in the Ukraine is an effective and well thought through UW strategy (applying all elements of UW to include criminal elements) being applied in a political warfare scenario something we in the west simply do not understand.

Actually David has written exactly about both concepts here and it has not gained much traction---and current events is showing him to be correct in his assumptions.

Putin has a UW strategy and we have none nor are we fully understanding that strategy thus the confusion on the western side.

This has nothing to do with wikileask, Snowden, ill thought through Iraq/AFG adventures etc---it has to do with simple down to earth hard core ethnic nationalism being played by a leader using all five elements of political warfare available to him packaged an effective UW strategy carried out professionally.

Will be open to providing you one current Russian thinker who drives this ethnic nationalism surge and who is the so to speak the god father of it if you are interested---just not sure he has anything translated into English.

Would highly suggest--seriously suggest you find an English copy of Putin's Duma speech on the Crimea---really read every word and every sentence at least twice and then you will understand exactly where Putin is coming from and going to.

Many here as well as in the States as well as the WH need to inherently breathe that document as it is the blueprint for Putin's actions and he is not coming off it any time soon.

So again your critique is a little tad to the right of center.

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 4:20pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw-09, I agree with everything you are saying. President Putin's call for delaying referenda and endorsing May elections ought to be greeted openly but warily. If Putin has changed his thinking, that may not be permanent; in any case, this situation brings out in bold relief the absence of a countering strategy addressing the several levels of irregular warfare and the necessity of redressing that deficiency.

Perhaps the establishment of the United States Office of Contingency Operations, as per H.R.-2606 (being undercut by the Department of State not because of inefficient duplication, as claims Fogged-up Bottom, but because the Department will lose its co-leadership role of the CivMil function; a leadership function forfeited long ago).…
Most recent 'Contingency Operations' have involved at least a heavy, if not exclusive, dose of irregular warfare. A CivMil function sufficiently empowered could address these issues to provoke a meaningful debate. Secretary Kerry is not the problem; perhaps he should resign to call attention to this absence of leadership and strategy.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 1:13pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Ned---take a long read of the eight Phases of the Russian strategic UW strategy (New-Generation Warfare) that is playing out in the Ukraine---we do not have at the national level a equal strategic UW strategy which SWJ writers like David M, Robert J and Bill M have mentioned over and over that we need.

Once one has a national level strategy then it is easy to develop a counter UW strategy---when both are not in place then one "swims" as we do now as there is no confidence among the decision makers that anything will work anywhere in the world where there is UW tied to political warfare on the loose.

Here are the first five strategic UW phases that Russia is currently using in the Ukraine with great effectiveness.

NOTE: Although Putin pulled a few rabbits out of the hat today that makes one wonder just how is the Russia economy really doing and is he serious now about de-escalation or just conducting a supporting role in say Phases One, Two, and Four in order to gain more time for activities on the ground to work through to his favor? OR is he concerned that the forces he unleased are not responding to his control/words and that alone will trigger further sanctions that will indeed hit him hard and potentially collapse the economy around his ears. There is something going on that needs to be watched closely just not sure what it is.

First Phase: non-military asymmetric warfare (encompassing information, moral, psychological,ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures as part of a plan to establish a favorable political, economic, and military setup).

Second Phase: special operations to mislead political and military leaders by coordinated measures carried out by diplomatic channels, media, and top government and military agencies by leaking false data, orders, directives, and instructions.

Third Phase: intimidation, deceiving, and bribing government and military officers, with the objective of making them abandon their service duties.

Fourth Phase: destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent among the population, boosted by the arrival of Russian bands of militants, escalating subversion.

Fifth Phase: establishment of no-fly zones over the country to be attacked, imposition of blockades, and extensive use of private military companies in close cooperation with armed
opposition units.

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 12:19pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Check this out from yesterday's hearing.…
Chairman Menendez's stony silence to Senator Corker's rhetorical question is telling. It takes three minutes to place the responsibility of the trend of appeasement firmly on the Obama Administration, most likely on the President himself.

Ned McDonnell III

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 10:25pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Of course, you are correct in pointing out that this process has been going on for a while and is, therefore, unmistakable. If terrorism is the tactical choice of the weak, then irregular warfare is the strategy of the militarily marginal. There are many factors at play here. Taking the time to figure them all out is coming across as appeasement and leads us into to driving a car by looking at the rear-view mirror. In fact, I less charitably believe that the substance of current inaction owing in part to an absence of U.S. leadership manifests the classic illusion of appeasement: if one ignores the problem, it will go away.

Well nothing is going away as you document ably and steadily. Time spent now temporizing over details EQUALS appeasement of containable aggression; like somebody running in place in front of an airplane lavatory door that, in reality, is unlocked and says unoccupied. Russia gets stronger and bolder with each intermediate success (or western forfeiture). Your string of writings, increasingly ominous and very much along the lines of what Carl perceived as a window of opportunity wide open until 2017, is 'sobrifying' (sobering and terrifying).

Truthfully, I have the subtlety of a sledgehammer. My inclination -- building up deterrence the N.A.T.O. / E.U. eastern flank (as MoveForward skillfully argues); direct intervention of 5-6 of U.S. SOF and National Guard companies (with their patches on) in Ukraine; no-fly zones in eastern Ukraine; and, a naval quarantine of Crimea -- has no chance of occurring, though such a response would already be late and also overlooks what you have passionately advocated: an irregular / informational warfare response.

The flurry of articles speculating that the next region in the Putineer's cross-hairs will be Latvia, eastern Ukraine, all of Ukraine, the rest of Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan demonstrates the growing urgency of a credible response by the U.S. and N.A.T.O. This uncertainty of the next Russian unrest stop indicates, to me at least, that President Putin is looking for weak links in current areas of opportunity. We have seen this situation and this 'new' 21st century warfare before in Czechoslovakia and other neighbors in the late 1940s. We know these things; we can do better.

We have people in the North America and Europe who can get this done and done now. President Obama himself said "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" and so he should be saying, "Presence and progress, not perfection". If standing by our commitments leads to a bigger war, then the U.S. and E.U. can say, "We did not start this war, but we will finish it..." Of course, moderate counter-measures are far less likely to precipitate a larger war than the increasingly bitter, and futile, dithering of the West.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 05/06/2014 - 6:15am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Ned---actually at first it was Georgia, then Moldavia, then Crimea, then the Ukraine and now he is making sounds in the Baltics that reminds one of pre Crimea and there is silence coming out of the US/EU/NATO---why because I really do not think they fully understand what David Maxwell, Robert Jones and Bill M have been writing here about a national level UW strategy, counter UW and political warfare.

Caught yesterday the following two great articles and both are a urgent need to read which outlines the Russian New Generation Warfare Phase by Phase on how they are implementing their strategy---yes it is a clash of ideas/thoughts/ideologies again as it was in the Cold War ---but Russian is in fact using a strategic UW concept to negate the Western military power and I must compliment them on the design and implementation of it---we talk about strategic UW and how it supports political warfare barely in the West-- Putin implements it.

There is a 15 page pdf explaining the current Russian doctrine in this new UW strategy.

And the Estonian drumbeat starts---check which Phase that actually is in their strategy.

Interfax from today: Estonia discriminates against Russian speakers - activists

TALLINN. May 6 (Interfax) - Estonian human rights activists have claimed the existence in their country of discrimination against its Russian-speaking population, human trafficking, hostility towards sexual minorities and other human rights violations.

One of the biggest problems for the country's Russian speakers is the difficulty in obtaining Estonian citizenship, according to a report titled "On Human Rights in Estonia 2013" prepared by the Estonian Center for Human Rights and published in a number of national newspapers on Tuesday.

"Despite our repeated suggestions to consider granting automatic Estonian citizenship to children born in Estonia to parents without citizenship, the problem remains unresolved," Center head Kari Kasper told the Postimees newspaper.

New for the country is the currently government-debated issue of dual citizenship to be granted only to Estonians who are citizens by birth. This leaves many thousands of Russians who have obtained the Estonian citizenship through naturalization process without the right to obtain Russian citizenship, for instance.

Furthermore, the Center has called for more investigation into the problem of equal access to education, employment and career growth among Estonia's Russian-speaking population.

"We have been unable to integrate our Russians for over two decades now," Kasper said.

Ned McDonnell III

Mon, 05/05/2014 - 9:45pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Sir, I am reading your article now. This article sounding so much like what you have said that I wondered if one Herrn Peter Pomerantsev was 'Outlaw-09' out of disguise...I must admit that the photo in this article (and the article itself) made me very, very sad.
I often asked my parents what it was like to be in the U.S. during the 1930s as the Nazis, Fascists and Japanese militarists took the world into war. Now, I am beginning to have an inkling. Below is the article that sounds like you.…
"Perhaps, despite what Obama says, there is a battle of ideas going on. Not between communism and capitalism, or even conservatives and progressives, but between competing visions of globalization, between the 'global village' -- which feels at once nice, naff, and unreal -- and 'non-linear war'. It is naïve to assume the West will win with this new battle with the same formula it used in the Cold War...But the new Russia (and the new China) has torn that formula apart: Russian popular culture is Westernised, and people drive BMWs, play the stock market, and listen to Taylor Swift all while cheering anti-Western rhetoric and celebrating American downfall."

Ned McDonnell III

Sat, 05/03/2014 - 4:27pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

I wonder if what happened in Benghzai also factored into the Putinista's thinking.
Think about it: if we are not willing to do everything possible to save these people or bring the murderers to justice, why would this President give a wiff for Ukraine?

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 1:27pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The libertarian anti-interventionist site antiwar-dot-com can be a bit rought in its language (especially if it's Justin Raimondo) but I thought this fit into the concept of the "crusader" camp in American thought:

<blockquote>Now you may think this impulse is limited to the Religious Right, and, indeed, they are the most well-known proponents of this faith-through-politics approach, but what our "mainstream" media leaves out of this pat theory is the existence of the Religious Left – an equally fanatic ideology that has its roots in the nineteenth century "Social Gospel" epitomized by the pious Methodism that infused young Hillary when she was just a wee harridan.

Methodism was the chief expression of a peculiarly American religious movement: post-millennial pietism (PMP), which holds that Christ will not return until and unless the thousand-year Kingdom of God is established on earth. Not only that, but it is the duty of all Christians to ensure that the Kingdom is established, and, since failure to do so threatened their own salvation, the PMP’ers did not shy away from using the State to bring about this happy event. Human beings, not God or His Angels, will usher in the Kingdom, they believed, and by their actions provoke the Second Coming. That’s the theology: its political expression was the stamping out of "sin.</blockquote>…

This deep need to reorder the world within the American's just this endless gaping pit and void, sort of like how instead of studying Kashmir or the Punjab insurgency in India so many looked to Lawrence of Arabia and colonial small wars. The first two would have been more practical but harder emotionally because where is the crusading western white-man-burden soldier in that scenario?

At the end of the day, we are all ethnics looking to connect with our past, it seems.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 1:12pm

First of all, I think David Maxwell is one of the best thinkers I've encountered on milblogs. Given his credentials, he doesn't need any compliments from me, but there it is.

Even if you think that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet Union and a dictator revanchist, this piece doesn't work. What exactly do we want him to fail at? Afghanistan logistics? All relations with the 'West'? The nonsense talk of isolation given the complicated nature of the global economy, working with the Indians and Iranians in Afghanistan, American logistics, Japanese and Chinese relations, etc.

The world is what it is. Not some Cold War fantasy of the 20th century. Whatever you come up with has to work TODAY.

It is 2014. We live in a shifting multipolar world where the old order needs to shift a bit because it is not working anymore. Why would a 1950's post WWII world order made for the US-Soviet bipolar world work anymore?

Given the nature of modern communications and the savvy of many populations at looking at Western--and other--propaganda, how is trying to recreate some halcyon idea of 'the West' going to work as an emotional propaganda device? It will only p*ss off a lot of people because the US and our allies will not be perceived as honest players.

It's a bit like the 2007 era SWJ idea that we could pay our way through "AfPak" when we only added to the disorder.

I believe this piece adds to the sense of disorder and only comes across as not being totally upfront. I'm not saying the author isn't being honest, but many populations will roll their eyes and laugh. It will not work when so much of what 'the West' does is skulking and behind the scenes and wilileaks and Snowden only fuels that feeling of grievance.

'The West' can never be that leader some wish by telling only half the story, even if it is an honest part of it.

The world exists out there, many peoples have their own ideas about it, and no-one here is fooling anyone. It's only one narrative of many and fewer and fewer are buying it.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 7:35am

I have read David's article now three complete times as it makes more sense with each reading.

The core problem regardless of soft and or hard options/positions is a lack of outward signs of serious leadership (a strategy) whichever route taken.

Reference Putin---one of the core things he looks for is just how serious is the West ie not in the use of weapons/war-- but is the West really willing to take a hit on the beloved business communities that both support and drive individual politicians in the West?

Right now I am afraid at least in reference to the EU/NATO to include Germany the answer is a definitive no.

Must then the US regardless of position (soft/hard)lead alone if necessary---a definitive yes.

When he sees that then he fully understands the West is serious---will the Crimea ever be returned to the Ukraine not in our life times will the eastern and southern Ukraine be taken as well---highly possible.

That move though hangs on just how serious is the strategy being presented to him--if it hurts us ie the West then he fully understands the seriousness of the strategy if it is just a slap on the hands as it has been then eastern/southern Ukraine are lost forever as well.

Right now he sees the slap and nothing else and he calculates just further slaps in the coming days and weeks but in the end he has what he is envisioning a "greater Russia".

What is it we want---we preach to the world Rule of Law and Good Governance since we marched into Iraq and in AFG---but do we really want to let the world's population make that determination?

The answer is yes---but are both sides of the argument that David makes ready for that move?…


Thu, 05/08/2014 - 4:20pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I think what we miss is that both the Russian and the Chinese strategies are inherently political. We Americans are extremely uncomfortable with a political strategy. COIN is a good example. The political objective was a free, democratic, and stable Iraq. Our strategy was to support the Government of Iraq (GoI). Our operational and tactical method was COIN. Now there are huge gaps between the political objective, the strategy, and the operational and tactical methods.

Our military is not comfortable using any method other than coercion. Either coercion via threat of force, or coercion via bribery (money to work with us or stuff we will buy you). We don’t understand psychology. We think there is no honor in any other strategy. Plus we are really good with our plethora of hammers. But only using a hammer does not address the real problem and only leads to us playing whack-a-mole without ever addressing the political problem or reaching the political objective.

War’s character has not changed. War is a battle of wills. But coercion is not the only way to address the will of the population. It also might help to determine what the will of the population is before you decide that the solution is a 500 lb bomb.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 9:52am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

TC---with the Latvia study of the new eight phased Russian UW strategy New-Generation Warfare one might say it is the West ie really the US that in theory has been led astray and blinded by the term COIN---not realizing COIN is not where a majority of future conflicts will be engaged in.

Russia has a strategy and we seem to be missing a strategy as it appears we make our plans as we react to Russian moves.

It is also interesting the recent discussion on the new Chinese warfare strategies---again they have a strategy and we have what ---a pivot?

This inherent lack of a strategy just any strategy got us in trouble in both Iraq and AFG---one would think our military senior leadership and national civilian senior leadership would have figured that out by now?

Guess all that OCO funding simply blinded everyone to reality.


Wed, 05/07/2014 - 5:09pm

In reply to by carl

"The Kremlin, according to Barack Obama, is stuck in the "old ways," trapped in Cold War or even 19th century mindsets. But look closer at the Kremlin's actions during the crisis in Ukraine and you begin to see a very 21st century mentality, manipulating transnational financial interconnections, spinning global media, and reconfiguring geo-political alliances. Could it be that the West is the one caught up in the "old ways," while the Kremlin is the geopolitical avant-garde, informed by a dark, subversive reading of globalization?"…


Thu, 05/01/2014 - 1:42pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


The nature of the game is obvious, even to a pencil neck geek civilian like me. It is blindingly obvious to guys like Outlaw and RantCorp. To guys like that and probably thousands like them currently serving how to counter that game is probably also blindingly obvious. But the doing part awaits the ok from the civilian leadership, primarily our chief executive and it hasn't been given. I think one of the reasons Putin is playing the game now is he figures it will never be given. Inaction in this case doesn't mean lack or knowledge or ideas, it means lack of will.


Thu, 05/01/2014 - 12:49pm

In reply to by carl

If the nature of the game was obvious we would already had a strategy and been counteracting it on the ground. Instead we are talking about building up military forces in the Baltic. That is containment, it is not counteraction.


Thu, 05/01/2014 - 12:45pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon


I never heard about problems caused by ethnic divisions in east Ukraine until just a few months ago, coincidentally the same time Russian Spec ops and intel types started showing up in Ukraine in large numbers. The nature of the game is obvious. What is needed now is some action.


Thu, 05/01/2014 - 12:14pm

My initial reaction to seeing this was the same as Madhu’s, “why this again now?”

After reading it, and then going back and re-reading the Op Ed piece, I have a different view on things. Not about American Exceptionalism, that is just nationalism by another name, but about Putin’s thinking and strategy.

Elsewhere I wrote off-handedly that Putin was using self-determination as a first strike weapon. I believe this Op Ed was another example of Putin’s understanding (and misunderstanding) of both human nature and how to manipulate mass public opinion to achieve his personal desires. The Op Ed was intended to directly influence the American political debate about Syria in a manner favorable to his position. With the NY Times as his mouthpiece he tells the American people who care that military intervention in Syria will kill the elderly and children. He tells those who are against intervention what they want to hear and provides them ammunition to influence others. He could not care less about American Exceptionalism, nor is he afraid of America; he is simply going directly to the source of political power in America – the American people – to change the direction of American policy.

He has done the same in the Ukraine. He has used existing ethnic divisions to encourage and support the local population to take up the Russian cause in places where there was a sufficiently large ethnic Russian population. He manipulates them into believing that they can win. He offers support both overtly and covertly. He is using the Human Domain to his favor. Putin will argue that they deserve the right to choose their own path. Those areas that are currently breaking away will vote to join Russia if given that opportunity.

Putin understands the capabilities and the limits of this tactic. He understands it better than we do. We are still stuck on using the stick or using the carrot. Brute force or purchased influence. Putin is playing on a totally different level. We need to quit patting ourselves on our backs and learn from the master on how to play the game of population manipulation. Because if we don't learn the nature of the game we will never learn a defensive strategy that will enable us to defeat Putin.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 9:58am

Just a side comment---in order to effectively look at both sides of the argument and approaches we must in theory have a strategy and leadership who does not stumble and bumble all the time.

This article goes to the heart of the stumbling problem and it is not even about Putin, Russia or the Ukraine---it goes to the "troubles" period of northern Ireland and our potential leadership failure that will cause the peace movement to falter.

Why is it--that it seems that our current government agencies simply do not understand the real world we live in?…

Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 11:01pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw-09, I salute your service to my country. We civilians -- and many staff officers -- broke the trust with you et al. While we let you down and are not exceptional as men, the Republic can still be with people like you and others leading the charge. Gratefully,
Ned McDonnell.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 4:38am

As someone who joined SF in 1966 and was deeply involved in this "clash" of ideas from Berlin, VN, Son Tay, Greece with it's Junta, Beirut, Iran, and back to Germany with the "win" in 1990 and then into the GWOT in 2005/2006 in Iraq where I saw what humans could do to each other in the name of religion I fully agree with David's comments.

What though many US politicians and US media outlets seem to not understand is Putin right now---and that is actually relatively easy.

Read his Duma speech on the Crimea word for word sentence for sentence---he lashes out at two things 1)liberal democracy and 2) capitalism (US/IMF flavor).

Go a step further and you will see he is setting into motion a new form of "Communism" this time hidden in the world of the neo right ie ethnic nationalistic in nature appealing to a movement that is gaining strength in Europe which he wants to lead. He even feels if one reads a number of his recent articles and comments that this movement is actually gaining global strength.

The neo rightist/nationalists/neo Nazi's are in fact going to gain a solid amount of the European Parliament seats in the coming 25 May elections giving them the ability to forge new EU political decisions effecting all of the EU/NATO. Putin wants to lead that movement as it will counter in this eyes both the "liberal democracy" ideals espoused by the EU requirements for a country to have in place in order to join and to counter "the capitalistic" threat of the EU against Russia.

By the way Putin is not the only one with this anti-liberal viewpoint in the Russia elite:…

Putin is practicing this concept in the Ukraine by sending in Russian nationalist, neo rightist and actually some who might in fact be neo Nazi's to fight against an alleged neo Nazi/Right Sector led Ukraine---
in order to hinder the EU "liberal democratic" influences in the Ukraine and the "capitalism" espoused by the IMF/US.

Check out the numerous right wing/nationalist Russian websites that are part and parcel of the KGB/FSB/GRU current dis/misinformation campaign being conducted---an eye opener as well as comments coming constantly from the Russian Orthodox Church leadership.

The question David actually raises is can "soft power" as envisioned by one front and "hard power" envisioned by the other front be merged into a compromised "third way" forward.

Which ever front "wins" must now lead from the front as the EU/NATO is deeply divided on what to do and Germany is "confused" about it's place in the world--the US must again learn to led something forgotten in the last 13 years of war and ignoring the rest of the world in favor of chasing jihadi's.

After 48 years of being engaged in the world "clash" I am truly tired and really do want to retire to a quieter world than the one I have been engaged in since 1966.

I know on occasions I have made a difference in the world I moved in and have had a lot of good friends lost along the way---the question is for Americans as a whole--have you made a difference---this was what motivated me in 1966 to join SF (JFK's influence thing)---this has been though lost by both fronts since 9/11.

Liked the article as it is an opening to a far larger question--if the question is asked correctly and it goes to a recent comment by Robert Jones concerning the word "peace".


Thu, 05/01/2014 - 1:15am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)


When it comes to this kind of thing, a decision has to be made. Putin and his ilk are coming after us because they sense weakness and indecision. So we gotta decide, are we going to oppose him and them or not? You can't get around that by saying "Yea but what about us?" or "Can you blame him?" They are coming. What do you want to do?

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 12:38am

Why is this showing up again on the most read articles? What American ideals would those be? Invading Iraq on false premises? Ignoring state support for 9/11 from the Saudi Pak axis because the DC consensus never cared? Expanding NATO to make a buck and pander domestically while corrupt eastern european leaders made bad decisions and Europe once again expects the global south to suffer for their sins? Ringing a country with bases and meeting opposition leaders. Exceptional all right. Sorry, I just don't get this dated take on the situation. You are great but it is too narrow an analysis. Look, the dude may be corrupt but we made bad decisions too.

Ned McDonnell III

Fri, 05/02/2014 - 4:27pm

In reply to by carl

Many thanks but Jacob Needleman deserves the credit, though, upon a recent re-read, he did not state the 'value proposition' exactly that way. His implication was clear enough. When I say I shudder at the thought of the world over the last century without an America in it, it is a tribute to you, Outlaw-09, COL Maxwell, et al. who stepped up to call for national service, not as a job but as a vocation.…
You all are the only America many people may ever see and remember. Here are my thoughts on the topic, written recently. This article by COL Maxwell inspired me to think in ink out loud. If exceptionalism exists it lies within us, not in our hard power or soft power. As such, the exceptionalism is to know when to lead by example or action versus when to participate or focus on something else.

In Ukraine, the time for action is now; when we have taken actions two times to date, Europe has supported us. Current inaction by President Obama is not due to Iraq, Afghanistan, President Bush or President Putin but to an appalling lack of will or willingness; risk aversion has become risk perversion.
Gratefully, Ned.
the basics of ‘keyword research’


Thu, 05/01/2014 - 11:38pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III


This is cool "What would the last century have been like without an America?" I never thought of it like that.

Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 10:58pm


As always, a great discussion. I am glad COL Maxwell put his ideas for American exceptionalism out there. As a likely apologist, I will square that notion to stake out my little spot as an apologist for being an apologist. There are many things for which we can criticize ourselves and for which, often rightly, others may rebuke us.

To all that, I invoke the rhetorical question put by Jacob Needleman in "The American Soul". What would this world be like if there were no America in it? What would the last century have been like without an America? These questions may sound almost sappy but they are serious. Self-criticism is a trait only; its virtue lies in its application moderated by the wisdom of lessons-learned.

Truthfully, I do not care whether President Putin wrote the article or, even so much, why he submitted it for publication. President Putin's article is articulate and well-timed. We can apply its criticisms constructively to renovate that American exceptionalism and make it relevant, through us, to others living and dying every day in despair.

Having read, and liked, Senator McCain's response in the "Pravda", I must admit that I like this article more because it does not try to up the ante intellectually. Instead, COL Maxwell counsels us to learn; or at least try to learn through the spirited debate above. The American Century may be winding down, maybe not.

The courage in provoking this debate, as well as the debate itself, can moderate the exceptional circumstances of our history into a living exceptionalism in a new, different and challenging era. Whether the next century is 'American' or not, our exceptionalism, notwithstanding its faults, will likely make that century ahead better simply for America being in it.


Tue, 09/17/2013 - 10:42pm

I wonder what a Georgian would have to say about Putin making statements like this:

<i>The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.</i>

For Putin, as for those he criticizes, "international law" is a construct that exists to be invoked when convenient.

I'm not convinced that Putin is afraid of American exceptionalism. I suspect that he sees it as a vulnerability, both within the US and in the larger international community, to whom is missive was also very clearly addressed. It is clear to all but the most rabid apostles of A.E. that exceptionalism occasionally gets mixed up with pragmatism, and with the pursuit of self interest. This is nothing at all new. William McKinley's public comments on the decision to annex the Philippines spoke of the obligation to "civilze, uplift, and Christianize" the natives; his private instructions to his negotiators in Paris mention that "incidental to our tenure in the Philippines is a commercial opportunity to which American statesmanship cannot be indifferent. It is just to use every legitimate means for the enlargement of American trade".

The belief that American statesmanship remains anything but indifferent to commercial opportunity, and that the definition of "legitimate means" is almost as inclusive now as it was in 1898, remains very widespread, both within the US and outside. Mr Putin (and his ghost writer, who must be commended for effect, if not for honesty) is doubtless aware of this and obviously wants to emphasize it. There is vulnerability in sanctimony, and it's a vulnerability that Putin wants to exploit.

I'm also not convinced that American ideas defeated Soviet ideas in any meaningful sense. The Soviet Union fell because communism literally failed: as an economic system it was completely unable to meet the expectations of the people who lived under it. It didn't fail relative to some other system, it failed relative to its own promises and to the expectations it could not meet.

It is perhaps ironic that communism retained a degree of credibility larely in environments where the United States surrendered exceptionalism to pragmatism, and slipped into the sewer of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine. That still comes back to haunt us. It's hard to sell yourself as the shining city on the hill with Marcos, Somoza, Stroessner <i>ad nauseam</i> blotting the escutcheon.