Obama tells other world leaders: ‘I believe America is exceptional’

September 24, 2013

President Obama delivered a forceful defense of American exceptionalism at the United Nations on Tuesday, saying, "I believe America is exceptional."

Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly, Obama made the case for why the United States has been pushing other nations to intervene more directly in the Syrian crisis.

"I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe a world is better for it," he said in the speech. "Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness, to the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up, not only for our own interests, but for the interests of all."

Obama had made a similar point during his televised address to the nation on Syria earlier this month, when he said that the United States is not the world's policeman, "But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.” He added: “That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a recent New York Times op-ed, criticized Obama for making such a claim, writing, "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation."

The fact that Obama has chosen to reiterate the point during the year's single largest gathering of world leaders shows that he is not inclined to give any rhetorical ground to Putin, even as the two countries continue to negotiate over an international response to Syria's ongoing civil war.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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