American "Exceptionalism," True and False

By:  Jack Kenny
American "Exceptionalism," True and False

An English admirer of America once described a different kind of American exceptionalism, one based on something far less common and more inspiring than an ability and willingness to use force against other nations to bend them to our will.

Long ago the brilliant comedian Victor Borge came up with a monologue called "Inflationary Language." In order for the language to reflect the wages of inflation, he said, every word or syllable that sounds like a number would be changed to the next higher number. So, he explained, a sentence like "He ate his tenderloin with a fork" would become "He nined his elevenderloin with a fivek." Then he read a story that began, of course, with "Twice upon a time" and made mention of a Lieuelevenant in the army, an intoxicated man who'd had "two three many" and a state in the American South called "Elevennesee." It may look rather silly, but as Borge delivered it, it was hilarious.

But Victor Borge had nothing on Barack Obama's "inflationary language." A couple of weeks ago, the president announced that "up to 300" Special Operations troops would be sent to Iraq to determine "how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward." So these will be "advisers," not combat troops. Perhaps we should think of them as armed consultants.

So how many troops might "up to 300" mean? More than twice that many, so far. On June 30, Obama administration officials said another 200 troops would be sent to protect the American embassy in Baghdad and the Baghdad airport. These additional troops will operate helicopters and drones to "bolster airfield and route security," according to a statement released by Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby. Yet another 100 troops the Defense Department had previously said would be sent to Iraq will be in Baghdad to help with security and logistics. "The moves will raise the total number of American troops deployed to Iraq for security and advisory missions to about 750," the New York Times reported. So "up to 300" can mean about 750. Must be the new math. 

According to the Washington Post, the president "made clear that he will continue to hold back more substantive support, including U.S. airstrikes, until he sees a direct threat to U.S. personnel or a more inclusive and capable Iraqi government." In other words if the Iraqi government gets its act together, becoming "more inclusive and capable," we may reward the nation with air strikes in addition to whatever firepower may come from the helicopters and drones.

"American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again," Obama said. "Ultimately, this is something that is going to have to be solved by Iraqis." That's what President Kennedy said about South Vietnam. Our troops supporting the Saigon government in the 1950s and '60s were "advisers," too. The 900 who were there when Eisenhower left office grew to about 16,000 under Kennedy, who was giving Vietnam the benefit of lots of heavily armed advice. When interviewed at the White House by CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite on September 2, 1963, Kennedy offered a less than optimistic assessment of the Vietnam War.

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