No substitute for US exceptionalism: Manifest destiny made manifest

Apr 19, 2024
Chairs with flag of USA and Australia in a row.

Manifest Destiny, now more commonly called American Exceptionalism is a traditional and widespread view in the US. American views of its relationship with the world vary from isolationism to leadership, but the underlying base is always that the US is something special. While some may be more subtle than others, how many Americans could accept that the US must resign itself to a silver or even a bronze medal in the power race?

A Foreign Affairs article by a former Deputy National Security Adviser to President Trump (Matt Pottinger) and senior US Congressman (Mike Gallagher) lays it on the line. It is headed “No Substitute for Victory, America’s Competition with China Must Be Won, not Managed.” It talks of China’s malevolent strategy in an existing cold war, and calls on President Biden to “restore US primacy in Asia”. And that’s just the gentle part!

Of particular relevance to Australia is the need for a broader coalition to confront China which will require US forces to move within striking range. This will require the US to “expand hosting and access… and preposition critical supplies”. There is nothing new in the notion that the USA has to be number one and Biden has said this on a number of occasions. Manifest Destiny, now more commonly called American Exceptionalism is a traditional and widespread view in the US. American views of its relationship with the world vary from isolationism to leadership but the underlying base is always that the US is something special.

Australian Government ministers talk about Australia making its own decisions as a sovereign nation and want to manage our relationship with China, which to a considerable extent we do at present – because no military action is involved.

While Peter Dutton suggests that it is unthinkable that Australia would not follow the US into war, Albanese, Wong and Marles do not accept this view.

The problem with the Government view is that it does not suit the action to the words. Dutton is right in the sense that we are so locked in that we could not avoid following the US into battle.

We already have the “hosting and access” demanded by the dynamic duo for US naval vessels, for aircraft and for infantry as well as intelligence facilities. These would be obvious targets in an all out war and would be used by the Americans against China.

AUKUS submarines are not designed for the defence of Australia but to attack China. I don’t think anyone is lying awake at nights in Beijing worrying about the deterrence effect of a few Australian submarines.

In practice, are we part of the anti-China coalition demanded in the Foreign Affairs article? We say we are not, but if the Americans put the hard word on its faithful ally could we refuse?

I don’t know how influential Messrs Pottinger and Gallagher are but presumably they would stand a chance of getting employment in a new Trump administration. More importantly, just how widespread are their views in the US? I imagine they are more popular in Republican ranks than elsewhere.

But, while others may be a bit more subtle, I wonder how many Americans could accept that the US must resign itself to a silver or even a bronze medal in the power race?

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