Whenever American leaders refer to the "unique" responsibilities ofthe United States, they are saying that it is different from other powers andthat these differences require them to take on special burdens.
Yet there is nothing unusual about such lofty declarations.6 Mostgreat powers have considered themselves superior to their rivals. TheBritish thought they were bearing the "white man's burden," whileFrench colonialists invoked la mission avilisatrice to justify their empire.7Portugal, whose imperial activities were hardly distinguished, believed itwas promoting a certain avilizadora.8
So when Americans proclaim9 they are exceptional and indispensable,they are simply the latest nation to sing a familiar old song. Among greatpowers, thinking you're specialis the norm, not the exception.
The United States has enjoyed remarkable success, and Americanstend to portray their rise to world power as a direct result of the politicalforesight of the Founding Fathers, the virtues of the U.S. Constitution, thepriority placed on individualliberty,io and the creativity and hard workof the American people. In this narrative,ll the United States enjoys anexceptional global position today because it is, well, exceptional.