A Redefined "American Exceptionalism" in the Age of Obama

The movements for greater peoples' participation in institutions of government we have witnessed recently in Tunisia, Yemen, the Sudan, Egypt and last year in Iran may be redefining "American Exceptionalism." An exceptionalism based on the power and magnitude of democratic ideals and principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Exceptionalism inextricably linked to the global use of innovative communication technologies of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and the cell phone.

In Egypt we are witnessing the 24/7 validation of Victor Hugo's observation in the 1800s that "more powerful than the March of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come." More importantly, we are witnessing the universal power of the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- their commitment to non-violent civil disobedience as an instrument to successfully effect fundamental political change to peacefully achieve participatory democracy.

Events in the Mid-East and North Africa provide an historical opportunity for President Obama to reshape America's global security paradigm based on a redefined American Exceptionalism. This new exceptionalism assumes the political self-confidence of our first African-American president, the near term rise of religious fanaticism and limited domestic financial resources to support a fail safe use of military armed force as a reliable safeguard against attacks by terrorists.

An American labor union organizing song in the 1930s asked "Which side are you on, Boy, which side are you on?" This was updated in the 1960s to "you are either part of the problem or part of the solution." Simplistically, of course, this describes our current international dilemma: What is the appropriate foreign policy for the United States to pursue in Egypt and the Middle East; and especially for the continued bilateral peace accord between Israel and Egypt?

President Obama's new economic mantra is that "we need to out-innovate, out-educate, out-produce and out-build our competitors." This is the White House road map for our nation's domestic economic recovery. It's successful realization is essential for providing the resources necessary to sustain the pursuit and implementation of a global foreign policy based on a new American Exceptionalism.

The less publicized challenge to Obama's new economic playbook is the continued growing, and scandalous, unemployment rate within the African-American community, 16%; and, twice that percentage among black youth.

Barbara Martinez's article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal "Big Disparity Reported Between Getting a Diploma and College-Readiness Rates "in New York State should be a wakeup call to the president and Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, his new chairman of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

The article reports that while statewide graduation rates in New York among black students are 62%, only 15% are considered college or career ready. If this is an example of what is occurring nationwide, how are we as a nation going to "out-innovate, out-educate, out-produce and out-build our competitors"?

Internationally, my suggested new American Exceptionalism requires that we make it unmistakably clear that the United States supports the political objectives of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo and identifies and encourages movements for participatory democracy throughout the Middle East, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Our support for the demonstrators in Cairo, and the consequent peaceful relinquishment of governing power by Mubarak will undoubtedly present a formidable challenge for Obama's foreign policy team: the future of Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

A post-Mubarak Egypt may require, for example, difficult concessions from Israel in its long standing dispute with the Palestinians. Egypt, for example, could require a "two-state "solution and a discontinuation, if not retrenchment of settlements by Israel on land claimed by Palestinians, as a condition precedent to the renewal of its Peace Treaty with Israel.

These events will play out concurrently with the president's defense of his health care legislation, reduction of domestic unemployment, developing a triage program to stem continued home foreclosures, leaving Afghanistan, securing our borders with Mexico and reducing our national debt.

Pursuit and realization of this new American Exceptionalism will require, concurrently, successful resolution of the outstanding issues mentioned above. At the end of the day, if achieved, this could be the most enduring legacy of the Age of Obama.