The Conflict in Ukraine and American Exceptionalism

Image by Yura Khomitskyi.

I suppose I should be surprised by the ease with which the White House, the Pentagon, NATO and the ever more useless US Congress convinced much of the US public that the war between Russia and Ukraine is a war to preserve freedom and democracy. However, I’m not. Nor am I surprised that many people who have called themselves antiwar and even anti-imperialist in the past reject the possibility that the conflict is mostly just another battle in the war for full spectrum dominance that Washington has been fighting since the end of World War Two. Likewise, the ease with which this latter group of folks champion the corrupt neoliberal government of Zelenskyy as if it weren’t as venal as the man who represents it fails to evoke much alarm in my mind.

Why am I not really surprised at these phenomena? First and foremost because the mainstream media has done a great job of presenting NATO’S side in this war to the public. There are virtually no sources reporting any side but NATO’S side in the mainstream US media. Even on social media, any reports that leak through presenting another view are tagged as being controlled by the Russian government. This tagging would be bearable if the same thing occurred anytime a western news story showed up in the feed, but it doesn’t. Even antiwar pieces in alternative media that oppose all the governments participating in this war are attacked. This one is certain to suffer that fate.

Then there’s the Russophobia of the west. This antagonism towards Russia goes back centuries and is informed by an assumption in certain western European circles that the Slavic peoples east of the steppes are inferior to the “true” European. Vladimir Putin’s version of Russian nationalism has apparently revived these prejudices, at least to a point where enough of the west’s population can be convinced that anything Russia says or does cannot be trusted. While I have never been a fan of President Putin, the absurd caricatures of him and his government are reminiscent of the hate-filled and hysterical representations of the German people during World Wars One and Two. As anyone who understands how wartime propaganda works knows, the impetus behind these mischaracterizations is to render the enemy to subhuman status. The fact that this indoctrination has occurred so easily says something about the ignorance and lack of curiosity of the US public.

Anyhow, let’s get back to those formerly antiwar US residents who are now supporting the Kyiv military in this conflict and have no problem with arming them. How can they refuse to see (or just not see) the long-time aggressive nature of Washington’s policy in Europe and against Moscow? How can they believe NATO has been and continues to be a force for peace? Why do they reject the calls for negotiations, an end to military conflict and a cessation of sanctions? How can they pretend that more weapons are a reasonable solution to a war that did not need to be? Why do they think Washington is somehow a good guy this time, despite their knowledge?

I wrote the following in 2004 in regards to a current in the movement against the war on Iraq. I believe it explains the current scenario that convinced many in that movement to support NATO’S manipulations in Ukraine.

“For lack of a more descriptive phrase, we’ll call this phenomenon American exceptionalism. On a basic political level, this phenomenon is the belief that, for some reason (America’s system of democracy, or maybe its economic superiority), the United States system is not subject to the same contradictions and influences as those of the rest of the world. This belief in American superiority finds its foundation in some of our culture’s basic religious and cultural constructs. It’s there in the first settlers’ belief that they were conducting a special errand into the wilderness to construct a city on a hill in the name of their heavenly father and every single president and wannabe always implores this same heavenly father to “bless America” at the end of every one of their speeches. This is no accident.” (A Disease of Conceit) In other words, a belief that the US is a force for moral good.

It cannot be repeated often enough. There is no nation that holds a moral high ground. All are ruled through a combination of bribery, propaganda, emotional blackmail and force. It’s all about the rulers convincing the citizens it’s in their interests to go along. The basics are simple. Buy them off, put the ones that don’t fit in prison and ignore the rest. The more powerful the nation, the more manipulative the rulers. Some are subtle and some are not; most reside somewhere in between. The rulers of the United States don’t want democracy in the US, nor do they really care about democracy in Ukraine or the lives of many of its people. Indeed, when the military conflict there ends, most of the Ukrainian people are bound to find themselves worse off than they were before it began. This will be the case no matter which powerful nation it ends up being subordinate to, the US or Russia. After all, no matter what we are told, Ukraine will not be free and independent. Washington has a debt it hopes to collect while Moscow has its own reasons for rejecting an independent Ukraine.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: