The rhetoric around the latest U.S. air strikes on Syria illustrates the dominance of U.S. exceptionalism in the media and across the political spectrum. While the United States has paradoxically portrayed itself as a savior of the Syrian people, the real interests of the United States and its allies – particularly the United Kingdom and France – are regime change and the preservation of Western hegemony in the Middle East.
Conducting the strike without Congressional approval on April 13, Donald Trump used animalistic language to describe Bashar Al Assad, whose regime allegedly used chemical weapons to attack the city of Douma on April 7: “The evil and the despicable attack left mother[s] and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.” In pretending to care about Syrians Trump presented the United States as the beacon of humanity, responsible for bringing order to the Middle East.
This narrative of U.S. exceptionalism was echoed by Western mainstream media. Even outlets usually critical of Trump failed to scrutinize this narrative. Instead, the strike on Syria was presented as a necessary response to a chemical attack allegedly perpetrated by Assad – although reports about this are still contradictory.
Indeed, some wanted to see the U.S. go even further. Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi, for example, seemed unsatisfied:
The latest chemical weapons attack against the Syrian people was a brutally inhuman war crime. Yet one night of airstrikes is no substitute for a coherent strategy.
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) April 14, 2018
Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, also thought the missile strikes were not enough.
What mission accomplished? Are Putin-Assad suddenly going to stop targeting civilians (main cause of civilian death)? Is Assad any more likely to stop using chemical weapons than he was after the US retaliatory attack a year ago (when he kept using them)? Is Assad in The Hague? https://t.co/THRn0BJ4eP
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) April 14, 2018
With the war in Syria reduced to a simple dichotomy, Assad defined as the greatest enemy, and #BombAssad becoming a trending war cry on Twitter, regime change in Syria is a clear unifying goal for the United States and its allies. Indeed, if the United States really cared about Syrians, why has it refused to admit refugees from the country? In 2018, only eleven Syrian refugees have been accepted for admission to the United States.
America has consistently brought destruction to the Middle East by launching and supporting countless wars in the region. Driven by capitalist and imperialist interests, the U.S. government has routinely used shallow rhetoric to morally justify its military occupations and regime change efforts. U.S. interventions from Iraq to Libya have brought devastating consequences for average citizens. As Israeli forces continue to kill unarmed Palestinians, and as Saudi Arabia relentlessly bombards Yemenis, the United States has also provided diplomatic cover for these atrocities, for example, by vetoing a UN investigation into Israel’s most recent crimes in Gaza.
U.S. intervention in the Middle East has never been motivated by a commitment to human rights, so why should things be any different with Syria? The belief that the United States has benevolent intentions abroad is based on an ignorance of history and the myth of American exceptionalism. Instead, it is imperialism that underlies and drives Washington’s approach to the rest of the world, Syria included.