Obama’s Exceptional Opportunity

NEW DELHI – The United States’ era as a hyperpower has ended, leaving its policymakers to confront difficult questions about their country’s global role. Should the US continue to act with its traditional sense of embodying an exceptional destiny in and for the world, or should it retreat into isolationism?

Of course, every US president must pay lip service to the country’s “exceptionalism.” President Barack Obama did so most recently in September, when he declared that “what makes us exceptional” is that we act “with humility, but with resolve.” Despite his desire to end US entanglements in the wars in the greater Middle East, he appears determined to give life to the claims of American exceptionalism.

Evidence of this was seen recently when Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani became the first leaders of their respective countries to have a conversation in more than three decades. Rouhani – a reputed moderate, whose week-long visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly included a series of unprecedented diplomatic encounters – offered truly conciliatory rhetoric to his US counterpart. Despite catcalls from conservative US politicians and media, Obama’s reaction to Rouhani was statesmanlike.

Just as Rouhani’s trip was coming to an end, Obama initiated a phone call with him. While the conversation was brief, a senior Obama administration official reported that the two leaders had a “shared sense of urgency” over the upcoming nuclear talks, and that an agreement there “could open the door to a deeper relationship.”