Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Meeting the Enemy

Meeting the Enemy: American Exceptionalism and International Law

Natsu Taylor Saito
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Meeting the Enemy
    Book Description:

    Since its founding, the United States has defined itself as the supreme protector of freedom throughout the world, pointing to its Constitution as the model of law to ensure democracy at home and to protect human rights internationally. Although the United States has consistently emphasized the importance of the international legal system, it has simultaneously distanced itself from many established principles of international law and the institutions that implement them. In fact, the American government has attempted to unilaterally reshape certain doctrines of international law while disregarding others, such as provisions of the Geneva Conventions and the prohibition on torture.America's selective self-exemption, Natsu Taylor Saito argues, undermines not only specific legal institutions and norms, but leads to a decreased effectiveness of the global rule of law. Meeting the Enemy is a pointed look at why the United States' frequent--if selective--disregard of international law and institutions is met with such high levels of approval, or at least complacency, by the American public.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8651-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: “A Distinctly American Internationalism”
    (pp. 1-8)

    In January 2009 President Barack Obama took office “amidst gathering clouds and raging storms,” with, among other things, the United States “ at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”¹ According to U.S. officials, this so-called war on terror is being fought not only to secure the physical and economic well-being of the American people but also to preserve and extend freedom and democracy throughout the world. In his acceptance speech, Obama emphasized the “enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope,” and his inaugural address assured his worldwide audience that America was again ready...

  5. 1 Saving Civilization: The War on Terror
    (pp. 9-34)

    On September 11, 2001, nineteen hijackers flew three airplanes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers, resulting in approximately twenty-nine hundred deaths.¹ These attacks could have been treated as criminal acts and prosecuted within the existing framework of law, domestic or international. As legal scholar Anthony Cassese has explained, international terrorism has been recognized as a crime in times of peace; in times of armed conflict it is a war crime; and it may also be a crime against humanity, whether committed during times of peace or war.² However, the attacks of September 11, 2001, have been used by...

  6. 2 Civilizing the Other: Colonial Origins of International Law
    (pp. 35-53)

    The U.S. assertion of a unilateral prerogative to conduct the current war on terror as it sees fit has many critics, but, nonetheless, its notion of a “new paradigm” of international law has met with little resistance. Some of this might be attributed to the United States’ status as the world’s sole superpower, but few would concede that this new paradigm is simply one of “might makes right.” Instead, its acceptability to much of the American public and to U. S. allies rests on its incorporation of themes pervading the history of “Western civilization” and the international legal norms that...

  7. 3 “A City on a Hill”: America as Exception
    (pp. 54-75)

    The notion that the United States uniquely embodies freedom and democracy undergirds the ideology of American exceptionalism. It gives the American public a comforting explanation for why others might oppose U.S. hegemony, reinforcing and resonating with the history most Americans are taught and neatly sidestepping any questioning of U.S. foreign policy. This self-proclaimed identity can be traced back to the earliest English settlers’ understanding of what their new home would represent and runs consistently through to contemporary times. “Wee shall be as a city upon a hill,” predicted Puritan minister John Winthrop in 1630, and more than 350 years later...

  8. 4 Establishing the Republic: First Principles and American Identity
    (pp. 76-105)

    With this assertion of natural and inalienable rights, Angloamerican colonial leaders claimed for themselves the rights associated with British imperial dominion in North America. The architects of the American rebellion were declaring the existence of an unprecedented entity, a settler colonial state claiming that it should be recognized as a member of the hitherto exclusively European community of “civilized” nations because it represented a more evolved, “progressive” phase of Western civilization. To justify this expansion of the prevailing European paradigm, and its radical divergence from international law as then framed, the American leaders called upon a “higher” law, a natural...

  9. 5 A Manifest Destiny: Colonizing the Continent
    (pp. 106-132)

    The phrase “manifest destiny,” coined in 1845 by American lawyer, author, and adventurer John O’Sullivan, quickly assumed widespread popularity in mainstream discourse, for it evoked the earliest English settlers’ vision of a “new Canaan” and captured the essence of the United States’ claim to the legitimacy not only of its independent existence but its constant expansion.¹ The expropriation of native land and the concomitant decimation of Indigenous peoples within the claimed territory of the United States, discussed in chapters 3 and 4, provided the material base for the extension of U.S. hegemony over other peoples, and the rationale used to...

  10. 6 American Imperial Expansion
    (pp. 133-160)

    With the Union consolidated following the Civil War, Indigenous resistance effectively crushed by the late 1800s, and domestic markets reaching saturation, further expansion was seen as the key to the United States’ continued success in the twentieth century. Increasingly this was framed not in terms of extending its borders but rather its economic, political, and military reach. American visions had shifted from the creation of a state with indefinitely expanding territory to the domination of much of the rest of the world through colonial ventures that would undergird indefinite economic growth. The ideological framing, however, remained remarkably consistent with that...

  11. 7 Making the World Safe for Democracy
    (pp. 161-194)

    The twentieth century is often regarded as a period in which the United States, having become a dominant world power, first retreated into an “isolationist” phase and then, having been drawn into both major world wars, played an influential role in establishing international institutions designed to ensure a relatively orderly transition to a global world order in which democratic governance and economic progress would be increasingly available to all peoples. To describe U.S. foreign policy as alternating between isolationism and internationalism is somewhat misleading, however. As the history recounted in earlier chapters demonstrates, the United States has never limited its...

  12. 8 The New World Order and American Hegemony
    (pp. 195-228)

    The half-century following World War II was an extraordinary epoch accompanied by tremendous hopes for a world of true peace and security. Structures were created, most notably the United Nations and its related organizations, with the potential for containing the use of armed force to limited and collectively agreed upon situations and for furthering the right of all peoples to self-determination. Economic, social, civil, and political rights and responsibilities were recognized as critical to long-term security and stability, and it appeared that the material effects of centuries of colonial exploitation might be acknowledged and redressed, at least in some measure....

  13. 9 Confronting American Exceptionalism
    (pp. 229-252)

    This book is about the tremendous power of the narrative of American exceptionalism. This narrative presumes that human history is best understood as a linear progression toward higher stages of civilization, that Western civilization represents the apex of this history, and that the United States embodies the best and most advanced stage of Western civilization and, therefore, human history to date. As discussed in earlier chapters, the construct of American exceptionalism was invoked to justify the settlement and expansion of English colonies in North America, the creation of the United States as an independent country, its territorial expansion across the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 253-312)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 313-356)
  16. List of Cases
    (pp. 357-358)
  17. Index
    (pp. 359-373)
  18. About the Author
    (pp. 374-374)