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American exceptionalism exists deep within the American belief system, and many

of its assumptions are shared by the public and officials alike. It therefore pr
ovides the framework for much of the discussion of foreign policy, its presentat
ion by officials, and its realization.
Throughout U.S. history the tension between the exemplary and missionary strands
of American exceptionalism have been among the defining characteristics of fore
ign policy. They have survived challenges to their continued acceptance, such as
the imperialist debate of the 1890s and the defeat in Vietnam. They form a core
element of American national identity, and will continue to provide the cultura
l and intellectual framework for the making of U.S. foreign policy.

As Wilson stated, he believed that while other nations used force "for the oppre
ssion of mankind and their own aggrandizement," the United States would use forc
e only "for the elevation of the spirit of the human race."
Wilson declared that "the United States will never again seek one additional foo
t of territory by conquest." Nevertheless, he frequently used military intervent
ion in efforts to help other peoples become, in his opinion, more democratic and
orderly. Wilson sent American troops into Mexico twice, to Haiti, the Dominican
Republic, and Cuba, as well as maintaining the military "protection" of Nicarag
ua. He also intervened militarily twice in the Russian civil war. Wilson best ex
pressed his attitude toward such interventions in 1914: "They say the Mexicans a
re not fitted for self-government and to this I reply that, when properly direct
ed, there is no people not fitted for self-government." Wilson was a clear advoc
ate of the missionary strand of American exceptionalism.
Although legitimate political, economic, and strategic justifications for interv
ention existed, American involvement in World War I was thus justified and condu
cted in terms consistent with the missionary strand of the belief in American ex
Following World War II, President Truman believed that merely to provide an exam
ple for the rest of the world to follow would no longer be enough. He was arguin
g that the United States, as the chosen nation, must take up the gauntlet and de
fend the rights of free peoples everywhere against what Americans regarded as to
talitarian aggression and subversion. The Cold War ethos was firmly grounded in
the missionary strand of American exceptionalism. The Truman Doctrine helped def
ine the policy of containment toward the Soviet Union and its allies that was em
ployed by successive U.S. administrations during the cold war. Each of Truman's
successors also utilized the language and ideas of American exceptionalism to re
inforce the nature of the battle with communism.
Many Cold War policies reflected exceptionalist assumptions about the American r
ole in the world.