The United States was founded as a political experiment based on the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment. While in the late eighteenth century European monarchies were at war with one another, the US was constructed as the first large-scale democratic republic in human history. It is a modern state forged by the struggle for values and ideas, committed to political, economic, and religious freedom, along with an emphasis on education, individualism, and democratic republicanism.
Although the US has been inconsistent in the pursuit of its values, it has provided a loadstar for the direction of its foreign policy. This history has provided the US with what many refer to as “American exceptionalism,” a term originating from Alexis de Tocqueville's (1835) Democracy in America. The term American exceptionalism has not only come to mean that the US is different from the rest of the world, but also that America and its citizen are part of a chosen nation. A nation, separated from the rest of the world by two oceans, which provides a model for other international actors to follow (Lipset, 1996). Many scholars and policy makers argue that American exceptionalism provides the US with a distinctive identity, which gives US foreign policy a sense of national and moral mission. It provides the US with a basis for claiming that it is a global and hemispheric leader, the bastion and defender of freedom, and that its international actions are for the good of the rest of the world. As former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asserted on 19 February 1998, “We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.”