Is America really exceptional?

Story highlights

  • Putin opinion piece in New York Times takes issue with "American exceptionalism"
  • CNN series looks at origins of the term and whether America is truly No. 1

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken jabs at President Barack Obama and the concept of "American exceptionalism" in a New York Times opinion piece, leaving some people impressed and others outraged.

Putin was referring to Obama's speech Tuesday night on Syria, in which he said America had an obligation to act in certain situations.

"That's what makes us exceptional," Obama said.

Last year, as the idea of exceptionalism made headlines during the presidential election, CNN looked at the origins of the term and whether America truly was No. 1. Revisit our series to learn more about the words fueling today's debate:

The power of American Exceptionalism
Whether or not you think it's true, the idea that America was "chosen" by God to lead the world has shaped history in big ways, from the American Revolution to Election 2012.

W.H.: America is exceptional

    Just Watched

    W.H.: America is exceptional

W.H.: America is exceptional 01:44
PLAY VIDEO

Exceptional? Not by the numbers
Americans may call it "the greatest country in the world," but the United States isn't No. 1 in many areas. What can we learn from those who are ahead of us?

Photos: Faces of citizenship
Citizens of 54 countries became naturalized U.S. citizens in a recent ceremony. We asked them about their stories and what they think makes America exceptional.

Uniting America on ideals
David Gergen and Michael Zuckerman say candidates don't have to prove their view of American exceptionalism is better, they need to unite liberty and egalitarianism.

American by choice
The atmosphere is hushed and quiet as about 150 people take their seats. As big days go, this is one of the biggest. All these people are about to become citizens of the United States.

Nationality, identity and the pledge
CNN's Moni Basu describes how she became an American citizen, and the ways that moment has affected her life.

Where to find exceptional America
American historians share where they enjoy exploring the history of the United States. Here are some of their favorite spots.

America's not perfect, but we love it
Readers debate whether the U.S. is No. 1 and if it matters. Many said there are good and bad things about America, so perhaps we rank well in some areas, but not others.

      American Exceptionalism

    • Whether or not you think it's true, the idea that America was "chosen" by God to lead the world has shaped history in big ways, from the American Revolution to Election 2012.
    • Children listen to their teacher 17 August 2005 in a primary school in Vaasa, on the second day of school in Finland.

      Americans may call it "the greatest country in the world," but the United States isn't No. 1 in many areas. What can we learn from those who are ahead of us?
    • 	Washington, UNITED STATES: Demonstrator Nallely Vasques, a 16-year-old who left school to participate, waves an American flag as hundreds gather to protest at Malcolm X Park on International Workers' Day 01 May 2006 in Washington, DC. Hundreds of thousands of US immigrants stage a one-day nationwide strike and boycott of schools and businesses to demand reforms to help millions of illegal workers gain a legal status. Many companies that rely on low-wage Hispanic labour had to close factories, while immigrant owned stores across the country shut for the day. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

      David Gergen and Michael Zuckerman say candidates don't have to prove their view of American exceptionalism is better, they need to unite liberty and egalitarianism.
    • Roland Tadoum poses with a volunteer after receiving his certificate of naturalization in 2007.

      The atmosphere is hushed and quiet as about 150 people take their seats. As big days go, this is one of the biggest. All these people are about to become citizens of the United States.
    • Immigrants participate in a naturalization ceremony to officially become U.S. citizens in Atlanta, June 29.

      It is nearly impossible to estimate how many U.S. citizens have dual -- or even triple -- citizenships. For those millions, the road to holding two passports is not always simple.
    • There will be a strong security presence at big crowd events on the Fourth of July, particularly in New York City and Washington.

      Readers debate if the U.S. is No. 1 and if it matters. Many said there are good and bad things about America, so perhaps we rank well in some areas, but not others.