Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century, Michael Mandelbaum, Public Affairs (Perseus), New York 2005.

Laina Farhat-Holzman, Reviewer.

One of the favorite parlor games among the intellectual elites in our country and Europe, newly rising rivals such as China, and our acknowledged enemies in the militantly Islamic world, is to condemn the United States as an immature bully. There is considerable hypocrisy in this bad-mouthing, considering how much the world benefits from our protection. We function, according to Michael Mandelbaum (The Case for Goliath) as a sort of de facto world government from which everyone benefits.  Our sullen US allies and our obvious enemies, in private and in their actions, all recognize and depend upon America's hegemony. Mandelbaum's  book charts those services provided by the US for the benefit of the world.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, questions were raised about why we should maintain an expensive Pacific fleet; there were those who thought that it was time to mothball that institution. When Congress recognized how our presence in the Pacific provided a stability and peace that would have otherwise been absent, there was bipartisan support for funding. Imagine the naval arms race that would rage among countries with long historic hostility to each other. But thanks to us, those east-Asian countries, most of them dirt poor, have thrived and become substantial contributors to the world economy and enjoy  a growing middle class.

The same can be said of Europe, which has enjoyed more than a half-century of economic growth and socialist largesse under the security of the American umbrella-the costs borne by the American public. Would this be so if those countries had been compelled to defend themselves against historically hostile neighbors? Despite the public disdain for the United States, people do (or should) know the role we play in their safety and economies.

Even in the Muslim world, which is viscerally hostile to the United States, the worst and most authoritarian leaders send their families to the United States and their children to our schools. The words are one thing-their actions quite another.

Governance.  Mendelbaum provides a brief history of the institutions of government: empire, what government does, the role of society, and the role of consensus.

International Security.  He assesses our role in international security-including how we provide reassurance, our role in nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism and preventive war, humanitarian intervention, and state-building (one of our less successful, but well-intentioned endeavors).

Global Economy. Overseeing the global economy is one of our most important functions, with involvement in enforcement, oil, money, trade, and consumption.

International Legitimacy. There would not be any valid international legitimacy without the umbrella of the US.  We face resentment and criticism, yet we continue to provide leadership and bear the costs of having a world in which there is the appearance of legitimacy.

A World Without America.  There is no doubt that were we not today's hegemon, the world would be a much more dangerous place. It is obvious that institutions such as the UN and the European Union cannot-or do not-have force to fall back on when talk no longer has an affect. The world may resent us, but without us, most of the gains enjoyed by the developed world would not have been possible. As for the lesser developed world, there has been a surprising reduction in global poverty, to which we have contributed. However, because we do not provide security everywhere, we can see the consequences when our power is absent. Nobody intervened in the genocide in Rwanda and no one is willing to step up to forcibly stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Nobody would have intervened in the genocide in Yugoslavia-a situation in Europe's very orbit-until the US ended it and contributed to the rebuilding of those countries, which are once more flourishing.

Gratitude is not an emotion that most nation-states cherish. However, let us end the pretense that the power of the United States is an obnoxious thing. There is no model in world history in which an imperial power did as much good and took as little in return. For a resolutely anti-aristocratic country, the United States shows laudable noblesse oblige.  We do what we do because it is right-and because we can.


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