Most helpful positive review
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Underrated Assets Badly in Need of Recognition and Reappraisal
on December 31, 2005
Michael Mandelbaum demonstrates convincingly that the world needs governance and the U.S. is the only country which has been able and willing to assume this role. Unlike the great powers and even the superpowers of the past, the 21st century U.S. has no international peer for this purpose following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union (pp. xxi, 4, 17, 196-218, 225).
Mandelbaum shows clearly that many people erroneously perceive the U.S. as an empire. Subordination, coercion, and ethnic, national, religious, or racial difference - or some combination of these differences - between the ruled and rulers are the hallmarks of an empire (pp. 1-6). Growing resistance of the subjects of imperial rule resulting from nationalism made it prohibitive and ultimately doomed its existence (pp. 10, 27-28, 77-78).
The U.S. provides services, which are public goods, to the society of sovereign states while furthering its interests around the globe (pp. 7-9). These services found their origin in the emergency measures that the U.S. took in the aftermath of WWII to strengthen Western Europe and key allies in East Asia economically, military, and politically, and to deter and contain the former Soviet Union (p. 18). The U.S. was not keen on repeating mistakes such as disastrous economic protectionism and appeasement of belligerent dictators in the 1930s (pp. 17-18, 31-32, 69, 129-34, 187-88, 224).
The U.S. provides the following global services:
1) Reassurance/Deterrence: The American military presence in Europe reassures Europeans that they do not have to spend more on defense than they do for their protection against the possibility of an aggressive neighbor (pp. 30-41). Reassurance took over from deterrence at the end of the Cold War following the disintegration of the communist block in Central and Eastern Europe (p. 35). In contrast, defense dominance and weapon system transparency have not the same supremacy in East Asia (pp. 37-39). Most ominously, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, especially in the hands of unaccountable rogue states and terrorists, increases the costs of American world's government (pp. 41-64, 101-02, 159, 189-92, 214, 220-22).
2) Cross-border Trade: The global projection of American military forces also helps enforce the international economic order. The U.S. is the only country with a navy powerful enough to provide a secure political framework for international economic activity (pp. 88-115, 127-28, 193-94). Close to 95% of trade that crosses international borders is waterborne, as is 99.5% of the weight of all transcontinental trade as Arthur Herman reminds us in his excellent book "To Rule the Waves."
3) Money: Despite the recent arrival of the euro, the world continues to use the U.S. dollar as a vehicle for transactions and as a reserve (pp. 119-20). Although the U.S. derives economic advantages upon which it can pay its foreign bills in the currency that it itself prints, the world is still better off due to the size of the U.S. economy and the sophistication of its financial markets (pp. 117-18).
4) Consumer of Last Resort: The ongoing American spending spree helps many export-driven economies grow, especially when economic conditions are sluggish in their home markets (pp. 14, 134-36). This over-reliance, which feeds the fast-growing U.S. trade deficit, is a threat to the global economy due to a sub-optimal allocation of resources needed to cover this spending spree (pp. 136-40).
One global service that the U.S. has refused to provide is a reduction in its oil consumption for a variety of reasons (pp. 110-11, 114-15, 217).
Unlike a sovereign state towards its subjects, the U.S. cannot force other sovereign states to pay for these costly services due to no acknowledged monopoly on the legitimate use of violence (p. 8). The rest of the world is usually glad to benefit from these services without paying for them (pp. 9-10, 212-13, 216-20). At the same time, there is widespread disapproval of, and even hostility to, the American global role. This negativity stems not only from American actions, but also from what the U.S. embodies (pp. 145-48, 222). However, the relative world's consensus in favor of peace, democracy, and free markets provides some legitimacy to the American role as the world's government by optimizing the costs of playing that role (pp. 10, 24-30, 93-94, 157-69, 195).
The global services mentioned above are not advertised enough with the consequence that they are usually underappreciated and taken for granted due to a lack of visibility (pp. xix, 37, 65, 93, 219-20). The biggest threat to these public goods in the 21st century will be the ageing U.S. population rather than either the discontent this leadership generates or terrorism (pp. xviii, xx, 10, 24, 28, 72, 182-86).
Furthermore, declining domestic support for state-building resulting from either preventive war or humanitarian intervention is threatening this role due to a sub-optimal performance of the U.S. over time (pp. xx-xxi, 64-87, 161-62). No country or organization possesses a silver bullet in the area of state-building (pp. 102-03). State-building is usually a generational enterprise which rests on the slow-evolving underlying local culture most often allergic to foreign rule (pp. 79-80). This observation results from the inverse relationship that exists between the ease with which a country (e.g., Saddam Hussein's Iraq) can be defeated militarily and the ease with which a new and better government (e.g., Iraq's new federal structure) can be established after its defeat (pp. 81-82).
The world's government that the U.S. embodies will generally not be acknowledged publicly as the worst form of government except for all the others as long as its key advantages are not advertised properly (p. xviii). Global services such as defense savings thanks to the American military presence and jobs created thanks to net exports to the U.S. should be translated by country and on a global basis into easy-to-understand talking points to further foster American interests abroad. Similarly, the American wider public should be sold with more conviction on this subject because it lacks the foreign policy elite's commitment to this global role (pp. 169-86, 223-26).