- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Umpire Strikes Out

“William Appleman Williams viewed world history through the wrong end of the telescope,” writes Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman in her novel reinterpretation of American statecraft. “On balance, American diplomacy in the twentieth century has been far more triumphant than tragic.” While others might characterize the 20th century as dismal or barbaric, Hoffman looks past the bad news and finds much to celebrate. Most importantly, during the 20th century imperialism went out of fashion. In place of empire, new norms—“access to opportunity, arbitration of disputes, and transparency in government and business”—evolved and have now “taken hold around the world.” They have today become “the leitmotifs of national policy and global history.” Further, these new norms fostered the spread of “democratic capitalism,” which “drove material progress and facilitated enough peace and cooperation for humanity to flourish.” For Hoffman, a professor of history at San Diego State University, this describes the world in which we live.

Many factors account for this happy development. Chief among them, however, has been the role played by the United States, the “bellwether” and “pivot of this worldwide transformation.” America “nurtured new global trends” and “pioneer[ed] the new norms.” It provided “the cutting edge of a larger and growing international critique” of colonialism. As these “new international norms took hold… America gave history a decisive shove.”

In 1789 the Constitution had established the federal government as arbiter of disputes among the several states comprising the Union. By fits and starts over the next two centuries, the United States established itself as arbiter of disputes among the growing roster of nations comprising the international order. Unlike the imperial powers of old, the United States established itself as an “umperial power,” assigned the responsibility “to compel acquiescence as necessary with rules that had earned broad legitimacy.” Today, writes Hoffman, America has become “the enforcer of what is, most of the time, the collective will.” To charge the United States with committing the sin of imperialism, therefore, “is not simply improbable but false.” It’s also a pernicious slander. Those who perpetrate this do immense harm: “Diagnosing America’s problem as ‘imperialism’ is damaging,” she writes. Rather than suggesting an alternative approach to policy, “this flawed characterization merely saps morale.” Hoffman worries about American morale.

In any human endeavor requiring supreme effort, morale helps determine outcome. If citizens are uncertain about their own or their government’s motivation, they will find it difficult to prevail against enemies, inertia, pessimism, and all the other forces that continuously complicate human achievement.

By implication, historians bear some responsibility for bolstering the nation’s collective spirits, lest inertia and pessimism impede the onward march of progress.

Were that not enough, those falsely charging the United States with imperialism sow the seeds of anti-Americanism abroad. Take terrorism, for example. As Hoffman sees it, American critics of U.S. foreign policy helped persuade violent Islamists that “all Americans [are] part of a malignant imperialist plot,” thereby providing ammunition to the likes of Osama bin Laden. Put simply, she writes, “the events of 9/11 teach that words must be as precise as possible, for they can become like slippery knives. An umpire accused of being an empire may bleed out, to everyone’s detriment.”

As a determinant of the way that others see the United States, Hoffman implies, scholarly judgments carry greater weight than do the words and actions of those who actually make policy. By extension, historians should keep their criticism of U.S. policy within bounds. “American academics have a sober responsibility,” Hoffman warns, “to make sure that incriminations of their country and fellow citizens are made only to the extent warranted.”

Readers curious as to how over the period of a century and a half an inconsequential republic perched on the eastern seaboard of North America emerged as the globe’s preeminent superpower will want to look elsewhere. “Organically, over the course of time,” Hoffman remarks, “the United States had become indispensable to maintaining order against the evils of chaos on a crowded, globalized world.” Yet American Umpire does not explain how the United States acquired the muscle needed to perform this indispensable function.

Indeed, Hoffman’s interests lie elsewhere. She wants to show that access, arbitration, and transparency constitute the abiding themes of American statecraft. In addition, she aims to drive a stake through the canard of American imperialism. Making good on this dual purpose requires two things. First, Hoffman must show how the United States has promoted common global norms while serving as “umpire, arbitrator, bouncer, playground supervisor, policeman, whatever.” Second, she must demonstrate that U.S. actions others describe as imperialistic are not what they appear to be.

On the first count, she achieves modest success. Without doubt, the United States has on occasion functioned as an umpire of sorts. Hoffman opens her book by recounting the Suez Crisis of 1956, in which the “Soviet-American bloc” [sic] brought to heel an Anglo-French-Israeli coalition seeking to do in Egypt’s annoying Gamal Abdel Nasser. (On how the Soviet-American bloc fared in enforcing global norms with respect to the simultaneous Hungarian Revolution, she opts for silence.) Hoffman concludes American Umpire by describing Western interventions in the Balkans during the 1990s. Once U.S. forces entered the fray, the opposition, she writes, “folded like a cheap paperback” and “genocide came to a stop.” Points well taken.

On the second count, however, Hoffman makes her case by cherrypicking or ingeniously reinterpreting the historical record. Here are five examples.

“This book concludes with the Balkans,” Hoffman writes, “where the twentieth century began and ended.” The conflicts of the post-9/11 era get little more than a passing glance, Hoffman noting that “These wars have not yet receded into history. They bridge past, present, and future, where only fools, angels, and journalists dare to tread.”

July/August 2013 [1]Still, terminating American Umpire in the 1990s is the equivalent, say, of publishing a history of American statecraft in 1950 and disregarding everything that had happened since 1938. It’s a tad too convenient. How, for example, might Hoffman incorporate the Bush Doctrine of preventive war or the Obama Doctrine of targeted assassination into her themes of access and arbitration? As for transparency, how does that mesh with Washington’s growing appetite for secret surveillance? Finally, in the wake of the Iraq debacle, is it really still possible to speak, as Hoffman does, of “the military harmlessness of the United States”?

No, it’s not. Whatever the implications for American morale, let’s not pretend otherwise.

Andrew J. Bacevich teaches at Boston University. His new book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country [2].

 

31 Comments (Open | Close)

31 Comments To "Umpire Strikes Out"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 2:43 am

“It’s also a pernicious slander. Those who perpetrate this do immense harm: “Diagnosing America’s problem as ‘imperialism’ is damaging,””

Hello? knock Knock?

“God knows I love my country” (Chariots of Fire). And I am huge fan of finding some positive aspects of history and there are plenty in my view. However, if this is an accurate recounting of what Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman has written. One can only say — frightening. Revisionist history predicated on the discovery of new data is great.

But defending out international/territorial westward expansion and the campaign against native americans was in fact, the United States violating it’s agreements in a rather blatant land grab.

Justifying the invasion of the Phillipines has no better ground than the war on Cuba. With an rather strange strategy of nat calling a rose a rose but some other name somehow changes what a rose is? Uhhh, excuse me you cannot accuse me of rape, because during forcible act upon you — I never said I was embracing rape, not did I use the term.

I am no fan of Mexico’s polciy of a covert economic war on the US, which is not so covert — but I am finding it very hard to agree with adefense of our actions as a refuse to sell means you are asking to be robbed and beaten up in the process.

Escalating events? There was a winner and we didn’t like him. The escalation in Iran was our own. Perhaps she is referring to the Shah’s response to money supply and food shortages. Vietnam, we were really perturbed with ho Chi Min’s choice to establish a communist style government — afterall had we removed the Japanese from the land — Ho Chi Min was a ally spotter for goodness sake. The argument that the devil (cold war) made me do it — just carries very little merit.

A sincere desire to paint the US in a positive light should not be so desperate as to turn history on it’s head. 9/11 is still a part of the US historical being —- so it doesn’t count?

There are so many counter examples it’s hard to consider where to begin, but I will end with:

Rather than lead financial history we have been followers — the last to off the gold standard in the west

the last financial mess was pushed into greater and deeper crisis as our bankers followed the lead on European and Latin American bankers in pushing lending risks well beyond their limits under Basil I and Basil II protocols.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 2:45 am

It is less harmful to be self critical as opposed to clinging to an over inflated egotistical and incorrect self concept.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 2:47 am

one other observation: the United States military can be such a powerful force for good and has been used in numerous hiumanitarian endeavours — and is generally harless unless in use in the guise of terrible and poorly implemented policy.

#4 Comment By spite On August 13, 2013 @ 5:07 am

If some see America as the umpire then the best sport to compare it to is pro wrestling, where the umpires have been known for picking sides, beating up the contestants and breaking all the rules they supposed adhere to.

#5 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 13, 2013 @ 8:03 am

What makes the US military hegemony unique is that it is not used to build an empire to benefit its citizens. Instead it is acting as a hired enforcer for trans-national corporations and international investment firms. Thus, US citizens are saddled with the moral, material, and personal costs of an empire without any benefits.

What an empire would have done is taken all of the oil in Iraq and used it to benefit US citizens. What actually happened was the oil was carefully sold on the international market, largely to China, without causing a drop in oil prices. This benefited transnational petroleum companies and international hedge funds who have invested in Chinese manufacturing.

Are we the good guys or the patsies?

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 9:24 am

Whatever our missteps we have made throughout history — Whatever naive assumptions ——-

We have been and continue to aim high in our humnitarian goals which I believe our genuine. We are more often than not — the good guys —

very little question.

#7 Comment By balconesfault On August 13, 2013 @ 9:27 am

“an adolescent identity crisis expressed in Euro-American cross-dressing.”

She really wrote that? That’s awesome!

Horrible for any type of scholarly work intended to be taken seriously, of course … and more appropriate in Jon Stewart’s “America (The Book)” … perhaps this work simply represents an extended academic troll by Hoffman?

Oh – and what Michael Moore said.

#8 Comment By spite On August 13, 2013 @ 10:37 am

Michael N Moore
I am no expert on all the empires in history, but I would assume that many (if not most) did not benefit the average citizen, rather it benefited those that are close to levers of power.

#9 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 13, 2013 @ 11:48 am

spite said:”I am no expert on all the empires in history, but I would assume that many (if not most) did not benefit the average citizen, rather it benefited those that are close to levers of power.”

Just one example is food. It may be hard to envision in our food-rich economy like ours, but food has always been in short supply. According to “The Taste Of War”, both Britain and Germany faced starvation during the Second World War. Germany solved this problem by the systematic starvation of non-Germans they had conquered and Britain caused a famine in India to feed its people.

Compare life in Paris, London, Rome and other imperial centers to their outlying empires. These are two completly different ways of life. Were do you think all the artwork in the Louvre and the London museums came from? They were looted with imperial conquest.

#10 Comment By ArizonaBumblebee On August 13, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

I could make a strong argument about the benefits to mankind of imperial regimes. Certainly this was the case with the Han Chinese, Roman, Ottoman, and British empires. But we would be amiss if we didn’t briefly address the downsides to empire.

Maintaining empire is an expensive proposition. I am not familiar with the Chinese dynasties, but I do know that the Roman, Ottoman, and British empires all eventually became financial basket cases. In virtually all of these instances imperial overreach was a major factor. Does this sound familiar? Read David Stockman’s latest book to get an idea of how America’s warfare state is leading it to financial ruin.

Second, all imperial regimes become arrogant and smug in their attitudes and actions toward outsiders and internal dissenters, which result in constant wars or domestic repression. Britain and France fought numerous wars over the centuries as did the Mongols and the Han Chinese and the Romans and the Persians. Wars and imperialism go hand in hand.

Finally, the idea that the United States is not an imperial power is preposterous on its face. Ask Evo Morales, whose presidential plane was forced down recently on the rumor he just might have Mr. Snowden on board. Or ask the leaders of countries in Latin America who have had to endure in recent decades death squads, resource exploitation, and invasions directed by the Washington elites. Or ask former President Morsi of Egypt, if you can locate him. The idea that America is not an imperialist power is amazing rubbish!

#11 Comment By James Canning On August 13, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

Yes, how convenient to omit discussion of the idiotic and illegal American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

#12 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 13, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

For those who wish to get into the weeds of these issues I recommend “The Making of Global Capitalism” by Pantich and Gindin. They carefully examine the issue of how the US government and the World economic system interface.

#13 Comment By DE Ph.D On August 13, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

Nowhere is our failure to be an “umpire” more apparent and complete than in the Israel/Palestine mess, in which we went from at least pretending to be an “honest broker” to being led around by the nose by the Israel Lobby. That failure contributed directly to 9/11 and subsequent military and strategic disasters.

#14 Comment By Reinhold On August 13, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

I don’t think this article denounces American Umpire strongly enough for its clear triumphantilism and exceptionalism; it’s a shameless case of propaganda and imperial apologetics. As is usual for propagandists, Hoffman claims that it’s really the ones who CRITICIZE American imperialism who are contributing to Islamist terrorism, and not American imperialism itself; those who claim the latter are anti-American and, evidently if not directly, pro-Islamist. It’s a sick joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously as scholarship; it is not only a selective memory, but a deliberate falsification and misdirection of memory.

#15 Comment By Arturo Ortiz On August 13, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

Do you know how expensive it is to have an empire? It is quite expensive. I was shocked at how much the national defense spending had spike through the last bit of the 20th century unto the 21st century, reaching its max during the 2000s with the combined wars of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Below I put the links for the national defense expenditure throughout the years.

[3]
[4]

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

“Or ask the leaders of countries in Latin America who have had to endure in recent decades death squads, resource exploitation, and invasions directed by the Washington elites.”

The concept that we are to be the blame for every atrocity comitted by our allies is a bridge I cannot cross. And while you did noy say that you alluded to the same.

Our role in aid and confort to what occurred in Latin American and in at least one instance according to Kissenger — we assisinated an opponent. The Dulles Fruit Company and the CIA conspired in a rather messy capitalist dare I say conspiracy — ok.

but with us or without us Pinoche’ El Salavadore’ Allende'(?) did not need our help in being brutal in the control over their spheres.

Complicit is not the same as the actor of events.

#17 Comment By Ken Hoop On August 13, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

Michael N Moore’s assertion that were America an Empire it would have taken Iraq’s oil and used it to serve US citizens is a little facile.
Why does he assume that if such were attempted, the largely undefeated insurgency(ies) would not be even stronger in maintaining a war against US troops required to stay for that job?

#18 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 13, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

“It’s also a pernicious slander. Those who perpetrate this do immense harm: “Diagnosing America’s problem as ‘imperialism’ is damaging,””

Hello? knock Knock?

“God knows I love my country” (Chariots of Fire). And I am huge fan of finding some positive aspects of history and there are plenty in my view. However, if this is an accurate recounting of what Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman has written. One can only say — frightening. Revisionist history predicated on the discovery of new data is great.

But defending our international/territorial westward expansion and the campaign against native americans was in fact, the United States violating it’s agreements in a rather blatant land grab. As opposed to honoring them.

Justifying the invasion of the Phillipines has no better ground than the war on Cuba. With a rather strange strategy of not calling a rose a rose but by some other name. It does change what a rose is, any more than not embracing rape somehow changes the fact that one is actually raping another. The claim, that i did not openly embrace or advocate rape does not change the nature of the act. that is an odd defense — they did not openly call what we did in the Phillipines colonialism — so it must not be.

I am no fan of Mexico’s polciy of a covert economic war on the US, which is not so covert — but I am finding it very hard to agree with a defense of our actions: as a refuse to sell means you are asking to be robbed and beaten up in the process.

Escalating events? In Vietnam and Iran , there was a winner and we didn’t like him. The escalation in Iran was our own. Perhaps she is referring to the Shah’s response to money supply and food shortages. Vietnam, we were really perturbed with ho Chi Min’s choice to establish a communist style government — afterall had we removed the Japanese from the land — Ho Chi Min was a ally spotter for goodness sake. And when he bucked democracy for communism — we made hay.

The argument that the devil (cold war) made me do it — just carries very little merit.

A sincere desire to paint the US in a positive light should not be so desperate as to turn history on it’s head. 9/11 is still a part of the US historical being —- so it doesn’t count?

There are so many counter examples it’s hard to consider where to begin, but I will end with:

Rather than lead financial history we have been followers — the last to off the gold standard in the west

the last financial mess was pushed into greater and deeper crisis as our bankers followed the lead on European and Latin American bankers in pushing lending risks well beyond their limits under Basil I and Basil II protocols, both European/Latin Bank models.

#19 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 13, 2013 @ 6:48 pm

“‘an adolescent identity crisis expressed in Euro-American cross-dressing.'”

That does explain the new penchant for justification of imperialism, in terms of a fight for imposing world-wide homosexual marriage, that trumps the evisceration of the Constitution – torture, mass civilian surveillance, extra-judicial assassination, pre-emptive secret war, coups, et. al.

The one right that doesn’t threaten the oligarchy of donorists, is sexual perversion practice. People engaged in stroking genitals, are distracted from all else, particularly anything done to others.

#20 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 13, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

Regarding Iraq oil. Grover Norquist developed a plan for the Bush-Cheney administration that would have opened up Iraq oil to market forces and subvert OPEC price fixing. This was overridden by oil executives who re-established the Iraq government oil company to keep it within OPEC production guidelines. The result: Americans get screwed at the gas pump.
[5]

After making $20 Billion of US tax dollars in revenues from Iraq. Halliburton moved its headquarters to Dubai in 2007.

#21 Comment By James Canning On August 14, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

Great post, DE Ph.D.

#22 Comment By Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman On August 14, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

Reviews, one hopes, stimulate people to read a book –especially in this case. Andrew Bacevich mis-characterizes my arguments and ignores most of my evidence. For example, despite what he says, the book acknowledges America’s 45-year occupation of the Philippines as outright imperialism. What else would it be? Professor Bacevich is the nation’s foremost spokesman for the idea that the US is an empire, and may have little interest in counter-arguments or contrary evidence. To those interested in the most serious questions facing our nation–and the fascinating history behind them–I say, read the book and judge for yourself!

#23 Comment By James Canning On August 15, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

Michael N. Moore – – What preposterous thinking, by Grover Norquist. That Iraq would want lower oil prices if Saddam Hussein got overthrown. Absurd.

#24 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 15, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

James,

Iraq, under its sociopathic leader Sadam Hussein, double dealt everyone including OPEC. He moved oil through various legal and illegal channels and therefore helped lower prices.

Norquist’s idea was actually supported by the NeoCons whose deluded dream included creating a complete free market in Iraq. They were squashed by Halliburton, the Saudis, and the Texas good old oil boys whose goal was to enforce strict OPEC guidelines.

Everyone wants a free market except for the procduct that they sell.

#25 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 16, 2013 @ 8:26 am

I think the other unique element of US militay hegemony is that the tail wags the dog. Instead of making war for empire, we make empire for war. The MIC has become so politically embedded that there is always a push for war. It is just a matter of putting together the constituancies and the rationale. Right now they are working hard on Iran and restarting the Cold War.

#26 Comment By James Canning On August 16, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

Michael N. Moore – – Yes, greater supply due to Iraq pushing for larger quota tends or would tend to lower oil prices.
But Iraqi gov’t could be expected to try for highest price point possible, while expanding exports.
I think a lot of the talk of “empire” is a cover story to conceal the fact the US has squandered trillions of dollars “protecting” Israel.

#27 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 16, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

James Canning said: “I think a lot of the talk of “empire” is a cover story to conceal the fact the US has squandered trillions of dollars “protecting” Israel.”

That’s a tough nut to crack. Is Israel using the US or is the US using Israel? We know how Israel plays poltics to use the US. The best comparison in my opinion is Taiwan. Who was our strategic asset versus “Red China”. They also developed a self-sustaining, corrupt lobby that was called “The China Lobby”.

Is Israel to the Arab world, Suez Canal, and Gulf oil what Taiwan is or was to mainland China? Don’t forget Israel got its start seizing the Suez Canal with France and Britain. It is a proven junk yard dog, which, in that part of the world can be very useful.

These two elements also tie together when you see how the West has become dependant on China
trade through the Suez Canal. This trend lessens the value of Taiwan and increases the value of Israel.

A couple of changes that could alter Israel’s importance could be less US dependance on foreign oil and the Chinese use of the new Artic routes available due to ice melt.

[6]

#28 Comment By James Canning On August 16, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

Michael N. Moore – – Relative importance of Suez Canal has declined significantly in recent years.
Cost of Israel to the US far exceeds the value Israel delivers, whether through intelligence or whatever.
Relative merits of Israel are less important than the great financial power etc of Israel lobby in the US.

#29 Comment By GaryA On August 17, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

If professor Hoffman’s remarks reflect her belief that, while the USA may have acted imperialistically (in the Philippines), it is not an empire, I’d have to side with professor Bacevich.

What else do you call a country that has toppled country after country since our first foray into this odious practice when we toppled Hawaii in the late 1800s? In “Overthrow,” Stephen Kinser tells the stories of how the U.S. took it upon itself to depose myriad foreign regimes. He details the three eras of America’s regime-change century–the imperial era, which brought Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras under America’s sway; the cold war era, which employed covert action against Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, and Chile; and the invasion era, which saw American troops toppling governments in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

When not toppling foreign governments, including the democracies in Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, etc., the USA has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with many of the most vile, authoritarian regimes and despotic dictators, including those of Saudi Arabia, apartheid South Africa, Bahrain, Mubarak’s Egypt, etc. William Blum’s authoritative book, “Killing Hope,” is an encyclopedia of America’s despicable history, and offers exhaustive documentation.

In the last decade, the USA tried, but failed, to topple Venezuela’s democracy, though not for want of trying, while it quietly colluded with the coup that suberted Honduras’s democracy with the removal of President Zelaya. [7]

In the past week, the USA is refusing to call the military coup in Egypt what it really is, a coup.

“Respected academics,” like professor Hoffman are always available to whitewash America’s vile history. How fortunate we are to have a towering historian like Colonel Bacevich to set the record straight! I’ve never read a shortish book more densely packed with astonishing insights than Bacevich’s “The Limits of Power.” I can’t recommend it more highly. [8]

#30 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 19, 2013 @ 7:41 am

James Canning said: “Relative importance of Suez Canal has declined significantly in recent years.”

James, could you elaborate on this. It would seem that, with all the China goods shipped out to Europe and the US East Coast and the oil from the Arabian Gulf shipped to China, the Suez canal would be very important to world trade.

The issue of figuring out just what the hold Israel has on the US recently expressed itself in Norman Finkelstein’s critique of the Mearsheimer’s book on the Iraeli Lobby. Finkelstein is an student of Israel critic Noam Chomsky who sees Israel policy as not just a product of our domestic lobby, but of our imperial interests. I lean toward a theory that Israel has become the most important client of the MIC, which runs the NeoCons, but it is not all clear to me.

#31 Comment By William Burns On August 19, 2013 @ 10:58 am

If “maintaining peace in Eastern Europe” is the relevant criterion,surely the most benevolent power of the twentieth century was the Soviet Union.