Home/Daniel Larison/The Myth of the “Honest Broker”

The Myth of the “Honest Broker”

Andrew Bacevich reviewedAmerican Umpire for the current issue of the magazine. He summarizes the author’s thesis:

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 [bold mine-DL]. 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.

Based on the claims cited in the review, Hoffman takes the effort to dismiss episodes of American imperialism to ludicrous extremes. Describing the annexation of the Philippines as “an adolescent identity crisis expressed in Euro-American cross-dressing” seems like a plea for ridicule. If annexing a distant territory and directly ruling a foreign population against its will for decades wasn’t imperialism, then the word can hardly be applied to anything. What makes this odd argument even stranger is that one of the leading champions of the practice of arbitration for settling international disputes was an avowed American anti-imperialist. Grover Cleveland was a strong advocate for using arbitration as a mechanism for resolving international disagreements, and he was also a prominent member of the Anti-Imperialist League that fought against overseas empire.

This matters because the idea that the U.S. acts as an “umpire” or neutral arbiter in foreign conflicts is extremely misleading and provides cover for one-sided interference in a number of disputes. The most obvious and long-running instance of one-sided interference masquerading as playing the part of “honest broker” is in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it has been used over the years in other parts of the world as well. After a while, everyone can see through the pretense that the “umpire” is fairly weighing the claims of both sides, and whichever party to the dispute that isn’t favored by Washington predictably has no confidence in the umpire’s decisions.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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