Professor Mandelbaum is the Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has held teaching posts at Harvard and Columbia Universities, and at the United States Naval Academy.
To call America's foreign policy the world's government is novel, controversial, but ultimately justified and valuable. Advances in technology, transportation, and communications have knitted the world so close that it requires a degree of governance. The United States plays a historically unprecedented role in the world, yet this role is not captured by terms like ‘great power' or ‘superpower'.
A different term is needed, yet ‘empire' is the wrong term yet again. The United States does not engage in the types of activities that typically define ‘empire': namely, America does not govern societies against their will, nor did the United States deliberately assume this role. The term ‘government' is more adequate and appropriate. It explains why, despite all the criticisms of the United States, there has been no direct, effective opposition to American foreign policy from other countries.
The reason why there has been no direct and effective opposition is because these countries do not feel threatened by the United States and they recognize the benefits of American services. The United States keeps order in the world, which is the first duty of government, and acts as a babysitter at times. The United States has taken major steps in stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, forcing even those countries that disagree with the United States to believe in its goal.
The United States also contributes to the safety and fluidity of the global economy. It secures the world's two largest trade routes, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and supplies the world's most used currency. In addition, the United States also protects the Persian Gulf and the supply of oil to the world.
Why are so many people angry with the United States? Why does the rest of the world hate America? Hatred is not the right word. Rather, the world resents the United States because it is so powerful; nobody likes Goliath. Some countries resent the United States out of fear of its power. However, there is not so much fear that they are moved to do anything to curtail and resist that power.
Negative sentiments about the United States, which have been around since long before George W. Bush and the Iraq War, come with the territory. American foreign policy is bound to be criticized; yet this does not bespeak a desire to overthrow the entire international system or the United States. Also, anti-American sentiments are often convenient. The United States is a convenient scapegoat for the dislocation caused by impersonal forces, including globalization, and for blame-shifting countries, such as hostile states in the Middle East.
How long will America's role last? The rest of the world will not do anything to stop the United States, nor will it do anything appreciably to assist the United States in its governmental duties. This is particularly true of the European Union, composed of the former great powers of the world, which now possess tiny militaries and quasi-pacifist social stances. Europe is inward looking and is particularly unhelpful when it comes to the use of force, on account of its military capabilities.
If the United States were to reduce its role in the world the result would not be better, but less global governance, creating a less prosperous and less secure world. Even the United States' harshest critics would be distressed if America were to be eclipsed. One thing is certain: the rest of the world will continue to criticize American global governance, but they will not pay for it, and they will miss it when it is gone.