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We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind--black or white, Christian or not, left, right or a million different--to be free, free to raise a family in love and hope, free to earn a living and be rewarded by your efforts, free not to bend your knee to any man in fear, free to be you so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others.

That's what we're fighting for. And it's a battle worth fighting.

And I know it's hard on America, and in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to, but always wanted to go...

I know out there there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, "Why me? And why us? And why America?"

And the only answer is, "Because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do."
    -British Prime Minister Blair's Speech to Congress (July 17, 2003)

Other than the unfortunate and thoroughly misleading titular metaphor, this is a mostly sensible and blessedly non-partisan explanation of why America is the world's indispensable nation. As Mr. Mandelbaum correctly notes, the notion that we are an empire is inaccurate -- mainly because we don't exercise actual governing authority over even the nations whose regimes we change -- and, even if the term "empire" does capture something of the influence we have globally, it has become a such a pejorative in the hands of the isolationist Left and Far Right that it isn't very useful any longer. Instead, he opts for describing America as the world's government:
[T]he United States furnishes services to other countries, the same services, as it happens, that governments provide within sovereign states to the people they govern. The United States therefore functions as the world���s government.
He's aware of the difficulties with even this descriptor, but makes a compelling argument in its favor:
As a description of America's relations with other countries the word "government" is even more jarring, and may at first seem even less apt, than "empire." There are, after all, many governments in the world and the global role of the United States, expansive though it is, does not look much like any of them.

The reason for this is that government everywhere is identified with what the world lacks: a state. A state has three defining properties. It encompasses a formally delineated territory. It employs specialized personnel, usually bureaucrats and soldiers. And it is recognized as independent on its territory; that is, it is sovereign. Government is the instrument of the state, established by and acting on behalf of it. [...]

Government may also be understood, however, as a provider of services for a society. A society is a collection of interconnected yet independent units that are in regular contact with one another. By this definition the world's sovereign states qualify as a society....
And what services does America provide that make it similar to a government?: (1) security between states and between regimes and their people; and, (2) the creation and enforcement of a reliable global economic marketplace. If it was the dream of many that sovereign states would one day be replaced by one world state, we have instead arrived at a system where we may realize all the benefits of such a state, the services it would provide, without the drawbacks that would accompany it, loss of national sovereignty, infringement on democracy, and homogenization.

It will, of course, be objected that those drawbacks still, exist to some degree, at least for those nations that have not as yet reached the End of History, but Mr. Mandelbaum effectively makes the case that these essentially Judeo-Christian Anglo-American values have served and will serve peoples everywhere rather well, and, thus, this is a consummation devoutly to be wished:
The United States has probably exercised more indirect and direct influence on state-formation around the world. In the long run the most effective American power is the power of its example as a stable, open, affluent, well-governed society. [...] At the outset of the twenty-first century, it was impossible not to notice that power and prosperity went hand in hand with democracy and free markets, and the global impact of this fact was all the more powerful because it was true not only for the United States. All other advanced industrial countries had democratic politics and free market economics.
If the greatest threat that arises from America as world government is that it will force the creation of stable, open, affluent, well-governed societies, there really is no good argument against it.

Indeed, regardless of the anti-American rhetoric and resentments in the world, Mr. Mandelbaum points out that the reason America so easily exercises its influence is because the reality on the ground is that its effects are so benign that others submit to it willingly, even gladly, whatever their public protestations. The main threat to America's role is, in fact, the possibility that the American people themselves will grow weary of being such do-gooders, expending national treasure, time, and blood on improving the lot of others who may or may not ever demonstrate any appreciation for our sacrifices. America is often willing to act as a Crusader State, but just as often evinces an eagerness to return to being the more self-contained Promised Land, in Walter McDougall's helpful formulation. The irony that Mr. Mandelbaum exposes is that while many in the chattering classes fret about anti-Americanism, what they ought to be worried about is American anti-rest-of-the-worldism. Since our withdrawal from the role as world government would serve everyone, including ourselves, so poorly, the message of the book is especially important for isolationists at home and ingrates abroad. Europeans in particular would seem well-advised to be more helpful to the U.S., since we relieve them of so many financial and military burdens that they could otherwise have to take on at a time when their demographic implosion leaves them utterly unfit for the tasks.

All of which brings us, however, to that wretched title and the most abused metaphor in human history: David vs. Goliath. Given the prevailing level of ignorance, you likely grew up thinking of David as the underdog in his fight with the giant of Gath. This is quite wrong. In the first place, David had a tremendous technological advantage. The ancient sling was a devastating weapon, capable even of piercing the armor of the day. While Goliath would have had to approach and engage with David in order to win their fight, David could stand off at a distance and bring murderous force to bear. The best way to think of this Biblical showdown is to refer to the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the enormous scimitar-wielding Arab appears and, after a moment's hesitation for dramatic effect, Indy pulls out his gun and shoots him. As Voltaire said: "God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best." Given that only David was "shooting," it's easy enough to see who God favored. And this brings up the second problem with the metaphor:
David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.

All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.

Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
David did not just have technological superiority working for him, but theological--he was acting on God's behalf. Similarly, America has not just enormous "power and prosperity" but it derives these things to some significant degree from organizing itself in the manner dictated by Judeo-Christianity. We are, literally, the heirs of David, not of Goliath and combine the same assets he had: physical and spiritual superiority. The outcome can't help but be the same. Mr. Mandelbaum has actually made the case for David's continued dominance of the philistines.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Michael Mandelbaum Links:

    -Michael Mandelbaum: Christian A. Herter Professor; Director of the American Foreign Policy Program (Johns Hopkins University)
    -BOOK SITE: The Case for Goliath (Public Affairs Books)
    -Michael Mandelbaum (Wikipedia)
    David�s Friend Goliath (Michael Mandelbaum, January/February 2006, Foreign Policy)
    -ESSAY: The Inadequacy of American Power (Michael Mandelbaum, September/October 2002, Foreign Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Bad Statesman, Good Prophet - President Woodrow Wilson (Michael Mandelbaum, Summer, 2001, The National Interest)
-ESSAY: Why America hates football: The best-selling author of The Meaning of Sport explains (Michael Mandelbaum, August 1, 2004, The Observer)
    -ESSAY: Fight Against 'Evil' Communism (Michael Mandelbaum, June 8, 2004, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: Peace Is in Progress for India-Pakistan (Michael Mandelbaum, March 9, 2004, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: Europe's Splashes Will Ripple Here (Michael Mandelbaum, December 22, 2003, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: Iraq Doesn't Fit Vietnam Picture (Michael Mandelbaum, October 31, 2003, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: Mideast Peace Depends On Arafat Ouster (Michael Mandelbaum, May 15, 2003, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: A Free Iraq Is Possible but Difficult (Michael Mandelbaum, March 5, 2003, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: U.S., Europe Bound to Disagree (Michael Mandelbaum, February 7, 2003, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: Iraq, Not N. Korea, Must be Target (Michael Mandelbaum, January 3, 2003, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: A Hot War Led to a Cold Peace in the Mideast (Michael Mandelbaum, June 25, 2002, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: U.S. Fans Terrorism by Pressuring Israel (Michael Mandelbaum, March 19, 2002, Newsday)
    -ESSAY: Kashmir - the Perpetual Tinderbox (Michael Mandelbaum, February 22, 2002, Newsday)
-LECTURE: The Great Game Then and Now (Michael Mandelbaum, March 12,1998, Address to the Conference on Oil and Gas in the Caspian Sea Region)
    -ESSAY: Lessons of the Next Nuclear War (Michael Mandelbaum, March/April 1995, Foreign Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Ending the Cold War (Michael Mandelbaum, Spring 1989, Foreign Affairs)
    -ESSAY: Remembrance of Ball Games Past (Michael Mandelbaum,
    -ESSAY: The Future of Nationalism (Michael Mandelbaum, Fall 1999, The National Interest)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Michael Mandelbaum: "The Meaning of Sports" (Diane Rehm Show, 6/30/04)
    -LECTURE: Laura Blanche Jackson Lecture: Dr. Michael Mandelbaum (Baylor University, April 15, 2004)
    -WEBCAST: The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy and Free Markets in the 21st Century ( Edward Djerejian, Michael Mandelbaum, January 24, 2003, Baker Hall, Rice University)
    -INTERVIEW: ''Foolish Consistency'' on North Korea and Iraq Could Become ''Hobgoblin of Failed Foreign Policy,'': Interviewee: Michael Mandelbaum (Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, December 31, 2002, CFR)
    -LECTURE: The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century: Michael Mandelbaum, Ph.D. (Remarks to the Open Forum, Washington, DC, September 18, 2002)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: US: ready to go solo?: Will the US invade Iraq without the backing of allies? (In a HARDtalk interview on 23 August, Michael Mandelbaum, US foreign policy expert, talks to Tim Sebastian)
    -INTERVIEW: EAST MEETS WEST (Online Newshour, DECEMBER 11, 1996, PBS)
    -DISCUSSION: Bosnia B What's In It For Us? (Think Tank, 6/9/1995, PBS)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: What might a post-war Iraq look like?: Author Michael Mandelbaum (David Gardner, March 21, 2003, The Motley Fool)
    -REVIEW: of
    -ARCHIVES: "michael mandelbaum" (Council on Foreign Relations)
    -ARCHIVES: Michael Mandelbaum (Project Syndicate)
    -ARCHIVES: "michael mandelbaum" (NPR)
    -ARCHIVES: "Michael Mandelbaum"< (Find Arcticles)
    -REVIEW: of The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World���s Government in the 21st Century by Michael Mandelbaum (Anatol Lieven, American Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of The Case for Goliath (John Gray, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Case for Goliath (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of
-REVIEW: of The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century By Michael Mandelbaum (JOSEPH DORMAN, Forward)
    -REVIEW: of The Ideas That Conquered the World (Daniel Pipes New York Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Ideas That Conquered the World (Patrick J. Garrity, Claremont Review of Books)
-REVIEW: of The Ideas That Conquered the World (John Locke Foundation)
    -REVIEW: of The Ideas That Conquered the World (Walter A. McDougall, The National Interest)
    -REVIEW: of The Ideas That Conquered the World (LCDR Youssef Aboul-Enein, USN, Marine Corps Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of The Ideas That Conquered the World ( David C. Hendrickson, World Policy Journal)
    -REVIEW: of The New Russian Foreign Policy, edited by Michael Mandelbaum (Lisa Bokwa, E-merge)
    -REVIEW: of THE MEANING OF SPORTS: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football and Basketball and What They See When They Do By Michael Mandelbaum (Pete Hamill, NY times Book Review)

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