Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Empire or umpire?

Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman's American Umpire argues, according to the description of the book on the publisher's website, that the U.S. has acted as an umpire in the world, not an empire. The description says the U.S. has been willing to impose certain rules (which are enumerated in the paragraph) on the world. But then there is this sentence: "The nation has both upheld and violated the rules" (emphasis added). Well in that case, it hasn't been an umpire, has it?

P.s. The author has published an NYT op-ed which I haven't read yet.


Nick said...

Yes, the idea of an 'umpire' seems to presume that the US has no skin in the game itself and is merely arbitrating interactions between other players. That's a bit of a stretch.

LFC said...

Indeed. I'm guessing the wordplay of the book's title was just too much for the author to resist.

JWells said...

Umpires never violate the rules? No skin in the game? What about Tim Donaghy? Nearly every big football match in Europe ends with claims by the losing team that the ref was crooked. Who within the match would be in a better position to lie, cheat, steal, maim, rape, and pillage than the referee herself? And even if there is no malice, penalties for referee malfeasance are rarely stiff enough to discourage it, which sounds awfully familiar to the world of international law. I don't know if the term really applies to the US--I have not read the book either--but I do not think it is a totally out of line metaphor based on this complaint.

LFC said...

J Wells,

Well, here's the meatiest paragraph from the Harvard Univ. Press's description of the book (linked in my post):

"This provocative reinterpretation traces America’s role in the world from the days of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt to the present. Cobbs Hoffman argues that the United States has been the pivot of a transformation that began outside its borders and before its founding, in which nation-states replaced the empires that had dominated history. The 'Western' values that America is often accused of imposing were, in fact, the result of this global shift. 'American Umpire' explores the rise of three values—access to opportunity, arbitration of disputes, and transparency in government and business—and finds that the United States is distinctive not in its embrace of these practices but in its willingness to persuade and even coerce others to comply. But America’s leadership is problematic as well as potent. The nation has both upheld and violated the rules. Taking sides in explosive disputes imposes significant financial and psychic costs. By definition, umpires cannot win."

I know nothing about the author except that she is identified in her NYT column as a professor of American foreign relations at San Diego State Univ. (Hope I remembered that correctly.) So she is an historian, I assume, and her book appears to cover the history of US foreign relations from the beginning to the present (again, I'm assuming, haven't looked at the t.o.c.).

This (hist. of US f.p. from beginning to now) is a much-plowed field (Walter McDougall, W.R. Mead, George Herring, John Kane, to mention a
few, then you go further back and get whole other raft of treatments) so she needs a new argument to justify another bk on this. Have some umpires violated rules and been crooked? Sure. So is it justified as a metaphor? Maybe, maybe not.

Harvard Univ. Press does not usu. publish crap so I'm sure there is some merit in the bk. I'm trying to read and review another bk at the moment so prob won't get to this one for a while, if ever.
Any offers to review it here (and cross-post anywhere else) will be entertained. ;)

LFC said...

Btw, did you change your diss topic? Appears to be about US foreign aid, from your site. In a comment here about a year ago (which I recalled and just checked), you said it was on "the lack of an int'l structural theory of domestic political (dis)order." Nothing wrong w changing topics of course but I was just curious. (Nosy? Whatever.)

LFC said...

Re rules: there's Krasner's argument in Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy that some basic rules/norms of the int'l system are both enduring and violated. fwiw. I'm definitely not questioning that rules are violated, incl by their leading proponents. (Iraq war, of course, for most blatant recent ex.)

JWells said...

Re. diss. topic: Wow, nice to know someone is interested! More of an operationalization/narrowing down. Focusing on US aid as a sort of proxy for the system, at least the hegemon. Might generalize in later work.

LFC said...

Thks for your comments and reply.