My friend, Christopher A. Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, explains to readers at nationalinterest.org that “umpires don’t play the game. They don’t swing the bats or throw the balls.”
It was never realistic to think that a single country, even one as great and powerful as the United States, could manage the international system all by itself, and never make any mistakes. But that hasn’t stopped primacists from claiming God-like powers for the policymakers at the White House and in Foggy Bottom. Recall Madeleine Albright’s famous claim to the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer: ”If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”
It is all well and good to love one’s country, and Trump’s suggestion that America has slipped to second-class status warrants a strong response. But to imply that the United States never makes mistakes, and always prevails, is nonsense on stilts. Like any umpire, even the best ones, we’ve gotten some calls wrong.
But there is another flaw at the heart of the idea that the United States can and should be the world’s ump: Umpires don’t play the game. They don’t swing the bats or throw the balls. They don’t run the bases. They wear different colored uniforms. They are, by definition, disinterested in the outcome of the contest. They can think that Alex Rodriguez is a horrible human being—but that doesn’t matter; if he hits the ball out of the park, he still gets credit for the home run.
This essential condition of umpiring—disinterestedness—obviously doesn’t describe the United States’ conduct in world affairs.
Christopher A. Preble is the author of The Power Problem; How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free.
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