In yesterday's NY Times, Martin Walker reviewed The Case for Goliath, by Michael Mandelbaum, about the American hegemony that has led to "a magnificently benign loop" in world affairs:
... [L]ate at night when the Americans have gone home to prepare for their puritanically early start to the day, the Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians take a second glass of Cognac and imagine how awful the world could be if someone else were to take the place of the United States as the global hegemon.
Eastern Europeans tell sad anecdotes about living under Russian dominance.
Western Europeans shudder at the thought of Germans running the benign and virtual empire that the United States has maintained and expanded for the past 60 years. (And they murmur that within the European Union the French are already being difficult enough.)
The Latin Americans have their hands full with the arrogance of next-door neighbors like Brazil without wanting to see it become even more dominant.
The idea of a Chinese hegemony sends shivers down the backs of all, particularly the Japanese and Indians; somebody usually mentions the mournful example of Tibet.
The Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis react equally unhappily to the idea of India as superpower.
. . . [Mandelbaum] explains coolly and clearly the various ways in which the United States now functions as a global government, offering the planet the services of physical security, commercial regulation, financial stability and legal recourse that are normally provided by national governments to their citizens.
Non-Americans naturally do not like to admit this, even as they enjoy the results, and American leaders do not like to spell it out, least of all to the voters who pay for it.
But the evidence is clear. The network of military alliances (like NATO) and trade pacts (like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and international organizations (like the United Nations and World Bank and Group of 8) that the United States was mainly responsible for bringing to life has become an American-led global management system. It is familiar, inclusive and fairly unobtrusive. Its institutions provide a reasonable role for lesser powers, which is why the NATO alliance of consent survived and expanded while the wretched conscripts of the Warsaw Pact rebelled.
Above all, this system [of American hegemony] has been a remarkable and seductive economic success. Having built the tripartite trading structure of the modern world (North America, Western Europe and Japan) to enrich its citizens and allies and sustain the cold war, the generous Americans have expanded it to include the Asian tigers and Eastern Europeans. Now 1.3 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians are clambering up the food chain to prosperity. They deal in dollars, raise money in the New York and London financial markets, generate big trade surpluses with the United States and then send their brighter and most ambitious children to American graduate and business schools, where they are exposed to the creeping osmosis of the Western value system.
This is a magnificently benign loop, and will continue to be so once those American-trained graduates figure out how the biosphere is going to handle tens of millions of Asians living the American lifestyle, with their own cars and air conditioning and fast food.
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[T]here is no credible alternative to the American role as linchpin and guarantor of the global system. Nobody else has the political will, the military and economic clout and the ability to generate sufficient international consent.
Rising regional powers like China, Brazil and the European Union may be jostling to win some more room to maneuver, and the global crowd may be grousing more fiercely about the performance of the American Goliath, but as Mandelbaum shows, the most serious threats are being generated at home.
This is what worries the players of the late-night parlor games, because however long the American-led system may last, they would most fervently agree with Mandelbaum's three closing predictions: "They will not pay for it; they will continue to criticize it; and they will miss it when it is gone."
(Emphasis and extra paragraphing added.)