America as world umpire

Is it time to re-think America's role in the world? Is America a force for good or is its international involvement the source of many problems plaguing the world?

To answer those questions, the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary, invited Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, to give a presentation of a documentary film, based on her book, "American Umpire."

Cobbs, holds the Melbern Glasscock Chair in American History at Texas A&M University and is a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. She is an historian, commentator, and author of six books. She is credited as the screenwriter of the film adaptation of her book "American Umpire."

Harvard University Press, the publisher of Cobbs' book, in a press release states that the United States is frequently called an empire, occasionally a benign empire, often a destructive one. "Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman asserts instead that, because of its unusual federal structure, America has performed the role of umpire since 1776, compelling adherence to rules that gradually earned collective approval."

Her interpretation of America's role in the world goes back through George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt to the present. "The 'Western' values that America is often accused of imposing were, in fact, she asserts, the result of a global shift. The rise of three values: access to opportunity, arbitration of disputes, and transparency in government and business. What makes the United States distinctive is not that it embraces these practices but its willingness to persuade and even coerce others to comply."

To play the role of an umpire imposes significant burdens on America, including military spending that according to Yale historian Paul Kennedy, unless curtailed, would bankrupt the country.

"One of the great things America has going for it is that we don't aspire to possesses an empire," Cobbs said in an interview with the Gazette. "So we don't need to hang on until we are exhausted. But any great country can spend beyond its budget, and that is a grave danger. Planning for the future means making sure we are on a sustainable path."

Reflecting on how America is viewed in the world, Cobbs said: "It is remarkable that the countries that lost the Second World War continue to welcome American soldiers. Germany and Japan are strong, successful nations. Their desire to keep GIs in their territory reveals the trust with which they and most people still view us. Even when we make the wrong calls, other countries seem to prefer us as umpire than anyone else. They knew we don't want their territory or resources, just a safe, peaceful playing field for everyone."

Is the United States an "indispensable" nation as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is quoted saying in Cobbs' film?

"Northern Ireland suffered from terrorist violence for many decades. The Good Friday agreement of 1998, negotiated by the Clinton administration, helped end one of the major conflicts of the 20th Century. It is an example of the indispensable role that the United States sometimes plays. Our film argues, however, that other countries' participation in sustaining peace is also indispensable," she said.

Looking back at the past 300 years in American history, Cobbs said: "I see the elections of 2016 as terribly critical. This is a time to improve and strengthen our alliances by making them more mutual, not to ditch them. The United States has done an amazing job since 1945 of helping to build a world community – a task to which numerous peoples around the world contributed. That's something to be proud of, cherish, and build upon."

Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com

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