In This Review

The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the Twenty-first Century
The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the Twenty-first Century
By Michael Mandelbaum
PublicAffairs, 2005, 320 pp.

Mandelbaum provides a useful reminder that the United States has played a critical role in building and sustaining the postwar global order. His contention is that this role is best described not as empire, but rather as a form of government. And it is a role that Americans did not aspire to play and that the world does not fully appreciate. The book echoes the thesis, advanced by Niall Ferguson and others, that the enlightened exercise of U.S. power has helped create a secure and prosperous global system -- a liberal hegemony that provides reassurance, public goods, and frameworks for cooperation. Some readers will bristle at the U.S.-centric account of global order. Others will find the theoretical underpinning of the argument a bit skimpy: it does not probe very deeply into the causes of what might be seen as the current crisis of this U.S.-led order or explore the significance of Americans' own ambivalence toward the rules and institutions of global governance. But the book is insightful in tracing decades of U.S. leadership and in describing the United States' long-standing effort to prevent nuclear proliferation, a danger that would surely grow even more ominous if Washington were to retreat from its security responsibilities. Mandelbaum concludes that he does not know how long the United States will provide the world with government, but he is sure of three things when it comes to other people's attitudes toward American hegemony: "They will not pay for it; they will continue to criticize it; and they will miss it when it's gone."