by Daniel Larison
August 23, 2016
The American Conservative

Christopher Preble explains why the U.S. can’t be an international “umpire”:

This essential condition of umpiring—disinterestedness—obviously doesn’t describe the United States’ conduct in world affairs.

The partiality and inconsistency that the U.S. displays in upholding the “rules-based international order” is obvious to anyone that has paid close attention to the news in recent years. When certain states break the “rules,” they face sanctions, opprobrium, and possibly even military attack from the U.S. and our allies, and when others–most often our client states–engage in similar or worse behavior they are shielded and aided by some of the same governments. Destabilizing behavior by one set of states is treated as a threat to “world order,” while the same or worse behavior is either ignored or praised as contributing to “stability.” A massacre in Egypt that might have prompted a U.S.-led war for regime change in another country doesn’t have any meaningful consequences for the government responsible for the killing. International aggression by multiple states against Yemen not only doesn’t lead to punitive measures against the states carrying out the attack and blockade, but the U.S. and other Western governments also aid and abet the war from the start.

When clients, usually misidentified as “allies,” commit outrageous crimes against their own people or neighboring countries, the U.S. tolerates and sometimes even facilitates and rewards that behavior. The U.S. will hold other major powers to the strict letter of the law, but will trample on it when it gets in the way. Of course, this isn’t new or unusual for a major power, but it reminds us that enforcement of the so-called “rules-based international order” is often arbitrary and selective and frequently permits flagrant violations of the “rules” so long as the government doing the violating is considered to be on “our” side.