ANCIENT ANALOGIES notwithstanding, no one would seriously suggest that the United States should attempt to directly rule the rest of the world, and there is no indication that the rest of the world would let it. But the United States could manage its empire more effectively, which is something that the rest of the world would welcome. A winning strategy for low-cost, effective management of empire would be for America to work with and through the system of global governance that America itself has set up, rather than systematically seeking to blunt its own instruments of power.
For example, the United States was instrumental in setting up the International Criminal Court, yet Washington will not place itself under the jurisdiction of the ICC and will not allow its citizens to be subject to the jurisdiction of the ICC. Similarly, though the United States is willing to use UN Security Council resolutions to censure its enemies, it is not willing to accept negotiated limits on its own freedom of action. From a purely military-political standpoint, the United States is sufficiently powerful to go it alone. But from a broader realist standpoint that takes account of the full costs and unintended consequences of military action, that is a suboptimal strategy. Had the United States listened to dissenting opinions on the Security Council before the invasion of Iraq, it would have saved hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. The United States might similarly have done well to have heeded Russian reservations over Libya, as it ultimately did in responding to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
A more responsible (and consequently more effective) United States would subject itself to the international laws and agreements that it expects others to follow. It would genuinely seek to reduce its nuclear arsenal in line with its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It would use slow but sure police procedures to catch terrorists, instead of quick but messy drone strikes. It would disavow all forms of torture. All of these policies would save American treasure while increasing American power. They would also increase America’s ability to say “no” to its allies when they demand expensive U.S. commitments to protect their interests abroad.