Imperial Decline: Time Lag

In a recent piece I tried to lower the expectations of some of my friends in the reality-based community of foreign policy realists that a President Obama would place the Israel/Palestine issue on the top of his policy agenda. Some of these friends interpreted my analysis as an argument against possible U.S. efforts to play a more active diplomatic role in the dormant "peace process." But forecasting a rainy day doesn't mean that you are hoping for a bad weather. My geo-political forecast was based on the my reading of the current global balance of power and U.S. domestic politics.

First, the combination of the mess in Iraq/Afghanistan and the entire collapse of the neoconservative agenda plus the economic crisis have diminished the power (which includes public support) of the U.S. to shape global events, including the Mideast. And the organized support for Israel in Washington has become a form of rent seeking in a sense of capturing monopoly privileges in determining U.S. foreign policy and making it difficult to resist it (which tends of happen to imperial powers when domestic players compete to control its growing resources abroad).

Now... it seems to me that because of inertia or vested interests, members of the elites always fail to recognize the eroding influence of a declining great power. Economists refer to Recognition lag when they discuss the time lag between when an actual economic shock, such as sudden boom or bust occurs, and when it is recognized by economists, central bankers and the government. A similar time lag may explain why so many pundits are continuing to demand and/or expect the Obama Administration to reassert U.S. influence abroad and "do something" about this or that (depending on one's favorite foreign policy agenda).

Interestingly enough, in a foreign policy seminar I led a while ago I asked my students to conduct a content analysis of how the leading powers were covered by the major international dailies in the aftermath of WWII. They were astonished to discover that until the mid 1950's both Great Britain and France (by then bankrupted economic and military powers) were described as "great powers" more times than the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Only in the late 1950's was "great" being dropped as an adjective when discussing the Brits and the French and "super" was applied to the Americans and the Soviets. A example of recognition lag in foreign policy.

I certainly don't believe that the U.S. occupies now the same position that Britain and France did after WWII. But America ceased to be the only-remaining-superpower or the Leader of the Free World. And I doubt very much that if Washington at the height of the Unipolar Moment in 2000 and a time when the Israelis and the Palestinians were less radicalized and led by strong and moderate leaderships, couldn't get an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, that it would be able to do that today even under a president who probably wants to see some progress in that arena.

Sorry, guys. But the weather is going to be bad and not because I made it bad.


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