by Bill O’Grady
As our regular readers know, we have been focusing for several years on the issue of the uncertainty surrounding America’s superpower role. It has been our position that the U.S. has lacked a coherent foreign policy since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s. Although we cannot definitely say that a new policy is in place, the trappings of one does appear to be emerging.
Historians tend to adopt one of two methods to analyze history. One method is the “Great Man” theory, which looks at history as a progression of key personalities that change and shape the world. The other is the “Great Wave” theory, which suggests that social, economic and political factors work their way through history and individuals simply play their role by supporting or opposing the wave. I lean toward the latter. Although exceptional people matter, history is littered with great people trying to make changes at the wrong time and failing miserably. Changes that the “failure” had attempted may eventually get made because the timing was right. Given this position on how history unfolds, the personalities matter less and thus, this is why I don’t focus on people as much as trends.
The focus of this paper is how policy seems to be evolving and why; if this assessment is correct, who wins the next election has only a marginal impact. Instead, it makes more sense to concentrate on the trends that are emerging and project how they are likely to evolve.
Although this report details my own analysis of emerging trends, it is greatly supported by the research of others. I want to especially mention George Friedman of Stratfor. His book on the next decade and his firm’s recent decade update were instrumental in this analysis.
This will be a four-part report. Part I will begin with the evolution of U.S. foreign policy, focusing on the 25-year cycle pattern that has exhibited itself between the adaptations to new circumstances. Part II will recap the superpower role and the American adaptation of that role. Part III will examine why the current policy configuration is no longer adequate for the task. It will analyze the economic and military costs of the current policy and argue that the costs have become too high to maintain the current role. At the same time, it will conclude that no other nation can replace the U.S. in the hegemon role. Part IV will discuss the emerging policy configuration, including its key features that will allow the U.S. to maintain some degree of global influence and yet also make the costs more manageable. This analysis will include the winners and losers in this new order. And finally, as always, we will conclude Part IV with market ramifications, which are many and significant if our view is correct.