Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Last Great Hope On least one professor admits it

The follwing article originated January 19, year after Inauguration Day. You didn't read it in any of the mainstream media outlets; it was most likely restricted to an Internet posting and more than likely not read by too many. The commentary is pretty much on target with the author's projections some of which mirrored my own thoughts. I have underlined those areas that should be stressful to every American. ~ Norman E. Hooben


The State of the Union

By Professor Jean-Pierre Lehmann – January 2010


Chemin de Bellerive 23

PO Box 915,

CH-1001 Lausanne


Tel: +41 21 618 01 11

Fax: +41 21 618 07 07



“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today”

As probably everyone will recognize, this is an excerpt from the famous speech delivered by Martin Luther King on August 28, 1963. I was there, it was on the eve of my 18th birthday, and I can confirm that – apart from my marriage and the birth of my children – it was the most electrifying moment of my life that left a deep and lasting influence. In 1963, however, when segregation, discrimination and prejudices were still rife, it would have been impossible even for the wildest dreamer to imagine that in 45 years there would be a black president in the White House. Barack Obama’s election was the crescendo of the American dream!

Obama took office exactly one year ago and is preparing to give his State of the Union address next Tuesday. The State of the Union is indeed in transition. As noted in Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World, the absolute and relative power of the US will decline over time, and hence it will no longer be able to dominate the planet as it did for most of the last century. Zakaria argues that the US will need to adjust to a new plurilateral world in which it will be first among increasingly equals. As the unilateralism of the Bush years ultimately forcefully demonstrated, US military power had significant limitations; this will intensify.

Though the US’ soft power is likely to remain supreme – and indeed it has been rebooted by the election of Obama – its economic and military hard power will inevitably deteriorate. So American universities will remain the magnets of the global brain drain, entrepreneurs from Hyderabad, Accra and Kiev will continue to flock to the Silicon Valley with their energy and innovative genius, and American arts and fashions will set the global trends.

On the economic front, however, the frailties of the US will be deeply exposed. The dollar will probably remain the international currency, but only because foreign holders of US treasury bonds will wish it. A Damocles sword held by Chinese, Arabs and others will remain hanging over the erstwhile almighty dollar. The crisis and especially the consequences of the crisis have caused a colossal debt which will seriously hamper the US economy for years to come. The US has been the biggest manufacturing power for a century, a position which not even the Japanese were able to usurp. Though the US can be expected to maintain its competitiveness in a reasonably broad range of high-tech sectors, this year China will overtake the US as the world’s largest manufacturer. China’s rising manufacturing competitiveness refers not only to low and medium technology products, but increasingly to high tech as well, notably in a number of leading “green technologies” where it is surpassing the US – i.e. in clean energy production.

The US’ growing economic vulnerability is compounded by the erosion of its military power. And the military costs in turn exacerbate the economic situation – the Iraq invasion has been estimated so far to have cost close to $600 billion, for which there have been no positive returns. The fiasco of the Iraq invasion has also obviously seriously dented US prestige in the world. The US is and can be expected to remain by very far the biggest military power; US defense expenditure is still six to seven times greater than China’s.

While Iraq may remain a quagmire, it is Afghanistan that is likely to end up being a graveyard. Iraq may be chaotic and fraught by the tensions between its three communities – Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds – but at least it does have the semblance of some kind of state, it has infrastructure, a middle class and some highly educated people. Afghanistan has no semblance of a state, it has no infrastructure and the female literacy rate is 12%. Afghanistan possesses some of the world’s worst human development indicators. On the other hand, Afghanistan possesses a proud history of warfare and it proved indomitable in the face of British aggression in the 19th century and Soviet aggression in the 20th.

One of Obama’s most difficult decisions during his first year in office was ordering

additional troops to be sent to Afghanistan, despite resistance from many in his own party. But can the US win in Afghanistan? Before even trying to answer that question, one would need to ask the preliminary question: what is the meaning of “win”? When the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, instead of consolidating its position and seeking to “accomplish its mission”, it rapidly diverted energy and attention away from Afghanistan to Iraq. It has never been able to recover the ground it lost. Thus even if “winning” today means no more than getting rid of the Taliban – and even though in 2002 then Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed that “the Taliban is out of business, permanently” – this is not something the US is likely to accomplish.

Quite apart from the fact that eventually it may be easier for the US to extricate itself from Iraq than Afghanistan, there is the added complication that whereas there is quite a broad consensus of opinion in the US (and of course internationally) that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, this is not the view in respect to Afghanistan. Obama himself has publicly adopted the fairly widely held view that unlike Iraq, which was a war of choice, Afghanistan is a war of necessity.

That Barack Obama should be presiding over the decline of the US is no fault of his own. Indeed, as noted above, his election has rebooted American soft power and if he succeeds in implementing a multilateral policy, in contrast to Bush’s unilateralism, he could considerably assuage the effects of decline. The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference also demonstrated how elusive multilateral policy may be. The overall trend of decline is unlikely to be reversed.

What happens in the US has obviously immense consequences for the rest of the

world. For the last six and more decades, we (non-Americans) have been able to bask under the protective security parasol of the US and feed off the seemingly ever expanding American consumer market. This is a situation we are unlikely ever to see again. We will need to adjust to weaker American economic and military hard power. In fact the irony is that eventually it is perhaps non-Americans rather than Americans who may be most discomforted by a post-American world! Having achieved one American dream with the election of Obama, it will now be necessary to envisage a new dream.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is Professor of International Political Economy at IMD and the Founding Director of The Evian Group. He teaches on the Orchestrating Winning Performance (OWP), Leading the Global Enterprise (LGE) and Mastering Technology Enterprise (MTE) programs. He also teaches on the International Seminar for Top Executives.

Note from Norm:

As the above theme would indicate, Professor Lehmann projects America’s decline as the once center piece of the modern world… Would you agree with that assessment? For what it’s worth, here’s what the good professor said about Europe just six months earlier:

Prof. Jean-Pierre Lehmann, professor at IMD Lausanne and founding director of Evian Group, stressed that Europe has lost its leading position and is no longer the center of universe; moreover, it is in decline in geographical, economic as well as demographic sense. In his opinion, it should become more externally open and internally unified, speak with one voice and see what it can contribute to the world. Source: IEDC


Mark @ Israel said...

Under the administration of our current president, the American government with its undertakings, is going into a downhill direction. This is an era which shows how vulnerable this nation can be.

Storm'n Norm'n said...

Late reply but you're absolutely right!
I'm always sitting on the edge expecting that any day now we'll be under the control of the blue berets (UN)