Obama's Abrogation of Responsibility

Guilt by association is weak adjudicatory framework, but that's not true of guilt by active association. America is rightly experiencing some of the Flotilla Massacre fallout. As Israel's patron, protector and enabler, Israeli actions mean American responsibility.

I'm beginning to think that the Israeli-perpetrated Flotilla Massacre is a game-changer (Israel's Soweto?). And I like Dan Drezner's analogy that America is to Israel as China is to North Korea. But there is one very important difference -- China is an ascendant global force, while American influence is dwindling.

As I've written before, I think that decline is due in part of the failures of American monetary policy, martial overextension, and opportunistic regional state powers. The deregulatory failures of American monetary policy are the responsibility of everyone who's had a hand in engineering the American financial regulatory framework over the past thirty years (that's every president since Jimmy Carter and other heavyweights like Chris Dodd and Alan Greenspan).

George W. Bush started, and Barack Obama has escalated three unwinnable wars (GWOT, Iraq, Afghanistan). And Barack Obama has now started a new war in Pakistan (or is it an extension of the GWOT?). My point isn't that George W. Bush and Barack Obama shouldn't be waging wars arbitrarily -- it's that waging wars is just very expensive, especially when they're on the other side of the world.

And finally, states mostly act to enhance their global influence and prestige. When the global policeman's (bully) cocksure swagger looks increasingly like a belabored stagger, you seize the moment. So Iran will get the bomb, Russia will exert increasing control over historical Soviet states (and Western Europe too, probably), China will increasingly dictate the terms of economic codependence, Turkey will grab the moral mantle, and Brazil will continue to challenge the Monroe doctrine.

The Flotilla Massacre forced me to rethink my first analysis of American decline. I realized that I missed a crucial element: the willful abdication of national responsibility by the American political leadership.

Barack Obama is an intelligent person who reads deeply and widely. I take it for granted that the American president has access to all of the information you and I do, and more. And while I accept that his time is valuable, the presidency is at core a decision-making job. As the Decider-in-Chief, Obama can't afford to not know things.

Here are some things Barack Obama can't afford to not know:

1. Israel is a strategic liability;

2. Israel's status as a liability is not static. It is getting to be a greater and greater liability (this is an important point. Turkey, a NATO ally is increasingly at odds with America due to Israel's action);

3. The Israel drag on America increases more and more as America declines (as America shrinks, that drag is felt more acutely);

4. Your job as the American president is to do what's best for America (i.e., forestall American decline);

If I could graph the American-decline-to-Israel-liability-relationship I'd draw two lines, one representing American decline (AD) and the other representing Israel's liability value (IL). The AD line would start at some arbitrary point high up on the Y-axis, while the IL line would start at the X-Y intercept (zero liability, although that was never true). The X-axis represents time in this case. So over time, the AD line gets drawn out horizontally and develops a negative slope (America is declining), while the IL line develops a positive slope (increasing liability). The point where the two lines cross ought to be the sweet spot where America can no longer afford to indulge Israel; the rational outcome in this case. I'd argue that we've been fast approaching the AD-IL intersection, if we haven't reached it already.

But Barack Obama's abrogation of responsibility acts as a wildcard here. Put differently, we just can't know objectively when Israel will cost too much to maintain -- the sweet spot exists in theory only. That's because the willful refusal to safeguard America against another country's political misadventures belies policy-making irrationality. American leaders seem content to crash and burn with their client state.

Viewed through another lens however, Barack Obama's abdication of national responsibility becomes more understandable, rational even. To the extent that Barack Obama's job is to get reelected, his behavior makes sense. America is second to nothing, except Barack Obama's political ambitions. Of course there are structural pressures on the American president, but presidential prerogative is still his own. His refusal to correct course because of the impact on midterm or presidential elections is what I'm talking about.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Barack Obama is the like the AIG CEO who, upon realizing his short-term bonus potential, signed off on the underwriting of what we now know were toxic asset-linked CDOs. The shareholders -- you and me -- are hurting. The irony is that by pursuing toxic policies, Obama is creating a state that few people should want to lead; after all, who wants to preside over the fall of Rome?

A version of this post was originally published at Mondoweiss.