Immanuel Wallerstein's The Eagle Has Crash Landed (from last summer.. ah, summer) is worth a second look.
Right now, the U.S. economy seems relatively weak, even more so considering the exorbitant military expenses associated with hawk strategies. Moreover, Washington remains politically isolated; virtually no one (save Israel) thinks the hawk position makes sense or is worth encouraging. Other nations are afraid or unwilling to stand up to Washington directly, but even their foot-dragging is hurting the United States.
Yet the U.S. response amounts to little more than arrogant arm-twisting. Arrogance has its own negatives. Calling in chips means leaving fewer chips for next time, and surly acquiescence breeds increasing resentment. Over the last 200 years, the United States acquired a considerable amount of ideological credit. But these days, the United States is running through this credit even faster than it ran through its gold surplus in the 1960s.
One example of this can be found here: For Bush, support for Iraq war comes with a price tag
Since the Bush administration has committed itself to war before getting the necessary support, it is now in the position of needing to pay for that support, or call off the invasion, risking a singular loss of credibility. So the price to the US government in both cash and influence is much higher. I think that's what Wallerstein means by "calling in chips means leaving fewer chips for next time, and surly acquiescence breeds increasing resentment."
If this is indeed the case, the pricetag for US dominance is going to keep climbing, steadily. But as Wallerstein crucially points out, accepting this is the only way that the US won't cause a lot of damage on the way down.
Cue a few bits from a recent informal report from a journalist who got inside access to the World Economic Forum:
The global economy is in very very very very bad shape. Last year when WEF met here in New York all I heard was, "Yeah, it's bad, but recovery is right around the corner". This year "recovery" was a word never uttered. Fear was palpable -- fear of enormous fiscal hysteria.
I learned that the US economy is the primary drag on the global economy, and only a handful of nations have sufficient internal growth to thrive when the US is stagnating.
Not surprisingly, the business community was in no mood to hear about a war in Iraq. Except for diehard American Republicans, a few Brit Tories and some Middle East folks the WEF was in a foul, angry anti-American mood. Last year the WEF was a lovefest for America. This year the mood was so ugly that it reminded me of what it felt like to be
an American overseas in the Reagan years. The rich -- whether they are French or Chinese or just about anybody -- are livid about the Iraq crisis primarily because they believe it will sink their financial fortunes.