Psychologists have a concept they call "cognitive dissonance". It refers to those occasions when one of the senses is signalling one thing and another of the senses is signalling the opposite. An example would be something that smells bad but tastes delicious.
In a recent trip to the US, the first in two years, I experienced cognitive dissonance. I spent the time in three different places: New York City and Long Island, Washington, DC and a resort in northern Florida where my wife Barbara was attending a conference.
I had been nervous about the trip because of all the negative things that had happened in the US during that two-year period, especially, but not limited to coronavirus on the one hand, and the destructive riots that took place across the country after the murder of George Floyd by a policeman in Minneapolis and their aftermath.
Much to my surprise, therefore, my experiences during the trip in all three places, were almost universally normal to very pleasant. Despite very hot weather (in DC people's shoe soles were sticking to the sidewalk) everything seemed quite normal and indeed, there was a feeling of cheerfulness and camaraderie in the air, having nothing to do with differences in race or ethnicity.
I had been told by friends not to wear a kippah in the street, and I did as suggested, but after a while I felt I was being silly, since plenty of men were wearing them apparently to no ill-effect, and certainly no harassment.
At the same time I was seeing this, I was hearing from almost everyone I had a meaningful conversation with, that the situation in the US was very bad and getting worse. These conversations included analysts and commentators of the first rank, such as David Goldman on the political/social/economic/financial situation and Steve Bryen on the military situation, as well as a seminar at the Center for Security Policy and a meeting with the board of the Center for Economic and Social Justice, both of which I had been associated with.
All of these people described a society torn apart by fear and hatred, an economic and financial outlook with hyper-inflation and eventual collapse inevitable, uncontrolled massive infiltration of the border with Mexico, loss of the technological race to China, extreme vulnerability to cyber-attacks on vital infrastructure, and an aging and demoralized military facing a rapidly-increasing and improving Chinese counterpart.
It's hard to argue with the pessimists. The US has been spending money like a drunken sailor since the administration of G. W. Bush; there have been increasingly-destructive cyber-attacks; the educational system is undergoing rapid decline in quality, content and standards, etc. etc.
Assuming what I was hearing was accurate and what I was seeing was a temporary illusion of normality and social concord, what does it mean for Israel?
Israel must become ever-more self-reliant, politically, diplomatically, and militarily, and this must include continued and strengthened ties with some of the Arab countries, successful balancing of relations with countries such as Russia, China and India, and above all, addressing the social, political and economic divisions within Israeli society.
This is not a call to reduce friendly relations with the US, as long as the US is friendly to Israel. It is an admonition that all indications are that the US is a power in decline, but by no means destined to become negligible. Israel will require all its brainpower (aside from natural gas its only resource) to navigate the elaborate maze of the immediate and medium-term future world.
Dr. Norman Bailey is professor of Economic Statecraft at the Galilee International Management Institute, and adjunct professor at the Institute of World Politics, Washington DC. Dr. Bailey was a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Reagan administration and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on August 17, 2021
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