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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Burdens of Friendship

One of the most difficult things about being a great power is managing relationships with friends and allies. They can make life awkward, even dangerous, especially if they have touchy relations with one another, or with the friends of one’s enemy. Many a war has been started or threatened by mixed messages being sent among these so-called second tier powers. Witness Corinth, Poland and, most recently, Georgia.

The problem now is especially acute for the United States as it evolves from a superpower to a great power. The former condition is easier. Friendships are rougher to manage when the overall logic of the relationship is in flux. Perceptions of prestige rule.

Thus it is no surprise that both the Israelis and the Saudis are broadcasting displeasure with their American ally. Everyone seems to feel slighted, even Barack Obama, reportedly, by his own staff.

Talleyrand knows one thing: playing evenhanded won’t solve anything. It just makes everyone mad at you.

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