Squandering Triumph: The West Botched the Post-Cold War World

Courtesy Reuters

Something has gone terribly wrong. When the Cold War ended, the era of struggle was supposed to end with it, and the period of peace and prosperity was to begin. For a time, optimism did prevail. The Warsaw Pact suddenly disbanded, the Soviet Union itself disintegrated, and Wilson won his nearly century-long ideological struggle with Lenin. Virtually everywhere, collectivism and centralization gave way to democracy and decentralization. Peace began to break out in the most unlikely places -- bloody Central America, stalemated Southern Africa, traumatized Southeast Asia, and even the embittered Middle East. The world economy delivered a cornucopia of goods to the planet's peoples. No other country could now present a military challenge to the United States, which also seemed, in effect, the institutionalized stabilizer of the globalized world economy. Culturally, too, the world apparently was coming together. Other countries wanted to embrace American ways. They did not have to be forced to adopt them. The attractiveness of American society to others -- a form of what the political scientist Joseph S. Nye, Jr. calls "soft power" -- was also a force for peace.

The essay that best captured the mood of the day -- an intense collective American desire for dominance without conflict -- was Francis Fukuyama's controversial "The End of History?" He argued that with the end of the tense Cold War ideological battle, liberal democracy combined with open market economics became the only model a state could follow and would prevail everywhere. America could entrench its preeminence with scant effort. We would move into a boring age of economic calculation after a conquest both painless and profitable.

America's foreign policy over the last six years has been fundamentally Fukuyaman. Both government officials and most of the chattering class alike have believed that any government that failed to follow the lone path to the future would be left on the ash heap of history. With the end of communism, there was no conceptual alternative. Moreover, the global economy's

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