The September 12 Paradigm

America, the World, and George W. Bush

In a historic address to the nation and joint session of Congress Sept. 20, 2001, President Bush pledges to defend America's freedom against the fear of terrorism. White House photo by Eric Draper

The world does not look today the way most anticipated it would after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Great-power competition was supposed to give way to an era of geoeconomics. Ideological competition between democracy and autocracy was supposed to end with the "end of history." Few expected that the United States' unprecedented power would face so many challenges, not only from rising powers but also from old and close allies. How much of this fate was in the stars, and how much in Americans themselves? And what, if anything, can the United States do about it now?

Hard as it may be to recall, the United States' problems with the world -- or, rather, the world's problems with the United States -- started before George W. Bush took office. French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine complained about the "hyperpower" in 1998. In 1999, Samuel Huntington argued in these pages that much of the world saw the Unites States as a "rogue superpower," "intrusive, interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist, hegemonic, hypocritical."

Although Huntington and others blamed the Clinton administration's constant boasting about "American power and American virtue," the Clintonites did not invent American self-righteousness. The source of the problem was the geopolitical shift that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subtle psychological effects of this shift on the way the United States and other powers perceived themselves and one another. By the late 1990s, talk of a crisis in transatlantic relations had already begun, and despite all the finger-pointing, the underlying cause was simple: the allies did not need one another as much as before. The impulse to cooperate during the Cold War had been one part enlightened virtue and three parts cold necessity. Mutual dependence, not mutual affection, had been the bedrock of the alliance. When the Soviet threat disappeared, the two sides were free to go their own ways.

And to some extent, they did. Europe, liberated from fear of the Soviet Union, became consumed with the hard work

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