After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over



That dawn marked the ultimate triumph of the liberal democratic idea. It promised an era of Western dominance led by a pre-eminent America, the world’s last remaining superpower.

And so it was for a decade as the community of democracies expanded, first into Eastern Europe and former Soviet colonies. The U.S. was so dominant that when, on Dec. 31, 1999, it gave up one of the most prized geostrategic assets on the globe — the Panama Canal — no one even noticed.

That era is over. The autocracies are back and rising; democracy is on the defensive; the U.S. is in retreat. Look no further than Aleppo. A Western-backed resistance to a local tyrant — he backed by a resurgent Russia, an expanding Iran and an array of proxy Shiite militias — is on the brink of annihilation. Russia drops bombs; America issues statements.

What better symbol for the end of that heady liberal-democratic historical moment. The West is turning inward and going home, leaving the field to the rising authoritarians — Russia, China and Iran.

The European Union, the largest democratic club on earth, could itself soon break up as Brexit-like movements spread through the continent. At the same time, its members dash with unseemly haste to reopen economic ties with a tyrannical and aggressive Iran.

As for China, the other great challenger to the post-Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines has openly defected to the Chinese side. Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States.

The West’s retreat began with Obama, who reacted to perceived post-9/11 overreach by abandoning Iraq, offering appeasement (“reset”) to Russia and accommodating Iran.

Donald Trump wants to continue the pull back, though for entirely different reasons. Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us — undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices.

Trump’s is not a new argument. As the Cold War was ending in 1990, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the quintessential neoconservative, argued that we should now become “a normal country in a normal time.” It was time to give up the 20th-century burden of maintaining world order and of making superhuman exertions on behalf of universal values.

A quarter-century later, we face the same temptation, but this time under more challenging circumstances. Worldwide jihadism has been added to the fight, and we enjoy nothing like the dominance we exercised over conventional adversaries during our 1990s holiday from history.

We may choose repose, but we won’t get it.


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