The long 1990s are finally over, their utopian hopes beyond realisation. The neoconservative fantasy of US global hegemony is discredited, and the neoliberal dream of a UN-led world is also doomedby Michael Lind / November 19, 2006 / Leave a comment
On 20th January 2009, George W Bush, barring his death, resignation or impeachment, will be succeeded by the 44th US president. Whether Republican or Democrat, the next president will not only inherit a number of crises, but will be in a considerably weaker position to deal with them.
Much of America’s weakness will be the result of self-inflicted wounds: the unnecessary invasion of Iraq, along with the Bush administration’s gratuitous insults to allies, its arrogant unilateralism and its hostility to international law. But as tempting as it may be to put all of the blame on the Bush administration, the truth is that most of the trends that will limit American power and influence in the next decade are long-term phenomena produced by economic, demographic and ideological developments beyond the power of the US or any government to influence. The rise of China, the shift in the centre of the world economy to Asia, the growth of neo- mercantilist petro-politics, the spread of Islamism in both militant and moderate forms—these trends are reshaping the world order in ways that neither the US nor any of its allies can do much to control.
In retrospect, we can view the period in US and world history that has just ended as “the long 1990s.” Those years began in euphoria with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and expired in frustration in late 2003, when the swift victory of the US and its allies over Iraq’s armed forces was succeeded by an insurgency that exposed the limits of US power. But even if 9/11 and the Iraq invasion had never occurred, the conventional wisdom of the long 1990s would have crumbled at some point after colliding with reality.
Take the central assumption that at the end of the cold war a bipolar world was replaced by a unipolar one. This was true only in the military dimension—and even there American power was exaggerated. The US has no peers when the task is breaking the conventional armed forces of second and third-tier states like Iraq and Serbia. But when it comes to asymmetric warfare, in the form of campaigns against insurgents like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military, like all conventional militaries, finds itself in the position of a clumsy Goliath trying to quash a nimble and determined David. Stealth bombers and world-class…