An Autopsy of the Last Decades of American Global Leadership
By Gideon Rose
A generation ago, the United States was confidently leading the world into what was supposed to be a new millennium of peace, prosperity, freedom, and community. Now, the globe is heading into turbulence, and the United States is a Leonard Cohen song; that’s how it goes, and everybody knows. How could things fall apart so quickly?
In retrospect, the decline appears inevitable. What seems to need explaining today are Washington’s fin-de-siècle fever dreams of lasting benign U.S. hegemony, not the current reality of perpetual conflict at home and abroad. But those who lived through the era know that nothing was written, that history could have played out differently. So we decided to offer an autopsy of the last decades of American global leadership—the years when U.S. elites squandered the inheritance and good name bequeathed to them.
Fareed Zakaria starts by tracing the course of the United States’ post–Cold War hegemony—rising from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the fall of Baghdad, sinking ever since. External shocks and challenges hurt, poor strategic choices hurt even more, and indifference most of all. Larry Diamond follows with a look at trends in democratization, showing how the undertow of the third wave sucked the world into a new era of personalized authoritarianism.