End of empire

End of empire

  • The era of US dominion has now passed

The end of World War Two inaugurated the era of American dominion, with the United States politically, economically and militarily the most powerful nation on the planet. Yet throughout the subsequent period of American global ascendency, the American people endured a seemingly endless sequence of domestic crises, upheavals and disasters. Primacy abroad did not insulate them, convinced of their unique place in human history, from the trials and tribulations routinely befalling other, more ‘ordinary’ nations.

Yet neither did trials at home undermine the deep-seated belief that history had summoned the United States — and no one else — to lead the world. So even as presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama wrestled with pressing challenges at home (for Truman there was race and McCarthyism, for Obama race and the Great Recession), they all, without exception, testified to the nation’s indispensability. They deemed it their duty to do so. All, therefore, found ways to prevent domestic problems from encroaching upon America’s assertion of singularity among nations. Leading the world took precedence over addressing the contradictions and shortcomings affecting the American way of life. So from 1945 until the end of the 20th century, creating ‘a more perfect Union’ took a back seat to venturing ‘abroad, in search of monsters to destroy’.

Whatever the turmoil on the home front, this conviction that the United States was called upon to exercise global leadership remained unwavering. Even in 1968, when assassinations, racial unrest and widespread opposition to a deeply unpopular war brought the nation precariously close to unraveling, the conviction held. Two decades later, the fall of the Berlin Wall seemingly validated that conviction for all time. We were indeed, as presumably serious US officials proclaimed, the ‘indispensable nation’ and destined to remain so until the end of time. So we were led to believe.