The post-Cold War era is over. The signs of its demise abound, and they are not small ones. The inability of the United States and her allies to prevent a full-scale invasion of a large European nation is a billboard on the highway of human history. A world order stretching back to the late 1980s, known imperfectly as neoliberalism, has shuffled from its mortal coil.

I come to bury the post-Cold War world order, not to praise it. In retrospect it is clear that the basic mantra of the era, “global trade will fix everything,” brought us to the calamities we face today. Abandoning self sufficiency was always going to decrease American power. That was the point. The other side of the ledger was supposed to be global liberalization and democratization. On that front we have had mixed results, at best.

Our most grievous error was the assumption that welcoming China to the world market would make it more like Japan. It wasn’t an outlandish idea at the time, but it didn’t work out. China found a way to game the system, becoming a capitalist powerhouse while maintaining its repressive regime. In fact, in many ways it got worse.

Similarly with Russia, the 1990s’ promise of “democracy lite” in Moscow took a U-turn around 2004, when the sleeping bear woke up from hibernation and emerged as an energy power. Free from reliance on Western charity, Russia’s eyes once again turned to empire.

But while the evils of the post-Cold War era live on after it, so does the good it accomplished. According to the World Bank, in 1990 1.9 billion people in the world lived in extreme poverty; by 2017 that number was under 700 million. In 1990 there were fewer than 60 democracies in the world; today there are nearly 100. These are hugely positive developments, even if the globalist initiatives that occasioned them have left us in a worldwide mess.

Ukraine demonstration
Ukrainians and supporters wave a Ukraine national flag as they protest during a demonstration against the Russian invasion of the Ukraine in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens, on March 1, 2022. – Approaching 680,000 people have fled Ukraine since the Russian military invasion on February 24, with the number rising rapidly.
Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP/Getty Images

America was like the world’s sitcom dad for the past 30 years—goofy and often made fun of, but ultimately still loved and in charge. For three decades, the United States was the world’s only superpower, but did not use that time to ensure it always would be.

Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe we should have foreseen that leaders like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping would put their own nations’ interests first, even if it means putting the boot on the neck of Ukraine, and eventually Taiwan. Maybe we were naive to think that the concepts of freedom and liberty really stood a chance against the iron fist of cynical power.

And yet. Let us remember as we mourn the loss of America’s hegemonic superpower status that we are still a superpower, even if we are no longer the only one. Let us remember that millions of poor Chinese come to our country for a new and better life. Aside from NBA and movie stars, no American yearns to start a new life in communist China.

Perhaps since the fall of the Soviet Union, America’s ambitions should have been made of sterner stuff. Today as we face the might of Russia and China we feel weak, defeated and lonely. Today we must once again bear the standard of freedom against foes on an equal footing.

However, let us take some consolation in the fact that astoundingly, and without precedent in human history, our 30 years of unchecked power made the world a better place at our own expense. Today our hearts are in the coffin there with the world order we made. The dogs of war have slipped loose. But whatever this new era may be—whatever colors, shades and shadows it may cast upon the globe—America and its values remain, and will remain, a force to be reckoned with.

David Marcus is a columnist living in New York City and the author of Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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