The years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, became known as the “Holiday from History,” a period in which America thought it could withdraw from the burdens of engagement with the world and focus on the pursuit of domestic prosperity and other really important issues like Bill Clinton’s sex life.
It was foolish, of course, as we discovered one Tuesday morning when the world came crashing back into our lives.
Which makes what we’re doing right now that much worse. America is engaged in a similar but even more stubborn and blinkered withdrawal. The Holiday from History at least had some plausibility, even if it seems like a fantasy in hindsight. We really had driven the Soviet Union into the ground. Free markets, individual rights, and representative government really were gaining wider acceptance as an international consensus for the best way to organize a society. We simply got carried away and underestimated the coming backlash from Islamic obscurantists and resentful Russian nationalists, as well as the tenacity of regimes like China which were building a new model for post-Communist dictatorship.