When, in the 1950s, Nikita Khrushchev said, “We will bury you,” and, “Your children will live under communism,” Eisenhower’s America scoffed.
By 1980, however, the tide did indeed seem to be with the East.
America had suffered a decade of defeats. Southeast Asia had fallen. The ayatollah had seized power in Iran. Moscow had occupied Afghanistan. Cuban troops were in Ethiopia and Angola. Grenada and Nicaragua had fallen to the Soviet bloc. Eurocommunism was all the rage on the continent.
Just a decade later, the world turned upside down.
The Berlin Wall fell. Eastern Europe was suddenly free. The Soviet Union disintegrated. China abandoned Maoism for state capitalism.
Now, 20 years on, the wheel has turned again – toward darkness.
No longer do we hear chatter about “The End of History” and triumph of democratic capitalism, of America imposing her “global hegemony” or leading mankind into “a second American century.”
The hubris is gone, and triumphalism has given way to anxiety, apprehension, alarm.
In an essay, “The Return of Toxic Nationalism,” Robert Kaplan, a geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, writes that Western elites are even yet failing to see the larger, darker picture of our evolving world.
These elites identify with the like-minded in other lands and “prefer not to see the regressive and exclusivist forces … that are mightily reshaping the future.”
Egypt and the Mideast offer “a panorama of sectarianism and religious and ethnic divides. Freedom, at least in its initial stages, unleashes not only individual identity but, more crucially, the freedom to identify with a blood-based solidarity group. Beyond that group, feelings of love and humanity do not apply.”
This is “a signal lesson of the Arab Spring,” and out of it will likely come an “Islamist-Nasserite regime” in Cairo.
“Asia is in the midst of a feverish arms race,” writes Kaplan. Nationalism there is “young and vibrant – as it was in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries.” Having consolidated the homeland, China is moving to annex her adjacent seas, and a formerly pacifist Japan is “rediscovering nationalism as a default option.”
Nationalism is “alive and thriving in India and Russia,” with New Delhi building armed forces that will be among the world’s largest.
“Race hatred against Muslims is high among Russians, and just as there are large rallies by civil-society types, there are also marches and protests by skinheads and neo-Nazis, who are less well-covered by Western media.”
A weakening European Union has spawned a “resurgence of nationalism and extremism in … Hungary, Finland, Ukraine and Greece.”
“We are truly in a battle between two epic forces,” says Kaplan, “those of integration based on civil society and human rights, and those of exclusion based on race, blood and radicalized religion.”
How should the United States deal with this darkening age?
“Because values like minority rights are under attack the world over, the United States must put them right alongside its own exclusivist national interests, such as preserving a favorable balance of power. Without universal values in our foreign policy, we have no identity as a nation – and that is the only way we can lead with moral legitimacy in an increasingly disordered world.”
But is this not itself utopian?
A great religious awakening is taking place from Morocco to Mindanao. If these hundreds of millions believe there is no God but Allah and he has shown the way to eternal life, why would they, why should they, tolerate pastors and preachers from heretical and false faiths?
How do we preach women’s equality – an easy access to divorce contraception and abortion – to people who swear by a sacred book that says you kill people like that?
How do we preach the blessings of racial and ethnic diversity to a world where, as Kaplan writes, ethnonationalism and tribalism are being embraced and people are willing to die to create nations where their own kind and their own culture are dominant if not exclusive?
Before we put our “values” up there with our vital interests, as the object of our foreign policy, what exactly are we talking about?
Do Americans in the grip of a social-moral-cultural war even agree among themselves on “values”?
Our First Amendment protects freedom of speech to call the Prophet vile names. Our freedom of the press protects pornography. Our freedom of religion means all religions are to be equally excluded from public schools.
Other nations believe in indoctrinating their children in their own beliefs and values. Where do we get the right to push ours in their societies?
When did the internal affairs of foreign nations become the portfolio of American diplomats? Did James Madison’s first minister to Russia, John Quincy Adams, demand that Czar Alexander free the serfs?
“Without universal values in our foreign policy, we have no identity as a nation,” says Kaplan.
But that is not our history. America has indeed been about ideas, but America is now and has always been about more, much more than abstract ideas.