With the stately-paced diplomatic contradances of the Pax Americana disappearing on the rear horizon, now would be a good time to adjust our brains to the “return of history.”
This is not to say that the return of history is a good thing, or that we should rush eagerly to participate in it as if the last 70 years never even happened.
It is, however, to say that after eight years of the Obama presidency, we do not have the means anymore to reinforce a retaining wall against history’s return. It’s already happening – has been happening for several years – and we cannot stop it. It is a reality now, and it is what will shape the course of events. The stasis in which the world largely constrained itself to observe limits set by American power exists no more.
If we want limits observed, we will have to prove ourselves. We will have to take an interest – or not, according to our national priorities – and signal explicitly what we will get behind and what we will not. Then we will have to do it.
If there is to be a charmed stasis called a Pax Americana again, it will have to be built anew. The first one was gone a good three years before Trump took office.
The convenience of pretending it was still there has held us intellectually paralyzed for some time, to be sure. But in 2013 and early 2014, when Iran and ISIS both emerged as forces transforming Mesopotamia and the Levant regardless of recognized borders, and Russia invaded and partitioned Ukraine without meaningful consequence, it was already clear that the post-1945 stasis held loosely in check by a single dominant power had crumbled.
Not just the political character of a nation, but recognized borders themselves, could be materially altered by anyone aggressive and determined enough. George H.W. Bush and his “This will not stand!” after Saddam invaded Kuwait? Twenty-five years ago, and no longer applicable.
It’s done. The question is not how we bring the Pax back. We can’t. The question is what we do now…