End of a Year, End of an Era

If there was a defining moment in 2006, it was the public firing of Donald Rumsfeld, just hours after the Republican rout of Nov. 7.

George Bush was bowing to public repudiation of his war policy, his war minister and, indeed, his war presidency.

Yet one senses voters were doing more than rejecting Bush’s leadership on Iraq. They were rejecting the very idea of spilling blood and treasure in crusades for "global democracy," "ending tyranny on earth" or a "New World Order."

By saying, as most of us are saying now, "In the end, it’s the Iraqis’ problem," Americans seem to be bidding goodbye to all that. And as we turn our backs upon the world, that world — from Europe to the Mideast, to Russia, China and Latin America — seems to be turning its back on the United States.

The disposition to sacrifice for altruistic ends is waning. Like the Brits before us, the Yanks are coming home.

 The 21st century was to be the Second American Century. But after we won the Cold War, freed the captive nations, and brought Russia and China into the international community, our victories turn to ashes in our mouths. The world America built now rejects the master builder.

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson just led a delegation, including the chairman of the Federal Reserve and half a dozen Cabinet officers, to Beijing to convince the Chinese to help us reduce the $230 billion trade deficit we ran this year with the Mainland. Beijing sent the Americans home with a bag of stale fortune cookies.

China will continue to siphon off our technology, jobs and plants to make the Middle Kingdom the factory of the world and the first power in Asia, eventually on earth. They seek to displace us.

Why should they not? Why should China abandon a trade policy that has given her 9 percent growth for 20 years for a U.S. policy that has given us the largest trade deficits in history? Why should nations that are succeeding adopt the policies of nations that are failing, and wailing?

Japan, the European Union, Canada and Mexico are also piling up mammoth trade surpluses at our expense, by manipulating currencies and tax codes to subsidize exports and repel imports from the United States.

And we take it. What the election of 2006 demonstrated, in Ohio and Michigan and among the Reagan Democrats, is that Americans are fed up with being played for free-trade fools by the rest of the world.

Moscow is creating an OPEC-like natural gas cartel to squeeze the ex-Soviet republics and as a reminder to a gas-dependent Europe that Mother Russia is watching you. Partly because we planted NATO on her front porch and sought to subvert her in her "near abroad," Russia is reverting to an autarkic and authoritarian nationalism.

Which seems to sit well with the Russian people, as 81 percent support President Putin, more than twice the support President Bush enjoys.

In the Middle East, anti-Americanism is pandemic. So successful were Islamists in exploiting the elections Bush promoted in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, Bush has ceased to beat the democracy drum.

Latin America has turned sharply left, with Brazil, Argentina and Chile gone socialist, and Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua joining Hugo Chavez and Fidel in the radical-populist camp. Peru and Mexico barely escaped being converted to "Bolivarism."

South Korea, fearful of offending the North, has vetoed any tough U.S. policy. Anti-American demonstrations are common there. But why are the North’s nukes our problem, 7,000 miles away? Why are U.S. soldiers still on the DMZ, 53 years after the Korean War?

Andrew Roberts, the pro-American Tory historian, says he has never seen such anti-Americanism as in Britain today. Old Europe is reveling in our misfortunes. The French are pulling out of Afghanistan. The Germans want their troops kept out of the fighting. Yet, U.S. elites are pushing to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, which would require us to send our 82nd Airborne to defend Tiblisi. Though the U.S. Army, warns Colin Powell, is "almost broken," we are adding to our commitments to go to war against a nuclear-armed Russia.

We are living in a dream world. America may yet be the world’s strongest nation, but our dominance is detested, our leadership is no longer wanted and our people are weary of playing Atlas.

Events abroad and disillusionment at home are causing more and more to ask whether what we call the American Empire or Pax Americana is really worth the aggravation, the cost and the ingratitude.

Interventionism has failed us. Americans are groping toward a new foreign policy that puts America first and a trade policy that puts Americans first.

When we began as a nation, the republic was feared and loathed by many of the monarchs of Europe. Yet, under Washington, Adams and Jefferson, we went our separate way, and prospered as no other republic. We don’t have to run the world. Divestiture is an option.