With the disintegration of the Soviet Empire and the Soviet Union, and Beijing's abandonment of Maoism, anti-communism necessarily ceased to be the polestar of U.S. foreign policy.
For many, our triumph fairly cried out for a bottom-up review of all the alliances created to fight that Cold War and a return to a policy of non-intervention in foreign quarrels where no vital U.S. interest was imperiled.
This was dismissed as isolationism. Seeking some new cause to give meaning to their lives, our suddenly superfluous foreign policy elites settled upon a crusade for democracy as America's new mission in the world.
Interventions in Panama, Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia followed, plus wars in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. To further advance the great goal, the National Endowment for Democracy and agencies like Freedom House set out to subvert authoritarian regimes in Belgrade, Caracas, Kiev, Tbilisi, Beirut and Bishkek.
Cold War methods and means were now to be conscripted -- for democratic ends.
Yet, considering the high cost in blood, money and lost leadership and prestige since our victory in the Cold War, the democracy crusade scarcely seems worth it. For while we have been bogged down in two wars, China has become the world's leading manufacturer, steelmaker, auto producer and exporter, and the second largest economy on earth.
Nevertheless, we are ever admonished, we must not flag or fail in our pursuit of global democracy, for only when the world is democratic will our providential mission be accomplished. And only then can we be truly secure.
But setting aside the utopian character of all global crusades, why do we think that the more democratic the world is, the more secure and serene America shall be?
Historically, we have often made common cause with autocrats and dictators when our vital national interests commanded it. In our Revolution, our indispensable ally against the Mother of Parliaments was Louis XVI.
In the War of 1812, where our enemy was the Duke of Wellington, our de facto ally was the tyrant Napoleon.
During our war with Mexico, the Brits were on their side, not ours. During our Civil War, Tsar Alexander I wished us well, while the British wanted to see the United States permanently divided and weakened.
Democratic Sweden, Switzerland and Ireland were neutrals in World War II, while the China of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin did most of the dying on the Allied side.