The United States has ridden -- and tamed -- the wild global tiger since the end of World War II. The frantic ride has been dangerous, to us, but a boon to humanity. At the same time, America's leadership role has been misrepresented and misunderstood abroad and at home, including by some of our country's own leaders. Accordingly, our current president, Barack Obama, has decided to climb down from the tiger, with the certain consequence that it will run wild again.
The crowning achievement of postwar American policy was the defeat of Soviet communism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, America then aimed at a "new world order." There was to be no place, at least in theory, for renegade dictators like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic. After 9/11, the U.S. declared a "war on terror" and led an international effort to stop Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and Islamist jihadists.
Despite the occasional mishaps, setbacks and errant strategies, U.S. leadership nonetheless ensured worldwide free commerce, travel and communications. When it could, America promoted free-market economies and democracy in authoritarian states.
Our key allies -- the United Kingdom and its former commonwealth, Europe, Japan, South Korea and Israel -- were assured of our unwavering support and got rich. Neutrals and enemies alike assumed that it was as unwise to be on the wrong side of America as it was beneficial to be on friendly terms.
The Obama administration apparently has tired of the global order that American power created. The president seems determined that America should become unexceptional, and his five-year-long efforts are now bearing fruit. The result is that no one knows where global violence will break out next, much less who will stop it.
France, not the United States, pushes for a tougher front against radical Iran, Islamism and WMD proliferation. Its socialist government is to the right of the United States. Germany is the more adult fiscal power, Japan the more realistic about Chinese aggression, Israel and the Gulf states the more accurate in assessing Iranian nuclear ambitions, and Russia the more dependable problem-solver.
The superpower United States chose to be led in Libya by much weaker Britain and France. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad ignored serial American red lines. In response, Obama vowed to intervene before vowing not to -- and finally outsourced influence to Vladimir Putin. That back step apparently fulfilled the president's pre-election open-mic promise to Russia to be more flexible.