"Events are in the saddle and ride mankind."
In describing 2011, few cliches seem more appropriate. For in this past year, we Americans seemed to lose control of our destiny, as events seemed to be in the saddle.
While President Barack Obama maneuvered skillfully to retain a fighting chance to be re-elected, the economy showed no signs of returning to the robustness of the Reagan or Clinton years. And Obama is all out of options.
By January 2013, he will have added $6 trillion to a national debt that just earned America a downgrade on its AAA credit rating.
The nation hearkened to the tea party in 2010, giving the GOP 63 new seats in the House. But Republicans, too, have little to show for it, if their goal was reducing the deficit.
During 2011, the European Union was gripped by a crisis caused by a collapse in confidence that eurozone nations like Greece and Italy will be able to service their debts and a fear that they will default and bring down the European banks holding trillions of that debt.
Europe could plunge into a depression like the one in the 1930s, which would leap the Atlantic and cause a recession here that would spell the end of Obama's presidency.
Should the Greeks or Italians, chafing at the austerity imposed upon them and seeing no way out for years, choose to run the risk of bolting from the eurozone, the consequences could be catastrophic.
And, again, there is little Obama could do about it. Events in Europe could decide his destiny. The same is true in that most volatile region that engaged so much of America's attention in 2011.
With the withdrawal of all U.S. combat soldiers from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has begun to attack his Sunni rivals, accusing his own vice president of instigating acts of terrorism.
A return to Sunni-Shiite sectarian war is a real possibility.
Should this occur, Obama would be savaged by Republicans for not negotiating to keep a U.S. force in Iraq. No Americans would be clamoring to send the troops back, but we would live with the consequences and they would poison our politics.
With the uprisings against the Arab autocrats, 2011 began as a year of hope. The Arab world, we were told, would be like Eastern Europe in 1989, with peoples marching to recapture God-given rights from despots who had misruled them for decades.
But the Arab Spring gave way to the Arab Winter. The Facebook-Twitter crowd enthralled the media, but when the lid of tyranny was lifted, older and deeper forces buried in the psyche of the nation rose to reveal their latent strength.
Undeniably, millions of Arabs wish to live in nations modeled on the West. But more, it appears, wish to live under regimes rooted in Islamic law.
We seem unable to appreciate that much of that world detests our culture, abhors our presence, loathes Israel and is as committed to Quranic absolutes as devout evangelical Christians are to biblical truths.
Our one-man, one-vote democratists who would remake the world in our image and whose ideology has guided foreign policy for the Bush-Obama decade failed to understand what our Founding Fathers taught:
A democracy, which they detested, empowers majorities to tyrannize minorities. "In questions of power," Jefferson admonished, "let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution."
Democratize the Middle East along one-man, one-vote majority-rule principles, without guarantees of minority rights, and majority tribes and sects will use their democratically won power to crush those minorities.
Is that not what is happening there today to the Christians of the Middle East?
The old influence we had over events in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Turkey, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is slipping away. Even the Israelis tell Obama they will build on the West Bank when they wish, where they wish.
China, beneficiary of a decade of trade surpluses running into the trillions at our expense, now instructs us that the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea and Taiwan Strait are territorial waters -- and the U.S. Navy shall behave accordingly.
Despite boasting a vast nuclear arsenal and the world's largest economy, America is perceived as weaker than she once was.
Though fighting for a decade, she is unable to impose her will on Iraq or Afghanistan. She cannot control her borders. She cannot balance her budgets. She cannot get her spending under control. She cannot stop the steady hemorrhaging of her jobs and factories overseas.
America is losing control. Why? A failure to understand human nature and the lessons of history -- and the mindless pursuit of Utopian dreams.
We wagered the wealth of a nation on a Great Society gamble that through endless redistribution from top to bottom, we could create a more just, equal and productive society.
After the Cold War, we embraced the idea that using our immense power, we could remake this world into a more egalitarian, cooperative and democratic place.
Long after reality caught up to us, we continue to chase the dreams.