The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
LOS ANGELES — As far as news is concerned, these are the best of times, these are the worst of times. It hurts your head to open a newspaper like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or flip through your favorite websites. Television, I admit, is giving us a bit of a break because all those folks care about is the royal wedding.But it seems to me there are only two stories (or questions) that are worth as much time as we have to think about them:1. What, post-Cold War, is the United States’ role in the world?2. What, postindustrial age, is the role of the United States government at home?The first question is very Chinese, in the sense of being careful of what you wish for, and in the sense of China — and, next, the Middle East and North Africa — becoming part of the modern world. This is what we wanted isn’t it? The “backward” countries moving toward democracy and market capitalism? Well, they are. God, what a mess! They see us not as the great innovators or visionaries. They see us as great customers.On our own terms we have won a couple of history’s great battles. Communism collapsed, unable to sustain itself against ideas and power pushed and sustained by the United States. And the ancient, stagnant world of Arabic Islam is being pushed toward liberal democracy in idealism, chaos and blood.There have been three American victories since World War II — again by our own definitions — if you count the one we now take for granted: Europe is without armies ready to march against one another for reasons Frenchmen and Germans and the British feel but don’t understand. One of the revelations of the U.N./NATO moves against the evils of Libya is that only the United States has the military technology and expertise to take on the rather primitive militaries of countries long ago left behind — and it is possible we can’t really defeat them; that victory depends on their determination, not ours.
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