Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

The Return of American Narcissism

By Peter Zeihan on August 15, 2021

On New Years Eve, just minutes before the dawn of 1992, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time.

Arguably the Cold War had been over for a few years already. Glasnost and perestroika had defanged the thorny grip of the KGB and made Soviet citizens less afraid of their own government. Summits – first with Ronald Reagan and later with George HW Bush – started both the Soviet Union and the United States down the path to massive nuclear disarmament. The Soviets started pulling troops out of Central Europe in 1989. In 1990 Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev blessed the American military effort to eject Soviet-backed Iraq from Kuwait. In 1991 constituent members of the USSR seceded – peacefully – from the Union.

But flags matter. And the real date it was all over – truly over – was December 31, 1991.

In America the Cold War’s end was met with a bit of a jubilant shrug. We went on with our day.

From a long-view perspective, the inward turn was a return to the norm. Americans have always been a bit self-absorbed. Having the richest part of a rich continent, far removed from the hustle, bustle, war and pain of the Eastern Hemisphere, does that to you. We settled things with our only two neighbors – Canada and Mexico – well before our first centennial and immediately got down to the more serious business of arguing amongst ourselves. More Americans died in the Civil War than in all our military conflicts with all our adversaries throughout all our history, combined.

With the Cold War relegated to the past, Americans quickly moved on. We started caring about things that during the Cold War were simply too minor and esoteric to blip on our collective radar while we were staring down the threat of nuclear Armageddon: Haiti, Palestine, Panama, Kosovo, Bill Clinton’s cigar habits. By the late-1990s the rest of the world was so out-of-mind that 60% of Americans couldn’t even locate the United States on a world map. American narcissism was again the norm…

…until the events of September 11, 2001, shocked us out of our naval-gazing and thrust us back into the world against a new foe.


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