Looking back from mid-2008 to the years 1988–1992, when the communist system collapsed, it seemed that the United States, in the words of Harvard University’s Joseph Nye, was “bound to lead.”1 Though nuanced in intent, the phrase came to encapsulate the view that the world had entered a unipolar moment, with the United States being the uncontested leader of a world no longer divided between “free” and “unfree,” but now definitely launched on an irreversible process of economic integration and political convergence around a global norm of “market-democracy.” Only China, the dictatorships and monarchies of the Arab, and parts of the Muslim world stood out as temporary bastions of resistance to the trend that had set in during the mid-1970s in the political transitions of Portugal, Greece, and Spain; spread out across Latin America, to embrace the Philippines, Taiwan, and Mongolia; engulfed the Soviet empire in central and southeastern Europe; precipitated German unity, prompting the collapse of the Soviet Union; and then lapped into Africa, marked by the election of Nelson Mandela as president of a postapartheid South Africa. America’s primacy, both military and diplomatic, was underpinned at home by a growing population of over 300 million, a settled political system, federal law supremacy, a large internal market, a galaxy of corporations, a rich research base, a strong educational infrastructure with some serious weaknesses in primary and secondary schooling, and an enviable geography; abroad, it was manifest through an indisputable lead in “hard power” capabilities on land, sea, air, and space; the role of the dollar as the world’s key currency; the existence of the world’s largest and most liquid capital market, the home of the world’s leading corporations, with the whole backed by enviable soft power capabilities, based-it was surmised-on the attractiveness of American culture, the ubiquity of the English language, and the exemplary nature of its liberal political system.
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