That dawn marked the ultimate triumph of the liberal democratic idea. It promised an era of Western dominance led by a pre-eminent America, the world’s last remaining superpower.
And so it was for a decade as the community of democracies expanded, first into Eastern Europe and former Soviet colonies. The U.S. was so dominant that when, on Dec. 31, 1999, it gave up one of the most prized geostrategic assets on the globe — the Panama Canal — no one even noticed.
That era is over. The autocracies are back and rising; democracy is on the defensive; the U.S. is in retreat. Look no further than Aleppo. A Western-backed resistance to a local tyrant — backed by a resurgent Russia, an expanding Iran, and an array of proxy Shiite militias — is on the brink of annihilation. Russia drops bombs; America issues statements.
What better symbol for the end of that heady liberal-democratic historical moment. The West is turning inward and going home, leaving the field to the rising authoritarians — Russia, China, and Iran. In France, the conservative party’s newly nominated presidential contender is fashionably conservative and populist and soft on Vladimir Putin. As are several of the newer Eastern Europe democracies — Hungary, Bulgaria, even Poland — themselves showing authoritarian tendencies.