The Cold War and America's delusion of victory

The second was the Bush version. Where President Bill Clinton emphasized prosperity, President George W. Bush emphasized predominance. In between, of course, stood Sept. 11. It is possible that the Bush version would never have come into being had it not been for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington carried out by Islamist fanatics (a renegade faction, in fact, of an American Cold War alliance).

The Cold War experience clearly conditioned the United States response to these atrocities. Instead of targeted military strikes and global police cooperation, which would have been the most sensible reaction, the Bush administration chose this moment of unchallenged global hegemony to lash out and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq. These actions had no meaning in a strategic sense, creating 21st-century colonies under the rule of a Great Power with no appetite for colonial rule.

But the United States did not act out of strategic purpose. It acted because its people were understandably angry and fearful. And it acted because it could. The Bush version was directed by foreign policy advisers who thought of the world predominantly in Cold War terms; they stressed power projection, territorial control and regime change.