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Back in 2011, thinking about the implosion of the Soviet Union two decades earlier and what followed, I wrote:
“In 1991, when the Soviet Union disappeared and the United States found itself the last superpower standing, Washington mistook that for a victory most rare. In the years that followed, in a paroxysm of self-satisfaction and amid clouds of self-congratulation, its leaders would attempt nothing less than to establish a global Pax Americana. Their breathtaking ambitions would leave hubris in the shade. The results, it’s now clear, were no less breathtaking, even if disastrously so. Almost 20 years after the lesser superpower of the Cold War left the world stage, the ‘victor’ is now lurching down the declinist slope, this time as the other defeated power of the Cold War era.
“So don’t mark the end of the Cold War in 1991 as our conventional histories do. Mark it in the early days of 2011, and consider the events of this moment a symbolic goodbye-to-all-that for the planet’s ‘sole superpower.’”
I had long had a feeling that, of the two superpowers of the Cold War era, one had left the stage in a rush, while the other was slowly inching its way toward the exits enwreathed in self-congratulation and an overwhelming sense of triumphalism. What I hadn’t really imagined, what, even in 2011, I couldn’t have put into words, was the twist on this strange tale of imperial decline that TomDispatch regular William Astore illuminates today. What if, from its quagmire war in Afghanistan to the surveillance of its own people, that other superpower, the only one left, was not just on the declinist slope but, in an eerie act of mimicry, taking on some of the coloration of the superpower that preceded it to disaster?