For all the national angst over Afghanistan and Iraq, historians will come to appreciate that sometime after 2001 the United States embarked on a radically different, much riskier, and ultimately more humane foreign policy -- one of both pulling in our horns while at the same time promoting risky democratic reform in targeted areas.
Such a complex and hard-to-define change explains why conservative realists are chagrined by its Wilsonian traits, even as leftist isolationists are equally furious that it is imperial. Mainstream out-of-power Democrats don't like what we are doing because of George Bush, while traditional Republicans stay the course mostly because it is now the party line. But examine the policies of the last four years in some detail and the current charges about empire, hegemony, imperialism, and all the other common invective increasingly make little sense.
The United States, at some risk to its own economy, has essentially opened its entire market to the Chinese -- not just to force global competitiveness within its own industries, or even to flood us with cheap goods, but also to bring the quasi-Communist giant back into the world community.
While Democratic leaders demand hammering the Chinese, and the Europeans erect barriers, U.S. willingness to incur trade debt and not regulate foreign investment has almost overnight jumpstarted China as a global player -- dangerous of course, but perhaps less so if it has a stake in the world commercial order.
India is the same story. Tens of millions of its citizens have overnight seen a revolutionary material improvement in their standard of living. This has mostly been due once again to classical liberalism on the part of the United States, which resisted protectionism and allowed billions in capital and millions of jobs to be outsourced to the Indians -- often at terrible costs in unemployment and readjustment here at home.
As a result while a socialist, subsidized, and protectionist Europe racks up trade surpluses, despite its utopian rhetoric, it does far less to bring others up to Western standards of commerce and consumerism. That might explain why, if the Germans and French do not appreciate us, the Indians and Chinese apparently do. How odd that we worry over the infantile rants of 140 million envious and ignore the begrudging admiration of 2 billion increasingly confident.