For some, nationalism can feel like all they have. Others turn to a gang, revenge, or a twisted form of Islam. None of this, of course, remotely excuses invasions, gang violence, massacres or terrorism. But it may be a warning that we can't just flatten the world. We also have to find ways to fill it up.
While elements of the old liberal order will survive, they will have to accommodate new actors and approaches that do not play to America's commands and preferences. The multiplex cinema is an apt analogy for today's post-American world. Several movies are running in different theaters within a single complex. Hollywood style includes thrillers and Westerns with violence, crime, ruggedness and heroism as prominent themes. Bollywood fare offers passion, tragedy, song and dance. Kung fu films produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan play next to patriotic and propaganda films from communist China. No single director or producer would monopolize the audience's attention or loyalty for long. The audience has a choice of shows.
Wherever one stands on debates over the "proper" U.S. role in the world and contemporary geopolitical challenges, the antecedents are clear. After 1947 American national security--and foreign relations more broadly -- were no longer premised on a limited view of protecting the political and physical security of U.S. territory and citizens.
Economic success does not assure peace, but economic failure and disintegration almost assures conflict. It is incumbent on the leaders of the major nations of the world to figure out how to achieve more rapid and sustained economic growth. A commitment to maintain strength, to uphold the international order, is an inherent and deeply-seated part of any successful global system. Great powers can never bluff. When they bluff, when their intentions are uncertain, they are tested. When they are tested, questions arise, and the prospect of conflict mounts.