The U.S. now stood alone. Initially, Washington was stunned. After all, as one observer put it, "the end of history" had been reached -- and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.
America has gone through withdrawal phases before, usually after a great war: World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Some were longish, like the retreat between 1919 and the late 1930s. Some were brief, as after 1945, 1954 and 1975 (when the Vietnam War ended). In each case, war weariness translated into "Come home, America," as George McGovern famously proclaimed during the 1972 presidential campaign. In each case, the rebound eventually followed because the world wouldn't quite accommodate itself to America's reflexes. Fresh and old threats demanded American attention because others proved unable to fashion and secure a new balance of power.
Over the years, many people have counted out the United States -- and been wrong. Given our newfound energy wealth, the return of manufacturing, our tradition of creativity and our vaults filled with investable capital, I can't help but believe the people counting us out now will be proved wrong again.