Dmitri Trenin reflects on the 20th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union:
The real issue is that the end of the Soviet Union and Soviet communism meant an end of hard peer-to-peer competition — in both geopolitics and ideology. Unconstrained power tends to corrupt those who wield it, while unopposed orthodoxy breeds narrow-mindedness and complacency. Those whose job is to lead and strategize follow the daily polls. The elites, who in the past used to rule, have concentrated on money-making. Those who make serious money have less time than ever for ethics. Those leaders, analysts and commentators who shape global opinions are often guided by the rules of political correctness.
To mourn the passing of the Soviet Union and its ideology is not the point. U.S. and European leaders should detect the faint scent of their own brand of Brezhnevism around their polities and amend their policies accordingly. For example, the United States is dangerously overextended abroad, and its political system at home has become too dysfunctional. Meanwhile, the European Union is in danger of losing the European project unless it rediscovers leadership and provides it with new legitimacy.
The over-extension of the U.S. abroad is dangerous in a few ways. There are the obvious costs to the United States in terms of wasted resources, opportunity costs, and damage to real national interests, to say nothing of the threats and adverse consequences that unnecessary wars create, but in some ways the greater danger is the stranglehold this over-extension has on political debate at home. Because the U.S. has become accustomed over the last twenty years to the role that it currently has, its political class has assumed that this is the natural state of affairs that must be perpetuated indefinitely. The main competition between the two parties centers on which one can be trusted to perpetuate this unsustainable state of affairs longer than the other, which leaves us with two competing sets of leaders trying to outdo one another in their eagerness to further militarize our foreign policy. It is obvious that most leading Republicans have learned nothing from the Iraq war, but what is far more troubling is that very few people in influential positions in either party seem to recognize the degree to which the U.S. is over-committed and overburdened by the global “responsibilities” that it insists on bearing. Because there is no recognition, there is no serious interest in reducing those commitments, and any suggestion to that effect is ridiculed as “declinism” or “defeatism.”