On the world stage for the century or better prior to WWI, Great Britain was the sole world superpower and sea power combined with it's vast empire and huge trade advantages kept the world in a long peace.
The US was gaining in power, but felt that given geography, it could be isolationist. The Lusitania broke that reverie in WWI, and Pearl Harbor broke in in WWII. By the end of WWII, air power, missiles and nuclear weapons made it clear that isolation was not an option. While regional powers existed, the military stakes were global.
The Cold War based a bi-polar power structure on strategic nuclear superiority, but even with physical walls and massive censorship, the USSR could not hide the fact that it was losing the war of production and technology to the west from it's own population. Reagan finally called their bluff and the wall and everything else of the old Soviet Union came tumbling down.
But the US, in much the same mode as at the end of WWII immediately retreated from the world stage, assuming things would "sort themselves out" without an dominant power. They did, in the form of a rapid rise of Islamic terrorism and 9-11. They also sorted themselves out in the rapid rise of China, the return of the Russian Bear under strong man Putin and a host of smaller rising powers around the globe -- India, Brazil, Indonesia, etc. Power is part of the natural order, and nature abhors a vacuum.
While the US responded strongly to Islamic terrorism for a period, the post 1990 US as largely been focused on broader and more equitable consumption, more leisure, higher wages, better retirement, more equitable medical care, housing -- essentially a rush to what is hoped to be a very comfortable lowest common denominator. After a reluctant half-century as one of the poles in a bi-polar world, the US has decided it is no longer exceptional -- or as Obama said, "exceptional like Britain or Greece". I always found this comment interesting, as in both WERE once exceptional -- he may be giving the US the same nod. It WAS exceptional until it made the mistake of electing him.
So China is rising, and flexing it's muscles in SE Asia -- and dangerously, our feckless leadership might be going to challenge them as the linked article discusses. This too is a classic example of how the "once great" hastens their decline by first allowing their military, economic and most importantly, home tradition of resolve and willingness to sacrifice for greatness to decline and then get themselves into a confrontation with a rising power that has been gaining power the old fashioned way:
Indeed, China’s military strategy in the region has been built around developing the means—missiles, ships, warplanes, antisatellite weapons and cybercapabilities—to deter America from intervening in any crisis by dramatically raising the potential costs.The aging hero, sports star, gunfighter, etc takes "one more shot". Sometimes in fiction, it works out, in reality, not so much.
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