Kenneth Weisbrode: The False Promise of 1989





[Kenneth Weisbrode is a historian at the European University Institute and author of “The Atlantic Century.”]

FLORENCE — Twenty years is not a very long time in history but the fall of the Berlin Wall already seems like another era. The euphoria, confidence and excitement that accompanied that event were overtaken in short order by cynicism, fear and doubt resulting, according to some quarters at least, from American triumphalism.

Despite the new leaf that Barack Obama’s election appears to have turned over, it will be a long time before the world hears the United States speaking of itself again as the “indispensable nation” or the American way of life as the harbinger of the end of history...

... This is a terrible pity because it seems the lessons of the 20 century learned in Europe are bound to be forgotten.

Namely, that there is no such thing as a permanent rivalry among nations; that neighbors, whatever the obstacles, can be partners; that zero-sum relationships can be the exception, not the norm; that peace is forged both from the top down and from the bottom up; and that global issues — like the environment, crime, trade — are best handled in a regional framework with institutions that promote good neighborliness while at the same time setting higher standards for others to emulate.

For Americans, in particular, a good deal of Europe’s success came down to trusting Europeans and letting them take much of the credit.

It may have taken a half-century of immense destruction at the hands of Europeans to transform the above into axioms that few challenge today. But, again, this is mainly the case in Europe and America...



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