Herodotus was the first known author to approach history as inquiry; to transform it from a mere recitation of events into an attempt to identify cause and effect. And that is no easy task. The fading of the Iraqi insurgency, the Syrian retreat from Lebanon are now growing clearer before us, but what do they mean? By way of context, Publius Pundit, a blog dedicated to following democracy moments all around the world, is filled with the rumor of mass rallies and political movements shaking the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and even North Korea. These developments are widely presumed to favor the United States; and in the narrow sense that collapsing empires play into the hands of the nation which holds the balance of power, this must be true. But first and foremost, they are evidence of dysfunction: proof that the Soviet model, Middle Eastern authoritarianism and to a certain extent transnational liberalism have lost their grip. In that respect the sudden and unexpected weakening of the United Nations is less the result of Kofi Annan's individual shenanigans than a symptom that the bottom has fallen out of the whole postwar system.
If this analysis is correct, the world crisis should accelerate rather than diminish in the coming years and months, not in the least because the United States seems to have no plan to fill the power vacuum with anything. The promotion of democracy is at heart an act of faith in the self-organizing ability of nations; it means getting rid of one dictator without necessarily having another waiting in the wings. It is so counterintuitive to disciples of realpolitik as to resemble madness. Or put more cynically, the promotion of democracy is a gamble only a country with a missile defense system, control of space, homeland defense and a global reach can afford to take. If you have your six-gun drawn, you can overturn the poker table. In retrospect, the real mistake the September 11 planners made to underestimate how radical the US could be. This does not necessarily mean America will win the hand; but it does indicate how high it is willing to raise the stakes.
But had the US have successors in mind, it wouldn't really be promoting democracy now would it?