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Post-Cold-War Bust

Everything is not coming up roses in new world order

The Serbs are making trouble in the Balkans. Iraq is pursuing Saddam Hussein's dream of weapons to cow the world. Russia and a large part of the world are in the grip of economic crisis. The post-cold-war era - let's face it - has been a big bust so far.

Ten years ago Georgi Arbatov, the Kremlin's chief America watcher, told me, "We will deprive you of an enemy, and then what will you do?" Three years ago, James Woolsey, then CIA director, said, "We have slain the dragon, but there are a lot of snakes out there." And Lawrence Eagleburger, former secretary of State, said, "You will see - one day we will all be nostalgic for the cold war."

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I don't know what they all foresaw, but there is no question that the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving us without an organizing principle for our foreign policy, has made the world a more complicated place.

It all seemed so easy when President Reagan said we needed an impenetrable astrodome "Star Wars" defense to ward off a rain of missiles from the Evil Empire. Anyone could understand why our government had to work at stopping the communists from Afghanistan to Nicaragua, and why the CIA, if it could get its act together, had to conspire at assassinating Fidel Castro.

But no longer is it just "us" and "them." What do we do about Serbs slaughtering ethnic Albanians in a province of their own country? What do we do when freedom-fighters we supported in Afghanistan become the terrorists bombing the World Trade Center and American embassies?

After the collapse of communism, it was believed that America would usher the world into the sunlight of democracy and free enterprise. So what to do about the fact that privatization in Russia has created a new class of robber barons and left unpaid workers facing destitution? And what to do about a global financial market that has produced unbridled speculation, followed by collapsing banks and economies?

This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. We, in our naivet, thought that once the shackles were removed, nations would begin to be, to paraphrase Henry Higgins, just like us. It did not occur to us that it took a couple of centuries for this nation to learn how to manage freedom, and in some respects we are still working at it.

So now much of the world talks "bailout," and our government talks "discipline." And the word "regulation" is no longer taboo. And we are learning how complicated the world can be without an Evil Empire.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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