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Obama, West, reread Fukuyama to the end, and look East

The Western footprint on the world is about to get a whole lot smaller.

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For many, the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the so-called "end of history" and the final victory of the West.

This week, Barack Obama, the first black president of the once-triumphant superpower in that cold-war contest, heads to Beijing to meet America's bankers – the Chinese Communist government – an unfeasible prospect at the time of the wall's fall 20 years ago. Surely, this twist of the times is a good point of departure for taking stock of just where history has gone during these past two decades.

Let me begin with an extreme and provocative point to get the argument going: Francis Fukuyama's famous essay "The End of History" may have done some serious damage to Western minds in the 1990s and beyond. Mr. Fukuyama should not be blamed for this. He wrote a subtle, sophisticated, and nuanced essay. However, few Western intellectuals read the essay in its entirety. Instead, the only message they seemed to take away from the essay? The end of history is the triumph of the West.

Western hubris was thick in the air then. I experienced it. In 1991 I heard a senior Belgian official, speaking on behalf of Europe, tell a group of Asians, "The cold war has ended. There are only two superpowers left: the United States and Europe." This hubris also explains how Western minds failed to foresee that instead of the triumph of the West, the 1990s would see the end of Western domination of world history (but not the end of the West) and the return of Asia.


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