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Twenty Years After the Fall

Author: James M. Goldgeier, Dean, School of International Service, American University
November 8, 2009
Washington Times


Twenty years ago, no one could miss the significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall. On Nov. 9, 1989, the Cold War struggle between the United States and Soviet Union was finally over after 40 years. Unexpectedly, the Soviet Union failed to hold on to its empire in Eastern Europe. Americans began to imagine the benefits of a "peace dividend" now that they seemingly no longer needed to spend quite so much on defense.

But the fall of the Berlin Wall was not the only event of lasting significance that year. In February 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its remaining troops from Afghanistan, and the United States turned its attention elsewhere, thereby paving the way for the growth of al Qaeda. In June, the Chinese government killed hundreds of its own citizens in Tiananmen Square, making clear that it would not allow its burgeoning capitalist economy to be accompanied by democracy.

Although Americans didn't know it at the time, one challenger--Soviet communism--had given way to two new ones: failed states and illiberal capitalism. While neither has proven as all encompassing as the Soviet threat, each has vexed the United States for the past two decades and will continue to do so in the coming years.


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