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A time of war
With Russia and Ukraine, the Caucasus and Gaza, the West has shown dispiriting impotence
One fine day in New York City I was applying for a job with the Associated Press when the international editor said: “How does Bucharest sound?” So began my quarter century or so as a foreign correspondent, one of the strangest and most wonderful ways to make a living in this life.
I was offered Romania because my parents had managed to flee the country some years before I was born, and unlike anyone applying for a job that day I spoke a version of the language. My parents were scandalized to hear of it.
I found Romania in a miserable state, weeks after the toppling of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. There were no lemons nor pickles on the shelves, the currency had collapsed along with savings and pensions, dogs roamed every alley and every now and then miners rampaged in the streets. But an intoxicating optimism filled the air. From the ruins would arise a free country. I viewed all this as a triumph of the West. As a vindication of my parents’ emigration and a validation of all I had learned and absorbed. The West was the best, and the United States was the best of the West.
The zeitgeist was summed up in the book and essay by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama known as The End of History. He argued that the great historical discourse had been decided with finality in favor of liberal democracy.
We young foreign correspondents bought this idea completely, and it extended to a notion that the era of great wars would also end. We thought reason would henceforth prevail because increasingly events would be transparent, people educated and prosperity global. No more slaughtering each other over a bit of land or a bowl of rice.
I was in the AP regional editing hub in Vienna on the day that the first several casualties occurred in Yugoslavia. I remember the shock. My managers, serious people experienced as hell, maybe 40 years old even, could hardly believe it.
We know what happened next, and it was not the end of history. The world that emerged looked closer to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations – a global struggle driven by religious and cultural identity. While derided in some circles, he seemed to be on to something when he identified the main challengers to the West as the Muslim world and China.
The result is evident in this study and the below chart showing the death toll from jihadi suicide attacks. The peak year was 2016, with 3,307.