World History/A New Millennium
The changing environment
America stands alone
The Nuclear Age comes full-circle
The Rich-Poor Gap
After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and then in the Soviet Union, many people in the West and in the former communist countries hoped that a new era of democracy would emerge. However, at the beginning of the 21st Century, a number of events and developments quelled this euphoria.
First, the increasing authoritarianism in countries like Russia. Since the movement was only in the opposite direction for some time, this came as a surprise to the West. Most of the former communist countries, especially the western ones, have become free countries with a democratic form of government, according to the American watchdog of liberty, Freedom House. However, Russia made an authoritarian turn with the election of prime minister Vladimir V. Putin. As president, Putin has reasserted the authority of the state over parts of the economy and has been accused of suppressing free speech. There are also very few independent media in Russia, that are not directly or indirectly, under Putin's control.
Second, the September 11th attacks on the United States, which killed almost 3,000 people. People were suddenly reminded of the fact that not the entire world had accepted liberal democracy as a good form, or even as an acceptable form of government. (source?) The countries in the Middle-east have had authoritarian governments since the end of colonialism, many of which had Western support. These attacks made painfully clear that there is a lack of freedom and democracy in the Middle-east.
Bernard Lewis, the famed historian of the Middle-east, has long argued in his many books about Islam, that the support that the West has lent to authoritarian and oppressive regimes in the Middle-east has contributed a great deal to Islamic animosity toward the West. Generally, little attention was paid by important policy-makers in the West to his opinions on his matter, and the West continued to support dictators whose only virtue (in the eyes of the West) was that they secured a steady supply of oil for the West.
After the September 11th attacks, it appeared that president George W. Bush adopted this line of thinking, since he spared Saudi Arabia, where so many of the perpetrators of the attacks came from. However, in many speeches he argued that pushing for democracy in Iraq was one way the West could prevent atrocities such as the ones on September 11th.
It remains to be seen, if the policies of Bush truly represented a watershed in American policies toward the Middle-east. They might not. President Jimmy Carter adopted tough human rights policies toward countries like Iran, Chile and Nicaragua, but this contributed to the fall of the pro-American shah of Iran and the ascendancy of the virulently anti-American Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had even less respect for human rights and freedoms than the shah. Carter, therefore, failed to leave a permanent imprint on American foreign policy