The United States’s hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan revealed the messy space where the discourse about international leadership meets leadership on the ground. Even as many are criticizing the role that various Western fantasies of nation-building/democratization/containment/management have played in the debacle, it’s still unclear what a Western reckoning with these fantasies will look like.
This is in part because the fantasy mill has never stopped churning. In fact, it’s currently ramping up, gaining energy from much meatier fuel: China’s global rise. The last two decades have shifted the landscape in the United States, deepening bipartisan divides and sharpening anxieties about a national decline. Any soul-searching about those stale old fantasies now has to make space for urgent new fantasies about China.
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