In the old postwar, pre-Obama world, the United States accepted a 65-year burden of defeating Soviet communism. It led the fight against radical Islamic terrorism. The American fleet and overseas bases ensured that global commerce, communications, and travel were largely free and uninterrupted. Globalization was a sort of synonym for Americanization.
It was neither a particularly pleasant nor popular task. To keep the Soviets out of the Persian Gulf, we made unpopular deals of convenience with odious dictators and monarchs to keep the oil freely flowing to global consumers. In return, the billionaire and authoritarian sheikdoms often used cartels and monopolies to jack up the price of oil, while subsidizing on the sly anti-Western Islamic terrorists. The United States almost had to beg those in the Middle East for the costly privilege of protecting them and buying their $100-a-barrel oil. What a strange world the U.S. created: we found Saudi oil; we protected Saudi Arabia; we kept the Persian Gulf open and secure; and we earned embargoes, OPEC, and 15 Saudi mass murderers on 9/11.
America for forty years has also been railing against the supposedly unfair protectionist trade policies of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — to no avail. That we protected all three countries, first from the Soviet Union, and then from China, was a given, as was their periodic outbursts of anti-Americanism.
Europe followed the same paradox of the angry teen railing against his parent. In the last half-century, two themes predominated in our transatlantic relationship. One was total reliance on the U.S. military and American-led NATO alliance to protect it from an expansionary Soviet Union and its eastern European Warsaw Pact. On occasion, we took out anti-Western lunatics like the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, or Slobodan Milosevic.
The second theme was a fashionable European anti-Americanism. Without too many obligations for their own national security, Europeans could afford to invest in cradle-to-grave social programs. It was just as easy to assume a secure globalized world was a natural occurrence, rather than the result of the huge American investment in a worldwide military.
As in the case of the Middle East and the Pacific, the Europeans just figured that the U.S. commitment to their security was both ironclad and timeless — allowing them the luxury to dream of utopia and occasionally to ankle-bite their pestering American overseers. We were caricatured as efficient though unimaginative Romans; our European betters were the far more brilliant but other-worldly Greeks.