Towards the close of the twentieth century a metaphor entered circulation that compared the United States to Lemuel Gulliver at the start of his visit to Lilliput. Gulliver in Swift’s satire was, you recall, an English sea doctor who, having sunk exhausted on a foreign beach after his ship was wrecked, woke up to discover miniscule Lilliputians had tied him down with slender threads and tiny pegs. In this telling, the international community—that comfortable euphemism for the U.N., the WTO, the ICC, other U.N. agencies, and the massed ranks of NGOs—sought to constrain America’s freedom of action in a web of international laws, regulations, and treaties, such as the Kyoto accords.

It is a passably accurate account of the international status quo a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall. That status quo looks somewhat different five years later. But the history of the intervening period is the story of how the United States...

 

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