Abe Greenwald‘s Commentary cover story documents America’s disappointing response to the once-celebrated “end of history.”

The United States is entangled in foreign intrigue to an extent not seen since the Cold War. This might seem like an odd development for a country whose two leading political parties have taken a turn toward isolationism. But the foreign entanglements that currently consume our national discussions are utterly unlike those seen during our global conflict with the Soviet Union. The espionage of the Cold War era has been replaced by a series of scandals or controversies—some political, some commercial—in which American politicians and businesses entities have been exposed engaging in craven behavior involving parties abroad. …

… A common thread connects our president’s dangling aid before an Eastern European leader in return for political favors, a vice president’s son who gets paid by Ukrainian and Chinese firms, and the NBA’s moral collapse before Beijing. That thread is part of a great unraveling—the loosening and fraying of our national purpose and resolve following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the wake of the Berlin Wall’s destruction, Americans sought to ramp up economic and political engagement with post-Soviet countries and China. Our reasons were both noble and self-interested—we could gain access to new markets and, by doing so, help to make these countries freer. The noble goal of expanding freedom made our self-interest all the more palatable.

But while this engagement has yielded some good, that’s not all it did. We barely noticed that the process meant the United States was growing more intertwined with kleptocracies. And in time, almost without realizing it, we ourselves would fall prey to some of the kleptocratic temptations and moral compromises that characterize such regimes.