Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates:
The world had changed dramatically since 1993, when I retired as a CIA director. At that time, the United States had routed Saddam Hussein’s army—then the fourth largest in the world—in less that one hundred hours during the Gulf War. Eastern Europe had been liberated, Germany was reunified, the Soviet Union had recently collapsed, and China was quiescent, its leaders focused on economic growth and developing trade. As victor in the Cold War, the United States stood supreme, the only surviving superpower—a political, military, and economic colossus.
What we did not realize then was that the seeds of future trouble were already sprouting. There were early stirrings of future great power rivalry and friction. In Russia, resentment and bitterness were taking root as a result of the economic chaos and corruption that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as well as the incorporation of much of the old Warsaw Pact into NATO by 2000. No Russian was more angered by this turn of events than Vladimir Putin, who would later say that the end of the Soviet Union was the worst geopolitical event of the twentieth century. China, seeing the USSR’s collapse, as well as America’s military prowess in the Gulf War, resolved to expand its own military power. Al Qaeda’s first attack on the World Trade Center in New York was launched in February 1993, and other attacks would follow throughout the 1990s. Meanwhile other nations increasingly resented our singular dominance and our growing penchant for telling others how to behave, at home and abroad. The end of the Soviet threat also ended the compelling reason for many countries to automatically align with the United States or do our bidding for their own protection. Other nations looked for opportunities to inhibit our seeming complete freedom and determination to shape the world as we saw fit. In short, our moment alone in the sun, and the arrogance with which we conducted ourselves in the 1990s and beyond as the sole surviving superpower, caused widespread resentment. And so when the World Trade Center came down on September 11, 2001, many governments and peoples—some publicly, many more privately—welcomed the calamity that had befallen the United States. In their eyes, an arrogant, all-powerful giant had been deservedly humbled.