America took some time to internalise the significance of its victory in the Cold War. In the last years of the presidency of George Bush Senior, after the fall of the Soviet Union, America was still retaining the mindset of the Cold War, acting quite cautiously around the world, and primarily out of a geopolitical framework.

Soon, however, the eureka moment arrived. America realised the enormity of its victory. Not only had its arch-rival in four decades, the Soviet Union, collapsed, but also most of the countries that used to be parts of that Union or under its direct sway, were longing to become close to America; some were longing to Americanise themselves.

In different parts of the world – including in parts of Asia and Africa that few decades before were ardent opponents of American policies – America was seen as not only powerful and victorious, but also, and perhaps more importantly, as inherently possessing the ingredients of success.

Success is often more compelling than power, especially for societies sensing new opportunities and chances to change their present and evolve it into a better future.

That was the early 1990s. America’s success at that moment was correctly seen across almost the entire world as a triumph of the ideas upon which America was built and through which America functioned, prospered, and created its empire.

With the eureka moment of its success, America itself opted for a new beginning. Like different societies in the world, America wanted to move beyond the confrontations of the Cold War. A prevailing feeling in America was that “our ideas”, “our model” had won, and that “we” ought to reap the fruits of victory.

A part of the new beginning was to ditch the old and embrace the new. George Bush Senior lost the presidential election to a Democratic governor from a small southern state, without any prior experience in international relations.

It was not just “the economy, stupid”, as Bill Clinton’s campaign had put it. At a deeper level, America wanted to move beyond the Cold War thinking, atmosphere, and personalities. Victory and success opened up a new phase in America as much as they had opened up a new phase for America in the world.

For many in America, it was “the end of history”. The title of Francis Fukuyama’s famous book from 1992 put forward the idea that liberal democracy was the ultimate form of government. This went beyond political thinking and ideological evolution. Key decision-making circles in America came to believe and behave as indeed America’s victory in the Cold War was a watershed moment in history precisely because they interpreted that victory as a success of American socio-politics, an ultimate vindication of the ideas inherent in the American experience.

Technology gave momentum to this view. The rapid spread of the internet and of satellite technology across the world shrank the oceans of cultural separation that had divided the world throughout human history. For the first time in recorded history, societies were beginning to see each other on a mass scale, virtually instantaneously. Ideas were beginning to be transmitted across borders at unprecedented speeds. The success of America could not have come at a more propitious moment for American ideas.

Interestingly, politics was the least beneficiary of the exposure the world was getting to American culture. The end of the Cold War, and the belief at the time that indeed it was the “end of history” with regard to political evolution, turned attention elsewhere, towards the aspirations of the middle classes across the world. China was already two decades into its economic opening up; India was emerging from the socialism that had engulfed her politics for five decades since its independence from Britain; and large parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, were waking up to the new world post the Cold War.

Middle classes across the world were increasingly seeing America’s power through different angles. Universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT, banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan, consulting firms such as Mckinsey and Bain, technological-industrial complexes from Massachusetts to Silicon Valley to Hollywood, and other names in America’s educational, professional, business, and industrial pantheon came to fuel the imaginations of tens of millions of aspiring bright young things across the world. Brand America was transcending the apprehensions associated with America’s military power, and was increasingly engulfed in a global fascination with America’s industrial, intellectual, and creative might.

Technology also presented America to the world in a different way. For decades, Hollywood had been America’s most successful ambassador in the world. But with the internet and satellite communications, American sitcoms became quasi ubiquitous forms of entertainment across the globe, gradually familiarising billions of non-Americans with ways of living, thinking, and behaving rooted in the American dream of prosperity in a vast, rich, and detached continent.

The post-Cold War moment was a victory for America, not for the West. Europe emerged from the Cold War with major transformations, most notably in the country closest to America, Britain. Like America, the United Kingdom also opted to turn the page on the Cold War, and so replaced the Iron Lady, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with a man who seemed a bridge to a different future, John Major. Germany and France were busy with how the European Union – Europe’s quintessential sociopolitical project – would incorporate the European countries that had just emerged from the cloak of Communism.

These Central and Eastern European countries, however, were hardly coming within the European Union as obedient students of Western Europe. Most joined the European Union with their hearts and minds set on the American political model. As much as the expansion of the European Union was a success to the European project, it was also at least equally a success for America, for its reach was being deepened within that project.

These factors effected a transformation in how America saw the world. Gone were the trepidations and cautiousness of the Cold War. America began to see the world as its oyster: open and often waiting for it. America began to change its positioning in almost every region of global geopolitical importance.