Forgive the cliche, but I love it when someone hits the nail on the head, the way Avedon does here:
What the neocons don't understand is that we didn't have to act mean and threatening toward other nations to cow them, because they were already cowed. We could smile and be nice and respectful and maintain the charade that we didn't have 'em all by the short hairs - you know, that "diplomacy" thing - and we could all be mostly friendly most of the time. We walked softly and carried a big stick.
They were happy to play along because we were generally rational and not overtly bullying and we actually seemed to want to further some laudable values and goals.
And, instead, we have an overburdened military that can't really take on much more - at least, not if we actually expect to be militarily effective - and we can't even ring that old "freedom and justice" bell much anymore. They used to think our intelligence agencies were competent enough that they couldn't get away with much - see what happened to that?
I suspect living abroad would have been a much different experience back when the U.S. had moral authority. For instance, I wouldn't have had to put up with smug Canadians at parties. When people from Calgary gang up on you, you know your big stick has lost its effectiveness.