Barack Obama has just delivered a lofty speech at the United Nations in which he urged the leaders of other countries to join
the United States in making a peaceful and more equitable world. He went on to state:
and leadership in the 21st century demand more. In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero sum game.
No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over
another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.
Hypocrisy, we all know, is the tribute vice pays to virtue.
But surely the above denunciation goes just a little too far. Power isn’t a zero sum game only when everyone is on the
same side. But that has never been true in the real world. As an ideal aspiration, it’s fine, especially if you’re
the leader of the world’s most powerful nation. But why denounce world order? Both Woodrow Wilson and George H.W. Bush
recognized that world order, by definition, is based on a hierarchy of interests, norms and institutions. It needn’t
be grossly or permanently unfair, but it exists by necessity. Surely Obama knows that. To gloss over it in the name of humanitarianism