Under the Influence: Taking the Yardstick to the General Assembly

Under the Influence: Taking the Yardstick to the General Assembly

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama said, "It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 -- more than at any point in human history -- the interests of nations and peoples are shared." By this logic, American interests and American power around the world -- which this column sets out every week to measure -- depend on cooperation. The General Assembly presents an ideal opportunity to consider how much that cooperation is possible.

As ever, consensus eludes us. The New York Times, for instance, sided with the argument that U.S. power is slipping away. It wrote on Monday that despite the fawning of foreign leaders for Obama, "Eight months after his inauguration, all that good will so far has translated into limited tangible policy benefits." But it seems like a stretch to believe that in less time than it takes to have a baby, Obama would be able to bend the world to his will.

The problem for the U.S. is that, as the world's leading -- if no longer the only -- superpower, the bar is simply set higher -- and the leadership it offers, or doesn't, is magnified. So on massive global problems, like climate change, when the U.S. does nothing, it actually does a whole lot. Worse still, without a first move by the U.S., everyone else often waits on the sidelines.

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