It was the most Obamaesque address to date.
"For those who question the character and cause of my nation," the president pronounced Wednesday, "I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months."
America is 233 years old. Some think that there are ample accomplishments speaking to our character and cause that predate Obama's ascension to the presidency.
Feh, Obama seems to be saying. Look instead to our new greatness, for we have elected a man like him!
Having anointed himself America's vindicator and redeemer, Obama's real purpose seems to be to become the leader not of the free world but, simply, the world.
"No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed," Obama said. "No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War."
The United Nations is an odd venue to say such things. The Security Council is premised on nothing if not a balance of power, and the U.N.'s roots go nowhere if not deep into the chilled soil of the Cold War. It is odder still for the president of the United States of America to say such things. Is NATO -- currently fighting what until recently Obama defined as a "war of necessity" in Afghanistan -- now obsolete? What do the South Koreans or the Japanese think of such rhetoric?
More important, our alliances weren't merely the balancing of power, they represented a contest of values. The Cold War was informed by America's principled support for free nations over tyrannical ones. Compromises were made, to be sure, but our values were never abandoned.
The president's defenders say that there is realpolitik behind the U.N. boilerplate, that he is pursuing America's interests even if he sounds like he's agreeing with our enemies about pre-Obama America's flaws. Specifically, they argue that he is laying the necessary groundwork to contain and isolate Iran, coaxing the Russians into a new round of sanctions against the Iranians. If he succeeds in that regard, Obama should be congratulated.
The problem with this analysis, however, is that most of what Obama said Wednesday was a repeat of what he has said many times before, on the campaign trail, in Berlin and in Cairo. He has said this stuff so often, some might be forgiven for thinking they are more than just words.