Daniel W. Drezner

Grading Obama’s Moscow speech

President Obama gave a speech today in Moscow outlining his view of the Russian-American relationship.  This was the part that stuck in my academic IR craw:  There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert ...

President Obama gave a speech today in Moscow outlining his view of the Russian-American relationship.  This was the part that stuck in my academic IR craw: 

There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.

These assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our independence, any world order that — given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game — progress must be shared. (emphasis added)

If he had said, "The pursuit of prosperity is no longer a zero-sum game," I’d be fine with the passage.  I still think power is a zero-sum concept, however.  The two ideas are linked but hardly the same. 

Obama is hardly the first president to mangle IR concepts in his speeches — remember "a balance of power that favors freedom"? 

Still, I hope that’s a rhetorical flourish rather than a genuine belief of the administraion.  

President Obama gave a speech today in Moscow outlining his view of the Russian-American relationship.  This was the part that stuck in my academic IR craw: 

There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.

These assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our independence, any world order that — given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game — progress must be shared. (emphasis added)

If he had said, "The pursuit of prosperity is no longer a zero-sum game," I’d be fine with the passage.  I still think power is a zero-sum concept, however.  The two ideas are linked but hardly the same. 

Obama is hardly the first president to mangle IR concepts in his speeches — remember "a balance of power that favors freedom"? 

Still, I hope that’s a rhetorical flourish rather than a genuine belief of the administraion.  

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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