CHARLES Krauthammer was one of the first to speak of the "unipolar moment" -- the extraordinary global predominance that the United States suddenly acquired when Soviet power collapsed. He wrote in 1990, when the USSR still existed. But Krauthammer chose the word "moment" wisely. He did not doubt that in this instance, as so often before in history, predominance would give rise to challenge, and that therefore its duration could not be predicted.
He did not have long to wait. Well before that decade was out, challenges began to appear. The unipolar moment that Americans so enjoy is not, it seems, so universally celebrated elsewhere. Most of the world's other major powers -- even our friends -- have made it a central theme of their foreign policies to build counterweights to American power. In fact, their efforts in this direction constitute one of the main trends in international politics today.
Americans seem strangely oblivious to this. One reason, perhaps, is the traditional Wilsonian bent of American thinking about foreign policy: an America that sees itself as leading and acting in the name of universal moral principles has a tendency to assume that its leadership is welcomed and endorsed by everyone else. Such an America is genuinely puzzled by the idea that its assertiveness in the name of universal principles may sometimes be construed by others as a form of unilateralism. Yet unilateralism is precisely one of the charges being levied by many against the Clinton administration -- and, again, this includes some of our friends. Our assertiveness -- in any cause -- is today perceived by others as an exercise of our predominant power.