In 1999, as America prepared to enter the new century, French leaders decried its rising status as a "hyperpower". A hyperpower, explained then French foreign minister Hubert Védrine, is one that is so dominant in all spheres, that there is no counterbalance. For Védrine and his colleagues that was a problem. As the New York Times reported in May 1999, "The remarks were in line with recent attempts by President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Mr Védrine to draw attention to what France now calls American unilateralism, and to attract other countries to the idea of counteracting it through French-led multilateral initiatives."
Thanks to Védrine's successor, Dominique de Villepin, and his efforts on behalf of President Chirac to shield Saddam Hussein from American unilateralism in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, French anti-Americanism became legendary, earning both fame and scorn in the early days of George W. Bush's presidency.
Historians will debate, no doubt, whether America ever was a hyperpower or just the cause of envy for an inflated French ego. Right now, it appears though that France's desire to see a balance to American influence has succeeded. However, it is hard to argue that this aspiration has yielded a better world than the one supposedly dominated and policed by America.
One does not need to wait for historians to know that even at the height of its power in the days that followed the end of the Cold War, America did not rule the world the way other hyperpowers of the past did. Védrine mentioned the Persian, the Ottoman and the British empires, among other terms of historical reference; yet America achieved new heights of power while displaying more restraint towards its adversaries and more magnanimity towards its clients.
America was also much more aloof and restrained than the French quip about l'hyperpuissance suggests. America failed to stop genocides in our time — think of Rwanda or Sudan. It walked away from crises it could not understand, let alone solve — think of Somalia. It misunderstood old enemies — think of North Korea. But its unchallenged supremacy was unquestionable when the French objected. And where America chose to act, it did make a difference. The Balkans would not be at peace today had it not been for America's hyperpower. Multilateralism there, by contrast, only produced deadlock and supervised crimes against humanity.