Marco Cáceres di Iorio

The Wisdom of Leading from Behind

Despite uninformed accusations to the contrary, the United States still spends more on its military than do the next 10 most powerful nations combined. The growing strength of the US dollar relative to other currencies makes this gap even more acute (in favor of the US). Because the ruble, for example, has lost more than half of its value in recent months due to the huge drop in oil prices, Russia is having to cut its military budget by 10%. (by the way, Russia is currently an economic basket case and a regional bully; it is not the US’s “biggest geopolitical foe”)

By every measure, the US military still carries an awfully “big stick.”

Because of the size and firepower of the US military, it behooves the US government to minimize the size of its footprint whenever acts abroad or speaks to foreign audiences. The volume and tone of its foreign policy-making should always be moderated, not amplified. There’s simply no need for shouting or chest pounding. If you have to resort to these kind of superficial demonstrations, then you’ve already lost. It’s the same with parents and their children.

Nearly every American (the US variety) is familiar with Theodore Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick.” That was the core of his administration’s foreign policy. It’s exactly the same foreign policy employed by the Obama administration. Opponents of Mr. Obama like to mock his foreign policy as being one based on “leading from behind,” as if it implies weakness or shyness. It’s the opposite. Being a loud mouth and flexing your muscles is a poor way to project power.  (by the way, “don’t do stupid stuff” is also a pretty great hallmark of foreign policy-making)

If you have a big stick, then you should speak softly and lead from behind. The big stick becomes more pronounced when you do so. Real power demands modesty, not vanity.


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