Financial TimesFinancial Times

Speaking softly serves America surprisingly well

By Edward Luce

30 Nov 2022 · 3 min read

Editor's Note

From Vietnam to Iraq, the US is at its worst when it attempts to impose outcomes on others, writes FT columnist Edward Luce. Far better to take a more considered approach, as it has done in Ukraine.

America’s response to a suspected Russian missile strike on Poland this month is an example of how to operate. Ignoring the kamikaze clamour to invoke Nato’s collective self-defence clause, Joe Biden and his allies quietly parsed the facts and found it came from Ukraine. There was no leaping to conclusions or brinkmanship. Muting Washington’s evergreen hawks should be a rule of thumb for how America does business.

It goes against the grain of course. America’s most bellicose president, Teddy Roosevelt, suggested that the US should speak softly and carry a big stick. What stuck out was the first half of Roosevelt’s dictum since it was so at odds with the character of a nation that even then aimed to remake the world in its image. Wanting others to be like you is an aggressive impulse, even when it is well-meant.

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