• The importance of telling the best story



    THE adage “speak softly, and carry a big stick” is popularly associated with Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy strategy. It means diplomacy must be backed by credible threats of force. However, credible threats of force are no longer enough to remain effective. In the current information-based world, it’s not sufficient to have the most powerful military, one must also have the “best story,” as US political scientist Joseph Nye puts it. And having the best story also means that one must not only speak softly, one must also tell a compelling tale.

    “It is influence, not power,” Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth wrote in American Primacy in Perspective, “that is ultimately most valuable.” So even if it is the dominant military power, the US will not be able to gain the cooperation of other nations in issues that require multilateral action, if it has a weakened ability to influence. And we have already seen a persistent erosion of US influence in the world because it’s losing its ability to tell a persuasive story.

    The ramifications of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq demonstrated this: The US may have solidified its military dominance, but this came at a cost of engendering resentment among its partners. During the 2014 Crimean crisis, a former US ambassador gave a talk at our university (Leiden) about Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The former US ambassador of course talked about how the annexation was illegal under international law. One student stood up and asked this: Isn’t it hypocritical for you to call out Russia? The invasion of Iraq was also illegal. The US ambassador was taken aback. He just said: But that doesn’t make Russia right. Audible gasp in the room. A lot rolled their eyes.

    US insistence that China abides by the decision on the South China Sea arbitral case filed by Manila against Beijing has also fallen into deaf ears. How could the US expect China to do what the US didn’t do when it lost an International Court of Justice (ICJ) case to Nicaragua in 1986? The ICJ ruled that the US violated Nicaragua’s sovereignty when it supported the Contras against the Sandanistas. As I wrote in my column on May 25, 2017 (“The Nicaraguan option wishful thinking”), contrary to what Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and political pundit Richard Heydarian said, “the US didn’t comply with the ICJ decision at all. Actually, it violated Nicaragua’s sovereignty, again, by meddling in its internal political affairs, when it financially supported Chamorro. What the US did was pressure Nicaragua to discontinue the proceedings in exchange for aid. The US maintained its position that the ICJ had no jurisdiction over the dispute and Nicaragua’s application was inadmissible.”

    And this leads us to understand what Nye meant with the “best story.”

    The US will retain its power to influence if it can convince, through its actions, that it will play by the rules of the current world order, which after all it champions. The disconnect between what the US preaches and how it acts in the world is the reason why its ability to influence is eroding, despite having the most powerful military in world history. Uncle Sam is carrying a big stick, he could speak softly, but the story he’s telling is unconvincing. Actions instruct better than words. The best teachers show rather than simply tell.

    Thus, to remain influential, the US can’t keep on relying on its military. It has to offer the world a better story, a story informed by its demonstrated magnanimity, restraint, and humility towards other nations. To this end, it’s worth remembering what George W. Bush actually advocated before he got elected and before September 9/11 happened: “If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us…we’ve got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.”


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    1. Digong Cayetano on

      You’re one of the brilliant geopolitical analysts I’ve ever known, the likes of Tiglao and Saludo, dissecting every issue with superb clarity and overwhelming common sense. You are a pride of the Motherland. Mabuhay ka!

    2. students corner
      faux intellectualism without any experience or idea of reality.
      naivete is bliss.

    3. dating magnanakaw on

      Is it influence not power? I beg to disagree, but I think these two elements are intertwined, and must go hand in hand to achieve a desired result. You cannot influence anybody if you do not have the power, can you? Power can come in so many ways, shapes and forms. In the Philippines, money, money, more money, guns, goons, political connections, connections to influential people and big businesses are some of the elements of power.

      As far as the U.S. wanted China to abide by the International Court rulings, The U.S. is actually saying that to China in a nice way because presently, China have the full intention to militarize those artificial islands they created. What this means, is they would then have the ability to control the International Waterways, and they can dictate who can sail or fly over to their ADIZ. All the U.S. wants is for the International Waterways to be free for everybody to sail, fly over, to swim, to jet ski without being challenged by the Chinese navy and Coast Guard. Couple of months ago, Chinese Coast Guards have been chasing away and shooting Filipino fishermen fishing in the area they used to fish freely, before the construction of those artificial islands.

      1986 Nicaragua : Nicaragua filed a lawsuit against the U.S. and the International Court ruled that the U.S. violated Nicaragua’s sovereignty when it supported the Contras against the Sandinista. The U.S. at that time was delivering arms and other military equipment to the Contras in Nicaragua and one unfortunate day, the delivery plane had experienced a mechanical failure and landed at an air strip close to the rain forest inside Nicaragua. The American pilot of the weapons delivery plane was captured and interrogated and the weapons support that the Contras have been getting is from National Security Agency and the coordinator at that time was former U.S. Marines Lieutenant Coronel Oliver North, working for NSA Chief, former U.S. Navy Admiral John Poindexter.

      During the national election, a candidate named Violeta Chamorro was going against Daniel Ortega and the U.S. supported the candidacy of Chamorro and won. During the administration of Chamorro, the U.S. decided to send economic aid to Chamorro’s government and the U.S. have pumped so much money into their economy, more than ten times on what the International Court have asked to pay. However, the U.S. did not comply with the I.C. instead, they pumped so much money into their economy labeled as economic aid. At that time, the U.S. also pumped money into the economy of Colombia, trying to change the livelihood of farmers there, cultivating coco plants. Colombia was the production of cocaine, and Manuel Noriega of Panama was in-charge of cocaine delivery into the United States.

      I would like to reiterate that the International Court ruling is based on the U.S. efforts in helping the Contras by delivering weapons to help topple the Sandinista Regime, NOT because of the help they have given to Chamorro’s candidacy. When Daniel Ortega returned to power, he revived the I.C. rulings, in spite of the U.S Aid given to his country, and that is why the U.S. do not pay attention to Ortega anymore. The U.S. have pumped Billions of Dollars into their economy, but Ortega is swapang pa rin.

    4. You have a very beautiful mind Sass and im sorry to say more beautiful than your physicallity ?…..

      Thank you for using it for the common good….. Thank you for lending your talent to the Motherland…..
      I hope and pray God will Bless your every endeavour……

      You never cease to amaze me….