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American Power Without Wisdom

Over the last seven decades, US global leadership has been underpinned by a delicate balance between persuasion and raw power. By relying solely on force to advance US interests, President Donald Trump is undermining America's international position and courting catastrophe.

MADRID – In Greek mythology, it was prophesied that Zeus’s first wife Metis, the goddess of wisdom, would bear a son who, equipped with his mother’s cunning and his father’s power, would eventually overthrow the king of the gods. To protect his position, Zeus swallowed the pregnant Metis whole. The prophesied usurper-son was never born, though a daughter, Athena, sprang from Zeus’s forehead.

The qualities of metis (cunning wisdom) and bie (raw power) fascinated the ancient Greeks. At some moments, they revered the former, embodied by Odysseus, the legendary hero of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. At others, they celebrated the latter, personified by great warriors like Achilles. But the ideal was a combination of the two. That remains true to this day.

Over the last seven decades, the United States seemed to have figured out how to strike the long-elusive balance between metis and bie. Endowed with abundant resources, free of regional competitors, and surrounded largely by oceans, the US was primed to be a global power. But it was the multifaceted, flexible nature of America’s leadership style – which combined military, demographic, and economic advantages with a compelling cultural message and clever diplomacy – that enabled the US to maintain its position as the world’s preeminent superpower.

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