Is it better for a statesman to be loved or feared? This is one of many questions that Machiavelli posted and answered in The Prince. He concluded it was best to be both, but if you must pick one, always work to inspire fear.
But of course leaders often have no choice in the matter. Barack Obama has proved to be one of those leaders.
Like dogs that bark a lot but have no bite, the angrier Washington's rhetoric directed at Hong Kong, the mainland and Russia over Edward Snowden, the more impotent the Americans have shown themselves to be.
So White House spokesman Jay Carney has waxed indignant.
"This was a deliberate choice by the [Hong Kong] government to release a fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant," Carney said. "And that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the US-China relationship."
US Secretary of State John Kerry has threatened that Russia would have to deal with the consequences of not helping to detain Snowden. "There would be without any question some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences," he said.
Such harsh words from Washington might have made many countries tremble not too long ago. Not any more.
Obama is still popular abroad. Just witness the enthusiastic response he drew from the crowd at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin last week. Alas, he is not and never was feared.
So much for his statement as a presidential candidate in 2008 that he would gain respect for America and restore its standing!
The US remains the world's only superpower. Even if China catches up economically, it will still take decades for its military to match that of the US, if ever. But the relative decline of US influence and power is unquestioned. US Republicans' criticism of America's loss of global standing under Obama may be self-serving, but it is not wrong. His refusal to intervene in Syria is further evidence of the ever-shrinking role of the US as the world's policeman.
When even tiny Hong Kong, with its long-standing history of legal enforcement with the US, thumbed its nose at Washington by claiming a technicality for not honouring its extradition request, you know the game is up.