President Theodore Roosevelt famously described his foreign policy: “speak softly and carry a big stick.” By this, he meant that peaceful negotiation was the order of the day, but that the U.S. should not be fearful of using its military might when and where that diplomacy failed. He understood that diplomacy does fail sometimes (how naive and strange to ignore or disbelieve that all too important fact). Speak softly and carry a big stick seems like a reasonable and viable approach to foreign relations, more so now than at any other time in our nation’s history.
And one that we’ve completely lost sight of. George W. Bush spoke tough, mirroring his decidedly “American” black and white worldview (good vs. evil, us vs. them, you’re with us or against us), and he carried a big stick. This was out of balance, and it severely impaired our already shaky global standing. And don’t be mistaken, the world hasn’t loved the U. S. . . . ever. They’ve taken our aid, let us win their wars, but they’ve resented us for many understandable reasons. Our unpopularity spiked under Bush, but it wasn’t ever low (I’ve written previously about our image as the “Ugly American”).
And then we have BO. He has the speak softly part down cold, very diplomatic and addicted to adoring throngs who admire and hang on his every word, imbuing it with whatever meaning they wish. He’s smooth, that one, very smooth (when his teleprompters are in place and functioning correctly, anyway). But he doesn’t carry a big stick. He carries, instead, what might be compared to a wet noodle. Want to do some nuke testing? Sure, go ahead. And while you’re doing that, we’ll work on eliminating nukes from our own arsenal. Isn’t that neat-o? Want to take some American hostages? Sure, no problem. Or more accurately, “no comment.” (How can the president be “too busy” with the housing issue–of all things–to offer words of support and condolence to the hostages and their families? Is he capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time?) Want to back North Korea rather than us in terms of our oh so softly proposed sanctions? Gee, that’s okay; see you this summer! Try not to run over Georgia before then, k? Our president is an odd mixture of ballsy and naive, of pushy and push-over. He’s complicated, that’s for sure. But he’s also got no backbone when it comes to taking a stand that might mean exercising our military might, and the world knows it. No balance there.
Jimmy Carter had similar problems with foreign affairs (as president, he’s been super since he left the Oval Office), and I think it’s pretty clear that diplomacy is one of his strengths. He tried valiantly to softly speak his way out of the Iran hostage crisis. But those hostages were held for 444 days. Do the math on that one (hint: there are 365 days in a year). It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan took office that the hostages were released (mere minutes into his presidency, actually, so that tells you something about the import of carrying a big stick. Just carrying it, more often than not, is enough, no need to smash anything with it.)–now there was a man who spoke softly, and accomplished much in doing so, and carried a big stick, and accomplished much in doing so.
If only BO would leave office and be Secretary of State; that is the perfect place for him, he could cavort around the world making nice with people who hate us (and who still hate us upon his departure, it should be noted) . . . ; Hillary would speak softly and carry a big stick. I would feel much safer and more comfortable if it were she taking that 3 a.m. phone call. BO will probably just say he’s really really tired and that he needs to focus really really hard on his sleep. Aw, can’t we have a “do over”? *wishful sigh*