Trump Foreign Policy: Speak Loudly And Carry A Small Stick
Theodore Roosevelt was an iconic President who was known, among many other attributes for better or for worse, for a quick wit and clever quotes. Perhaps his most famous was “Speak softly but carry a big stick, you will go far.” There is a great deal of wisdom in that quote in all facets of life. In one’s job, it is best to do one’s job as best as one is capable with quiet confidence and let one’s results speak for themselves. In sports, it is far more frustrating for an opponent when an athlete refuses to respond verbally or physically to taunts but instead answers by simply scoring. In foreign policy, a President best serves the interests of his nation by speaking with the dignity commensurate with the gravity of the office and the greatness of the nation he represents, within the backdrop of diplomatic and military leverage and might to achieve its goals and protect its interests.
Trump, for all of his outspoken admiration for President Theodore Roosevelt, acts as the complete antithesis of President Roosevelt’s most famous quote. In the case of the very dangerous stand off with North Korea, Trump undermines diplomatic efforts by childishly taunting their unhinged dictator with speaking of fire and fury and calling him short and fat. While the North Korean regime is a serious menace to the world with its nuclear ambitions, their own decades of ridiculous and childish rhetoric has by and large made them a joke to the rest of the world, increasingly isolated, and living in their own contrived reality. The President of the United States, aka, Tweeter in Chief, through his words has succeeded in putting the United States of America on the same level as North Korea.
Perhaps outspoken voices, such as that of Senator Lindsay Graham, that fully support the threat of war to convince North Korea to stand down are correct. To be sure, diplomacy and sanctions have done little over the past 25 years to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Perhaps it will take bringing us to the brink of war to finally achieve this long sought after ambition, and to prevent the instability of their region, for China finally to have the incentive to cut off North Korea completely economically once and for all. History tells us that is a fair point to make as viscerally concerning as such a strategy may be.
However, Trump’s playground style and childish war of words with his counterpart in North Korea, also undermines a military solution to the North Korea problem. Instead of having a trigger happy Twitter approach to North Korea’s provocations and using strong but measured words befitting a world leader, it would give the US military more international cover and justification to begin a gradual build up of military power and exercises off the Korean peninsula. Such a build up would send a strong message to North Korea and China that the threat of war is real, using actions, not loud, brutish, and undignified words to threaten. That would be acting in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote.
Instead, the military build up may still be inevitable, done so within the back drop of past and very likely future unhinged rhetoric from Trump on the North Korea matter, it will back a very unstable dictator into a corner where he increasingly feels the need to save face on the global stage in light of such verbal provocation. Trump’s approach makes an already dangerous situation all the more dangerous for no good reason at all.