Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”. I have always believed that this is true wisdom, and that there is both necessity and wisdom in doing both. Our current president seems to have mastered the “speak softly” part, but has thrown away the stick. Some of his critics have got the big stick part, but don’t seem to understand the necessity of the “speak softly” part. Some of us think both parts of that are important.
Junior high school students seems to be at the “smartass” stage. They are going to “test the waters” if given a chance. I was in junior high when it was still OK to paddle kids for misbehaving. One teacher I remember was a good exact example of “speak softly”. He alway s seemed interested in the kids, cared about treating them well, and as a result was well like by me and my classmates. He also kept a big paddle in plain sight in the front of the room. We all believed that he would use it if we mis-behaved. No one did. Another was equally soft-spoken. She also seemed to care about the her students and was nice and well liked. But she had no paddle and seemed not to know how to handle situations when us students pulled stunts in class. So before a semester was over, we all including me, had a go at pulling some stunt that was disruptive. She was frustrated, but seemed not to know how to handle the situation. We got away with stuff and the class was not orderly. She had no stick.
If we are to have peace in the world, we need to be able to speak softly and let people know that we understand and care about them and their problems. We need to be willing to help if they want our help. At the same time we need to be willing to defend ourselves if attacked, and be willing to expect others to honor their word. And it may help if they know we have the “big stick” and are willing to use it if necessary. We don’t need to start anything, but we need to be willing to defend ourselves and finish what someone else starts.
So is the Iranian Nuclear Agreement a good agreement or not? Well I must confess that I h;haven’t read it but I have read arguments on both sides of the question and I think the ones that say it’s not a good deal are more persuasive. They are more specific and the problems that they cite seem real. The arguments on the other side are more general and don’t address the specific concerns. But a week or ten days ago, there was an opinion piece that said that the question of weather it is a good or bad agreement is not the question Congress needs to address at this point. The agreement has been done. It’s not likely that we can go back to the negotiating table at this point and if we fail to approve it, there are some specific negative consequences that we might face that were not there when we started the negotiations. He seemed to have a point, but that is not been the public discussion. Then in the August 29-30th Wall Street Journal Mr. Fredrick Haass who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations suggested some things that congress might do to re-create a “big stick” and force the President to use if certain events transpired.
What he suggested was that congress should pass resolutions addressing seven points that he believes would address many of “the legitimate questions and concerns” with the agreement. These might be summarized as follows:
- The U. S. is committed, “by any means necessary” to supporting its friends and stability in the Middle East against aggression in any form from any source.
- The development or acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran will not be tolerated.
- The U. S. expects Iran to comply fully with the agreement and if in the judgement of the U. S. it has not, there will be the return of sanctions and other responses.
- The U.S. is “unalterably ” opposed to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and the U.S. will provide friends and allies in the military assistance they need to meet direct or indirect Iranian threats.
- Existing sanctions in response to Iran’s support for terror will be maintained and the U.S. will work to discourage selling military weapons and weapons technology to Iran even if UN sanctions are rescinded.
- The U.S. government will begin consultation with other signers of the agreement for a follow-on agreement that would ban Iran’s stockpiling enriched uranium.
- The executive branch of the U.S. government will provide congress with comprehensive, semiannual reports on Iran and it’s compliance with the agreement.
In essence it sounds like he is proposing that congress give the President a new “big stick” and require him to use it in the event that any of the essential intent and terms of the agreement are breached. Probably not a bad idea. Whether this president would comply with congresses wishes or not is an interesting question. But a year from now we will be electing a new president. I might like to get Teddy Roosevelt back, but since that’s not possible, I will look for the candidate who understands and appreciates both the benefits of speaking softly and having a big stick. We need to speak softly to make friends and promote peace, but having the stick helps maintain order without necessarily fighting. It helps enforce agreements with peoples who aren’t friendly, violate peace making agreements and are otherwise willing to use force in broadening their empire.
For many of us, former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proved in 1939 that a pure policy of “appeasement” doesn not ensure “peace in our time”. Our enemies in WWII only had the “big stick”, and that did not work for them either. Maybe we should try speaking softly, but make sure the “big stick” is ready if we need it? Like my seventh grade teacher’s paddle, if people know we have it, we may not need to use it.