Speak Softly and Carry a Big Schtick

David Stokes
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Posted: Apr 11, 2009 11:28 AM

My wife and I have five wonderful grandchildren – four boys and a girl. We await the arrival of another grandson in a few weeks. Dealing with our children’s children is vastly different than what it was like raising our own – especially in the area of discipline. As parents, we tried various methods and tactics to effectively influence the behavior and mold the character of our kids.

As grandparents, we do nothing. It’s very cool.

Well, actually, there are times – occasionally – when I watch my wife attempt to muscle up and scold one of the grandkids. Me? I avoid such moments, usually by finding the most readily available refined sugar delivery mechanism. But once in a while the mother of my children tries to play tough with an errant grandchild.

It’s amusing to watch. Usually it starts with a warning: “Don’t do that.” Then, the always pointless counting, “one, two – I promise, I mean it – three, three and a half.” And it’s always the same - an exercise in familial futility.

Why? Because our brilliant (really, they are!) grandchildren simply don’t believe she has the resident resolve to actually follow through on a tough love tactic.

In a very real sense, this is similar to what we seem to be seeing and hearing these days from the new administration with respect to its foreign policy machinations. Gone are the days when the mantra “speak softly and carry a big stick” was the coin of America’s diplomatic realm. These famous words were first uttered by Theodore Roosevelt two weeks before he ascended to the presidency in the wake of the assassination of William McKinley. We speak softly these days, but there is no big stick.

The stick has been traded for schtick.

The new diplomacy, advanced at every stop on President Obama’s recent foreign tour, is about reaching out, waxing cathartic about America’s shortcomings, flattering Europe, and bowing toward the Muslim world. And when the nation-formerly-known-as-part-of-the-axis-of-evil defies us by lobbing a missile into the air and sea, our voice is slightly raised, but not too much.

Everything is being tempered by a new international ethic of “moral authority.” The idea is that if enough nations will say to naughty North Korea, “Shame on you,” Kim Jong il will get – as we say in church – “under conviction” and “repent” of his roguish sins. And the nations will sing with one voice the song Cum-bay-ah.

We can all then look forward to even bigger geopolitical goose bumps as we are led toward a brave new world.

The problem with all this, though, is that a “moral authority” approach to behavioral change only works when someone really wants to change. Trust me. Ask Dr. Phil. Moral instruction requires a teachable spirit and an open mind. No matter what the motives for the recent presidential “we”a culpa tour, there is simply no precedent for the idea that speaking softly will soothe the savage terrorist or that any of it will work.

Barack Obama is systematically dismantling a foreign policy that – though far from perfect – has kept us free and relatively safe. He is being more than simply “un”-Bush, he is taking advantage of this unique moment while our nation sleeps and moving us toward the kind of international socialist model so many in this country now seem to admire.

Europe has let us down again and again in the past decades, yet now we are apologizing for our “arrogance.” We are not against Islam is now the cry, and we are sorry for how “we” have misunderstood things in the past. America – instead of being the guardian of so much of the good stuff in the world, is now the perennial bad guy. We have grown accustomed to such criticism from adversaries and fair-weather allies in the past. Now we must learn to like it when these same thoughts are uttered from behind the presidential seal.

While I find the recent Europhilia annoying – even troubling – I am far more concerned about the administration’s body language, not to mention verbal language, toward the Muslim world. Mr. Obama is reaching out in ways that I’m sure are giving many Americans pause, even some who voted for him. He has been on a diplomatic fast track during these first hundred days of his term and we are seeing the world change before our very eyes. And not, I fear, for the better.

The recent selection of a new secretary-general for NATO this past week gives us a glimpse into how Mr. Obama will conduct foreign policy when Islam is a factor. Chosen as the new leader for the 60-year old alliance, one formed long ago when the world was emerging from its most devastating period of conflict only to find itself in the middle of another, was Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. But his selection was not without a measure of controversy. It took the intervention of President Obama to make it all work.

Turkey objected to Rasmussen. Why? Well, among other things, mainly for the fact that in 2006 he dared to speak out in favor of freedom of speech and the press during the uproar over a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. You may recall that there was a global Muslim response to the cartoons – one that included the burning of embassies, storming buildings, and more than 100 deaths.

Bear in mind that NATO, its Cold War mission now history, is now largely focused on Islamism as an enemy. Nearly fifteen years ago, one leader of the strategic alliance said: “Islamist militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to Western security.”

Enter President Obama. Participating in a series of extensive and intensive negotiations, Mr. Obama gave “guarantees” that reportedly included one new NATO deputy would be from Turkey and that Turkish commanders would be “present” at the alliance’s command.

Daniel Pipes has written about this recently, asking the question: “Does Turkey Still Belong in NATO?” He suggests that the 28-nation organization faces “a completely novel problem – that of radical Islam, as represented by the Republic of Turkey, within its own ranks.” Pipes adds that NATO is becoming “an institution hobbled from within, incapable of standing up to the main strategic threat for fear of offending a member government.”

It seems long ago now, but it has really only been two months since Barack Obama sent a bronze bust of Winston Churchill – one that was the pride of George W. Bush – back to Great Britain. In light of what seems to be happening here and abroad however, that act may now be best seen not as a benign expression of decorative taste, but as a very, very red flag.