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Speaking softly or loud, if US doesn't carry a big stick, Bear might get us

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 12:01 am

The foreign policy of President Obama is the reverse of that of Teddy Roosevelt, who famously said: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”

Barack Obama’s strategy is basically this: “Get rid of the stick, whine repeatedly and pray to something.”

TR’s more comprehensive foreign policy views were anchored in his view that the United States, however reluctantly, “in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, the exercise of an international police power.”

Robert Kagan has brilliantly summarized the debate of having strong military power by comparing it to several things, including having or not having a gun. No gun, nothing looks like a bear. With a gun, lots of things look like bears.

Let me just get this point out of the way: Leftists and consistent libertarians, to the degree they are two terms, are isolationists. Many others say government should worry about jobs, not foreign policy.

Two quick answers:

1. The economy doesn’t matter if you are dead, conquered or dependent.

2. Our economy is so intertwined worldwide that foreign policy is, in fact, a major determinant of economic success or failure in the United States.

In Allen County alone, Michelin rescued Goodrich from shutting down, BAE and USSI (both British) saved big chunks of GE and Magnavox for our region and SwissRe saved abandoned Lincoln jobs. Valbruna Steel is Italian. General Dynamics and ITT radios are heavily tilted toward foreign sales.

So other than the people who work at those places, in many of the highest paying jobs and which, if they were to disappear, a significant percentage of the education, health-related, retail and service jobs would also depart, we have no stake in foreign trade.

Vera Bradley bags are sold worldwide, not just in Indiana. Sweetwater is an Internet company. Internet is worldwide. Music and video are two of our most important exports. “Jobs, jobs, jobs” means thinking globally, not with blinders on.

So when Putin seizes what he considers a Russian port belonging to the Ukraine, it should remind us that we must remain aware worldwide. We need, for example, to contemplate our naval ability, not just our own navel.

Foreign policy is a little like disciplining your children: You can’t threaten extreme things over small offenses. Failure to follow through, or inconsistent punishment, merely leads to confusion and effective destruction of all rules.

When you make threats of discipline, it is always (subconsciously at least) impacted by your effective power relationship. Parent-young child, husband-wife, you-neighbor, you-household invader that is armed, all change what your ground rules are.

Voting to go to war should always be the most difficult vote a congressman casts. It certainly was for me.

Military force, especially in a type of nuclear proliferation, is a last option. That is why the big stick is so important. Just speak softly and you will be ignored. Speak loudly, with no will or gun, and the bear will seize the opportunity.

Over and over again.

Mark Souder is a former 3rd District congressman.