And back down

A drawing by World War II cartoonist Bill Mauldin had a pugnacious soldier walking through a rear echelon area with a mean look on his face and his fists on display, while a combat soldier says to his buddy, “He ain’t a combat man; he’s lookin’ fer a fight.”

Welcome to the well-worn path of the political war wimp, all too willing to send others, but never getting around to going himself and quite willing to borrow money to borrow trouble in other people’s countries.

During the worst days of the Southern civil rights struggle, a huge demonstration was pressing against a police barrier, invoking the spectacle of a face-to-face confrontation. In that tense, tight-lipped and truculent moment, a young police officer quietly said to his opposite number across the wooden horses, “What do you guys want?”

The other told him, “We want your respect.”

In politely gentle tones, the peace officer replied, “Well, we do respect you.” The tension melted, police and demonstrators having found episodic peace.

It is said that war is the failure of diplomacy. “Speak softly,” Teddy Roosevelt said, “and carry a big stick.” Then there’s the other view: Speak loudly and carry a big bluff.

The current Bush Administration hadn’t been in office very long when one of our aircraft that was spying on China was accidentally sideswiped by a hot dog Chinese fighter pilot. Slightly disabled, the American spy plane pilot found it necessary to land in China. Our president, in strident dudgeon, demanded immediate release of the plane and crew or else. This tough-talkin’ American president sure as hell wasn’t going to apologize or even express regrets to the Commie spy-ees.

Eventually, the American airmen and their equipment were released, but only after the Bush Administration had backed down and issued an apology in far more humiliating terms than would have been the case without the initial bombast. Bush’s bluff was called by China, who, you might say, held, not only our plane and crew, but also most of the cards in the first place.

When this Bush Administration took office in 2001, our State Department had already worked out an agreement with North Korea. In exchange for North Korea’s abandonment of a dangerous nuclear program, our country would give that country some heavy oil and food aid. Immediately, the Bush White House scuttled the deal by talking tough to the Commie North as if there were no deal — Speaker Gingrich had already killed the appropriation to carry out our side of the bargain.

Now the North Koreans have proposed direct talks with us on the rumored testing by them of an inter-continental missile. Nothing for us to lose, much to gain. Our sensible senior senator, Dick Lugar, agrees with that. But our administration has rejected such talks out of hand, floating the tough notion that if the north tests, the U.S. might use its fantasy-so-far-failed Star Wars technology to shoot the missile down — the odds of doing so being worse than an Indiana Lotto ticket. Talk about egg on the face of our nation.

Tens of thousands of young Americans and Vietnamese of all ages died because three American presidents, knowing they couldn’t be phony heroes without choosing corresponding villains somewhere, talked tough about the Commie bastards who ran Vietnam in cahoots with Commie China. By the time President Ford took office, it dawned on the American people and him that there really wasn’t any cause for the carnage in the first place and it ended. Oh, and afterward Vietnam’s alleged buddies, the Chinese, tried twice to invade Vietnam and were defeated by the Vietnamese both times.

Now, Don Rumsfeld, our tough-talkin’ secretary of offense, who once exulted our military partnership with dictator Saddam Hussein, says we’ll form a military partnership with, you guessed it, Vietnam. Same Vietnam, same Commies. And, of course, our relationship with China is so friendly that, not only are we trading with them, but they are lending our government billions to finance its foolishness in Iraq. And our government is paying China much higher interest rates than it pays our own citizens who buy U.S. government bonds.

Remember when President Reagan decided he’d get to know Gorbachev, the Commie tyrant of the “Evil Empire”? They found out they liked each other and the world changed. Insurmountable mountains were moved.

Try this quotation from another president: “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?” That was Abraham Lincoln.

On an official trip to the Soviet Union, another friend of mine, the late Hoosier Congressman Ed Roush, attended the Bolshoi. Seated next to him was a Soviet army colonel who spoke flawless English. During an intermission, they discussed the current dust-up between their countries, the colonel saying, “If they’d leave it to you and me, we could solve it in five minutes.”

“Sit ye never so high upon a stool, yet sit ye but upon your own tail.” Michel De Montaigne wrote that.

Comes now a break in the Iran case, a rambling letter from its hard-line president to ours, obviously an overture to talk things over. The initial administration response to the opening was ridicule. Now it has softened its response and ceased the ridicule. Had the tough-talkin’ Cheney gang used its revised response in the first place, to all the world our country would have looked wiser and stronger. There would have been nothing from which to back down.

My mother said, “The steam that blew the whistle never turned the wheel.”


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