Along the Tracks

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The big stick

My Monday, Jan. 5 column in the Northwest Signal:

The other day, my wife Jeanne asked where I had stored the baseball bat after fall faded and outdoor sports on the Miller Estate became limited to apple kicking, stick sword fights with 3-year-old Jeremiah and mole trapping.

My mind raced through the past week trying to remember what I had done to earn her anger.

“Uhhh, why, honey-sweetie pie?” I asked sheepishly.

My fears were unfounded. She noted my schedule had me out of the door as early as 5:30 a.m. recently, and felt having the bat under the bed would provide some security in my absence.

Some might say a ball bat is only useful as a defensive weapon if you can swing it.

Jeanne can swing it.

So can America.

The Bush administration has been the target of much criticism under the general theme of “arrogance.” Those who like to consider themselves internationalists have accused the president and his staff - usually Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld - of lacking humility on the world stage. Teddy Roosevelt is credited with the saying, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Bush, the critics say, has turned TR’s advice on its head, barking out to all in earshot just how heavy his bat really is.

I won’t disagree that America’s stance has taken a more aggressive turn. I will, however, offer this reminder: For too long, the U.S. spoke softly and left its stick on the rack. Regional hotshots and bloodthirsty terrorists took the message as a capitulation, and felt free to kick America out from its commitments - and to kick Americans in the teeth.
September 11 was the pinnacle of the enemy’s swagger, walking in and roughing us up in our own house. President Bush’s response was the opposite of what had been done the previous decade, and the opposite of what many were advising: He picked up some heavy hickory, and started swinging.

The president was not wild in his targets; rather, he carefully chose the Taliban and al Qaeda for elimination, then carefully executed a military strategy which minimized civilian and allied military losses. Once that victory was secure, attention turned to Iraq. Again, the stick was swung with great care. The predictions of naysayers in both military efforts (massive humanitarian crises, contamination due to chemical and biological weapons, ecological devastation due to oil fires and carpet bombing, rampant hunger and disease with tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties) proved completely inaccurate.

There have been grievous losses, especially in Iraq, with our soldiers and Iraqi civilians facing the brunt of cowardly car bombs and RPG attacks. Yet the total picture is one of freed political prisoners, open religious worship, improving daily life - in a word, “liberation.”

No one wants war, but war is often thrust upon nations. The choice is internal, whether to retreat and retrench or to fight and win. Afghanistan showed America still has a big stick; Iraq showed we will use it whenever we have no other choice.

We can excuse the administration for trumpeting this fact boldly, for we are beginning to see the value of broadcasting our resolve to those suffering political deafness. Perennial reprobate Muammar Khaddafi of Libya has decided to back down on weapons production and terror support, rather than use his head as a tee for the American ball bat. Iran, noting the U.S. could take a swing from either side, has agreed to allow inspections of its nascent nuclear program. Even Kim Jong Il, unbalanced dictator of North Korea, has decided to invite the U.S. for a look-see at his nuke production line, rather than test his thick skull against American hardwood.

Loud talk and big stick may not be the preference, but they are the combination which seems to work. Hopefully, the bat resting on the shoulder will be enough from this point forward.

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