Speak Loudly, Carry a Twig, Draw Red Lines

By | March 31, 2014 | 0 Comments

Scots’ thin red line, Crimea, 1854

Obama’s red line, Syria, 2013

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.
– Theodore Roosevelt

Diplomacy without weapons is like music without instruments.
– Frederick the Great

Be not afraid of any man, no matter what his size,
When danger threatens call on me, and I will equalize.
– Nineteenth century ad for Colt revolvers

Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.
− Hilaire Belloc, “The Pacifist”

Sequester allots 50% of budget cuts to military, though military makes up 18% of federal budget.
News item

Secretary of Defense Hegel plans to cut Navy from 11 to 8 or 9 carrier groups, as well as cutting their air wings and support ships.
News item

President Obama draws “red line” in Syria, but Assad ignores it and uses chemical weapons. There is no reaction, so Putin seizes Crimea from Ukraine.
News item

Secretary of State Kerry urges no new sanctions on Iran as talks continue, but Iranian nuclear program also continues.
News item

In answer to the question of whether the U.S. is withdrawing its protection from Europe, President Obama replies that we are tired after two wars and want a “leaner” military. That is, “Yes, but I won’t admit it in so many words.”
News item

Which of these items reflect the world as it is, rather than as we would wish it to be – the first four, or the last five?
Speaking of “red lines,” recall that originally the term did not refer to a theoretical line over which someone should not pass, for fear of equally theoretical punishment, to be inflicted by a president who was theoretically the commander-in-chief, but who was actually uncomfortable with the idea of America as a world power.
No, originally the term referred to a real red line in Crimea, over which someone could not pass, because of muskets and bayonets – and men with guts behind them. It referred to the “thin red line of heroes,” the red-coated Sutherland Highlanders, who repelled a Russian cavalry charge at the Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854.
We used to value this “thin red line” only in wartime, but then soon forget the heroes and how much we owe them. As Kipling put it:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ’is country” when the guns begin to shoot.

But now, many of us, especially “progressives,” do not value the “thin red line of heroes” even in wartime. As our troops fight and die in Afghanistan, these people fantasize a world at peace. But they do not fantasize a future world, at peace because aggressors have been defeated or deterred. Instead, they imagine that the world today is a world at peace, merely because everyone senses our good intentions. This qualifies as a delusion – a dangerous one at that.
The real questions are these:

Are diplomacy and force opposites, or do they complement each other?

Is lasting peace more likely to result from pacifism, or from the successful conclusion of a war?

Is lasting peace more likely to result when potential aggressors know they have nothing to fear from us, or when they know we are willing and able to stop them?

Does nonviolence by itself have good results, or must nonviolence be backed up by the threat of violence?

It is immoral to use ineffective methods to combat evil. This is worse than not combating evil at all. Useless methods give a false impression that something is being done. That is, you are not fighting evil, but you are also misleading others into not fighting it. You are enabling evil.
Minor disputes between reasonable people can be mediated. But major disputes with an unreasonable person can be settled only with the threat of force. And if the threat doesn’t suffice, force itself must be used.
If I claim that my property line extends six feet into your front yard, we may be able to resolve things amicably. We can hire a surveyor to redraw the line, or retain lawyers and go to court.
But what if the judge rules against me, and I ignore his order to move my fence? I will be found in contempt of court, and police will come to arrest me. Without armed men to enforce them, court orders are worthless pieces of paper. So are international agreements, as we are learning to our sorrow.
And what if people in my house scream that you have no right to remain alive, as Al Qaeda and similar fanatics do? What if they proclaim that you must adopt their religion and way of life, or they will kill you, your children, and anyone who helps you, and burn down your house as well? Can you “sit down and talk” with someone who is trying to behead you with a dull knife?
Syria, Ukraine, Iran, China – what next?
Under John Kennedy, whom Democrats revere, 50% of the federal budget was spent on defense; under Barack Obama, only 18% is spent on defense. Under Kennedy, about 10% of the gross domestic product was devoted to defense; under Obama, only 4% is devoted to defense, and the figure is about to fall to 3%. Does this tell you something about the priorities of Kennedy versus the priorities of Obama? The world has changed since the 1960s, but it is still a very dangerous place – in some ways, even more dangerous.
At this critical time, someone who advises you to talk – and not to back up the talk with the capability of using effective force – is neither rational nor your friend. Who wants to take advice from such people? It’s better to take the advice of Teddy Roosevelt. Our aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is aptly nicknamed “The Big Stick.” Yes, that’s much more realistic than relying on John Kerry’s diplomacy. That’s much more effective than speaking loudly but carrying a twig.
Talking tough to a heavily armed aggressor is dangerous in the extreme. The least dangerous approach is to try logically to convince him to give up his aggressive plans. But if that fails, we must make it clear that if he does not stop his aggression, he will pay a heavy price. Those who deny this for political advantage may have a lot to answer for. The only alternative is to acquiesce in his aggression, do nothing, and hope for the best. This way, at least we will not be giving a false impression of doing something. This way, our cold apathy and egocentric indifference will be undisguised and plain for all to see.
In 1938, British Prime Minister Chamberlain returned from meeting with Hitler, waving a piece of paper that he claimed would bring “peace for our time.” Instead, it brought the bloodiest of wars, and over 40 million deaths. But Chamberlain at least had the excuse that Hitler lied to him. Assad, Putin, and the Iranian leaders make clear what they intend to do. What will our excuse be when we are called on to account for our actions – and our inaction?
If we want to draw a meaningful red line that potential aggressors will respect, we must back it up with a thin red line that they will be forced to respect.

Chamberlain’s red line, Munich, 1938

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