Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Roosevelt’


In 1900, Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, wrote in a letter what became his presidential philosophy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” If only Donald Trump had the judgment to heed TR.

Trump wants to hold a grand military parade in Washington. The U.S. last held one in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I suggest that the parade under the auspices of President George H.W. Bush sought not only to honor our troops victorious in a 100-hour war but also make amends for the terrible treatment of American military personnel during and after the Vietnam War.

Why a parade now? Trump was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last summer. But France long has been a secondary military power. In 1914, Germany overran much of France. In May 1940, Germany outflanked the heralded Maginot Line. France fell in six weeks. In 1954, the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. France bid adieu to its Indo-Chinese colonies. French forces have fought well in Afghanistan, Iraq and its former African colonies. But French military parades honor ancient glories.

What other countries hold military parades? Dictatorships and autocracies. Vladimir Putin loves seeing soldiers, tanks and rockets roll through Moscow’s Red Square. Kim Jong Un shows off the same in Pyongyang. China also gets in on the act. And Iran, under supreme leader Ali Khamenei, showcases rockets and missiles to menace America and Israel.

All draw on precedent. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler loved military parades and being worshiped at enormous theatrical rallies. So, too, Josef Stalin. Dictators believe in speaking loudly and brandishing their big sticks. This enables them, they believe, to both cow other nations and intimidate internal opposition.

All of which paints Donald Trump as something of a junior Mussolini. Like Il Duce, Trump struts, glowers and preens. Hurls insults with abandon. And equates dissent with treason. Duce Jr. demands personal loyalty at home while disdaining America’s allies and eschewing diplomacy. This provokes hostile nations and troubles our friends, all of whom understand that America’s stick is very big indeed.

Still, even the biggest (read nuclear) stick can be challenged. Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq taught us how critical it is to know when to hold back. And that small nations and non-state actors can vex us with asymmetric warfare and terrorism.

But Duce Jr.’s bloated ego demands showing off his big stick—a sign not only of U.S. military might but of his own manliness. When the troops pass the reviewing stand, Trump will applaud not them but himself. He will believe that the troops are saluting him personally. And he will, again, be wrong. They will salute his office. That’s how the Constitution rolls.

A lover of our military, Trump never served (military school doesn’t count) unlike Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom he publicly disparaged as a prisoner of war. During Vietnam, Trump received five deferments—four for college and one medical deferment after graduation.

Last Saturday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) referred to Trump as “Cadet Bone Spurs.” She earned the right, having lost both legs flying combat helicopter missions in Iraq. I might rephrase that, “Cadet Bone Spurious.” This all would be funny if it wasn’t so frightening.

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An open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Bibi, times remain challenging. As an ardent supporter of Israel, let me respectfully offer a few comments. Because while you’re correct that a significant segment of Palestinians promotes the destruction of Israel, the best strategy Israel can adopt is that of a peace seeker. Before you throw your hands in the air, note that I didn’t say victim.

Let’s start with the recent murders at Jerusalem’s Har Nof synagogue. Five Israelis—four Jews and one Druze—were killed. It was heinous. Hamas’ supportive comments and Palestinian distribution of candies to celebrate reflect grave moral impoverishment. But destroy the homes of the murderers? Bar Israeli-Arab citizens from their construction jobs as the mayor of Ashkelon did yesterday? And build new settlements while we’re at it? That won’t stir the cauldron and bring more violence? Israel won’t look as mindless as many Palestinians do on a daily basis?

Yes, you want to show leadership. But when you embrace the right, you don’t lead. You follow. You say you support a two-state solution, as do I. Why not speak out when Economy Minister Naftali Bennett promulgates his plan to offer Palestinians limited autonomy, not a state—and only in part of the West Bank?

It hurts me to disagree with Naftali. He’s my cousin Maxine’s nephew. I certainly understand Naftali’s concerns. But his plan sounds reasonable only if you’re an Israeli. A one-state strategy will only provoke continuation—and escalation—of the conflict. Not that I believe that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, is an effective peace partner. He doesn’t have the beitzim—or as they say in Spanish, cojones.

And you? You’ve said Israel is willing to make major concessions for peace? What concessions? Why not announce them and let Abbas struggle to respond? Why not show the world, including many of Israel’s friends expressing doubts, that Israel is willing to walk the bilateral walk?

Why play up to rightists like the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson? At a recent Israeli-American Council gathering, he took the position that Israel can freely ignore the rights of its Arab population in the present or an expanded state. “So Israel won’t be a democratic state, so what?” Adelson said. Really?

Look, Bibi, I’m not suggesting that Israel compromise its security. Hitting back at Hamas last summer? I supported you. Preventing Jews from praying on the Temple Mount (security personnel even took a pair of candles from my wife when we went there) to keep order regardless of how one-sided the Muslim position? Prudent.

But let’s make sober choices in response to attacks rather than flailing wildly. Make clear to the world the truth it often willfully dismisses—that Israel is a boon to the global community, and that when we say we want peace, we mean it.

I’m not naïve. World opinion alone won’t safeguard Israel. But leveraging world opinion instead of circling the wagons can help. Over a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” That’s wisdom worthy of the Talmud.

I’ll be taking off for Thanksgiving weekend. My next post will appear on Friday, December 5.

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