The United States has lost its swagger. Hopefully, not for good. The last time our nation was in such dire need of a spine was in 1979, amid the Iran Hostage Crisis, when our listless President Jimmy Carter – the purportedly brilliant nuclear physicist – was flummoxed.
Then, that “dumb cowboy” Ronald Reagan rode into town. Half the naysayers thought he was too stupid to govern, the other half thought he would bring about planetary nuclear annihilation. As we know, none of that happened. Instead, the United States regained its swagger on the world stage.
Then came the Elder Bush. Admittedly, I was one of the many who was not a big fan. In hindsight, though, when comparing him not to his immediate predecessor, but to his three successors, I have come to appreciate him more and more.
All three Presidents who followed George H.W. Bush – Bill Clinton, Bush’s son George W., and Barack Obama – motivated Americans with more passionate speeches and more focused visions. Bush Senior did not care much about rhetoric, deriding it as “the vision thing.”
Hardly a way to make friends and influence a nation that just finished eight years under Reagan – the Great Communicator. Nonetheless, in building and leading a worldwide coalition to liberate Kuwait from the clutches of Saddam Hussein, and easily thwarting Hussein’s forces in the process, the Elder Bush was an able steward of America’s swagger.
The chink in our armor started in the Clinton years, only we didn’t really notice it. Americans were too busy reveling in the euphoria of a soaring economy, flying high on the Internet bubble. Accordingly, Osama bin Laden’s terrorism overtures in the 1990s were perceived more as a hiccup than a sign of real danger ahead.
Enter George W. Bush, who planned on focusing his presidency on giving the surplus money he inherited back to the people, and engaging in “no nation building.” And then, of course, 9/11 happened, and the chink in our armor grew into a big gash.
But W. valiantly strutted on the world stage, with a renewed sense of purpose: to wage and win the war on terror. He succeeded in the first step, but not quite the second.
That brings us to our current President, Barack Obama, who while standing outside the White House looking in all these years, really must have bought into the notion that the reason some countries around the world act belligerent in general and hate America in particular is because of our own hubris.
Like all other Presidents, once Obama made it inside the Oval Office, he realized how the world really works. Even so, he balances his tough stance pragmatism with lofty high road ideals aimed at his base of doves, often to the detriment of America’s need to rediscover its lost swagger.
Let’s start with the least of the problems first. The toothless Cuban embargo. The United States first imposed it in 1960, during the last few months of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, but President John Kennedy expanded it in 1962 – which included prohibition of Cuban cigars to be imported into the United States. Famously, Kennedy made sure he had a large stash of them on hand before he imposed the embargo.
But it was a listless embargo from the start, because it was unilateral. The United States should have issued an ultimatum to the world: “either join us in this embargo against Cuba, or we will stop doing business with you, too.”
And if that would’ve been too much to expect, well, then maybe we ought to have thought about not imposing the embargo in the first place.
In any case, there are far more important things in the world to worry about than the Cuban embargo. Besides, even if we normalize relations with Cuba tomorrow, if they don’t play nicely, we can always “abnormalize” them again any time we want to.
North Korea is that pesky fly that gets into the house, tries to land on the food as you shoo it away, sometimes disappears for a while and then comes back to annoy you some more. At some point, you decide you can ignore it no longer.
You might open the window and hope it flies out, but if that doesn’t work, you bring out the big guns: the fly swatter. North Korea has become that pesky fly – and it is time to deal with it in no uncertain terms: “you are going to stop being a nuisance, immediately. You can either fly out of the window safely, or be splattered by the swatter. Either way, we are simply no longer going to allow you to annoy us.”
ISIS is making monkeys out of all of us. We have the power to put on a pot of coffee, and crush them all like grapes long before the coffee finishes brewing.
Of course, by doing so, we would crush millions of innocent men, women, and children who are no more responsible for the beheadings and other atrocities than any of us are – it’s just that by unfortunate luck of the draw, they live there and we live here.
That’s why it would behoove us, once again, to take a decisive stand – one that should pay heed to the wise words of the last president we had who really understood the nature of war firsthand: Dwight Eisenhower.
Essentially, Ike said that war really ought to be a last resort. But if and when we do get involved, we need to go all-out.
In Ike’s view, war should be extremely rare, but never limited. That means, probably staying out of it completely.
But if not, if we feel the need to exercise that last resort of war, then crushing them all like grapes, and if that means taking out civilians in the process – well, that’s just an unfortunate side effect.
A month or two ago, it would have seemed that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had gained the upper hand against the United States and the West. But with the incredible drop in the price of oil – Russia’s most valuable commodity – no doubt orchestrated to great extent by the United States, Putin may be on his way to being neutralized after all.
And if that’s the case, then putting sugar in Putin’s gas tank to stall Russia’s engine without firing a shot is a stroke of genius – but lightning doesn’t strike that often. As a general rule, America need to regain its swagger – let’s hope that the current president and the future one keep that in mind.