“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” are the oft-quoted words of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Unfortunately, Roosevelt’s lesson of leadership has been completely lost on the Likud party as each and every Likud government has acted in exactly the opposite way. The current government has been especially guilty of ignoring Roosevelt’s sage advice. Thanks to them, we have spent the last few months experiencing the well-known Chinese curse of “living in interesting times”. The government’s missteps began this past summer, when we started talking loudly about Iran– and in the end, did very little. I am not suggesting we should have acted but rather, that talking a great deal and not doing anything simply serves to weaken us.

Then came “Operation Pillar of Defense”. Prior to this operation, we had heard much from the current government’s ministers vowing how if they were in power the Gaza problem would be addressed once and for all. Well, their time came, they initiated a large-scale attack air — an attack that was fully justified, I might add – but the woeful results were all too predictable. Hamas fired missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time. We were lucky that the first missile fell without causing any harm. By the time the third missile was ready to be fired we had rushed the newest battery of Iron Dome into place to protect Tel Aviv. Of course, no one asked how it was that we could begin this operation without having the new system in place from the get-go? More problematic, our government had spoken out on any number of occasions about its “red lines”. Firing on Tel Aviv was without question, one such red line. Once that happened, did we flatten a square block of Gaza? Did we launch a commando raid and capture the head of Hamas? Did we launch a full-scale invasion of Gaza? The answers are to each of these questions: No. We did nothing. We continued to do nothing when Hamas carried out a bus bombing in Tel Aviv. I am not advocating a particular course of action. What I am saying that it is counter-intuitive and counter-productive to threaten severe retaliation for all sorts of “red lines”, and then take absolutely no definitive action. The verbal posturing of repeated threats without real consequences significantly weakens our deterrent capability.

Our “speaking loudly, and carrying a small stick” did not end with actions relating to Gaza. Regrettably, it continued with persistent diplomatic maneuvering around the U.N. vote on Palestinian “Nation Observer” status. First, we threatened all sorts of terrible consequences if the Palestinian Authority brought the issue up to a vote. Then, we threatened different consequences in the event the Palestinian’s upgraded status was approved. Then, when the event occurred, we dismissed its passing as “unimportant”. What was our one reaction following our neighbor’s achievement? We announced additional building in the area around Jerusalem. Who really cares about that announcement? The Palestinians certainly do not care. The Jerusalem announcement gives Palestinians additional fodder for their diplomatic activities. Still, our friends (like the U.S), stood by us. They are the ones we embarrass with our pronouncements.

A few years ago I heard Henry Kissinger repeat his remark that Israel does not have a foreign policy, only a domestic policy. He first made that remark in the 1970’s. Since then, our neighborhood has become a much more dangerous place, and our room for maneuvering has severely contracted. We face a potential existential threat from Iran and an Egyptian government controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. We can no longer afford to have our foreign policies run by those who care only how their statement will impact their next election, or primary campaign. We cannot allow our future to be dictated by ideologues, but rather by pragmatic leaders. Our policies and statement need to be carefully calibrated to gain the maximum support in the world and not at the next Likud central committee meeting. It is time to end all the loud talk and threats, and heed Teddy Roosevelt’s words — Let’s start talking softly, but keep carrying a big stick– before it’s too late.

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of Historycentral.com -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary. He is the publisher of an economic news App about Israel called DigitOne