Friday, November 28, 2014

Speak Softly, Carry a Big Stick

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

That phrase we associate with Teddy Roosevelt, incidentally he said he picked it up on Safari in West Africa.  That saying along with, Peace through strength, trust but verify and others simply mean that when people have a “big stick” to wield they can afford to talk softly.  

American Presidents have used these phrases for their benefit to achieve foreign policy objectives. These all carry the message that they were willing to use physical force to back up what they wanted to do.  But the key to that working was that their opponents believed they would use that “big stick” if needed.  The physical force when it’s threatened to be used by a super power is clear and understood.  

The phrases above are clever and catchy linguistic tools to get the point across in negotiations.  Our opponents believe we will use that force because we have in the past and proven we are willing to do it again and they know it.  We are saying to them, “Do what we want or we’ll smack you down”.  It usually works in our case because our opponent decides they don’t want to risk it and withdraws.

What happens however when a struggling region of a country that dreams of becoming a country in its own right says the same thing?  Usually they aren't believed and are attacked.  In their as in ours they have to continually prove that they are willing to go into harm’s way to achieve their end.  It is only after repeated victories in battles and strategic retreats from losses to re-group and fight again, that their opponents will start to pay the upstart of a people its due.

America started out in this way.  We had to fight battles with less troops poorly trained and equipped and we lost many battles.  But we won a few and we retreated to fight again, the point became clear that we were not afraid to fight and die if need be to achieve our dream of nationhood.  Not all countries survive that “trial by fire”.

But even though a country or people may fight the good fight and risk it all for what they believe; they may not win in the end:  However their willingness to die for what they believe strikes a chord in most people as a noble thing.  Something worth emulating.  A way we can rise above ourselves and find a higher plain.  Win lose or draw we gain from the effort. This type of action in a losing but heroic fight reminds us of our own loss at the Alamo, and as far back to antiquity of famous defeat of 300 Spartans who died saving Athens from the army of Barbarians who were threatening to wipe Athens/Greece from the face of the earth and in so doing wipe away the underpinning of the birth of Freedom which was built upon and from which Western Civilization flourished. 

When a people show this dedication to putting all else including their own lives on the line for Freedom we tend to say that they are fighting like Spartans.  In an Aljazeera article written by Michael Knights entitled Iraqi Kurdistan: the Middle East’s Next Little Sparta, Mr. Knights gives a nice account of why the military is starting to refer to the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG’s) army the Peshmerga as “little Sparta”.  (Link to “Little Sparta”.

This is a good article for background and to catch up in general with the news from Kurdistan.  This article talks to the respect the US military and the Washington power brokers have learned to afford this regional government of Iraq, and its army, and in the reverse the lack of respect the Iraqi Army has earned.  With the threat of the Islamic State in all its incarnations, it has been the Peshmerga which consistently laid down their lives to stem the tide when the Iraqi Army has thrown down their weapons and run off. 

The slant of most news articles is that this was made possible by US air strikes.  The real fact of the matter was that it was the Peshmerga and other Kurdish forces which stood up when others ran.  They stood up with inferior weapons and numbers, but like the Spartans they stopped the tide of the Islamic State giving time for the Iraqi government to save face and the US to start funneling supplies to the Kurds.  The land mass of the Kurdistani people as I pointed out in the previous articles includes parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran as well as Iraq. 
see map below.

They have their strongest most developed organization in Northern Iraq and their Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq is almost daily getting recognition now from not only foreign powers but even grudgingly from Iraq.  For example there are a couple of bills in the US House which will allow our President to give training and some pretty heavy weapons to the KRG.

With the likes of Senator John McCain saying to the KRG delegation: Not a day goes by that I don’t work with my colleagues to get you what you need to defeat these terrorists”. You know help is on the way.
I am too old in the tooth to believe this dream of Kurdistan wrested from parts of Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraqi will magically appear.  It may, and it will keep trying to form itself regardless of what I believe.  As long as their courage stays the course they have a chance.  The chance comes for them as with all of us from how they handle diversity not how they avoid it.  The human race from its beginning has prospered by overcoming adversity not from shrinking away from it. 
Perhaps the deciding factor of their future success will be ideological.  They like the Spartans are fighting for the ideology of Freedom for their homeland and themselves, not in conquering people, not in tyrannizing them.  Another phrase comes to mind.  I think President Regan would agree that the Kurds could be a “Shining City on a Hill” for all of those other Mid-East countries so downtrodden for centuries under the boot of tyranny.
Even when the Kurds say they are willing to die fighting, they are doing so because they are fighting for their homes and family and their very lives.  For them to give into the Islamic State (IS) means that they will be raped, sold into slavery, or beheaded.  Not much of a choice perhaps but it constantly amazes me how many people in that same situation were unwilling to face reality and at least put up a fight and were lead to the slaughter.

So when Masoud Barzani the leader of the KRG talks softly I know and I think the world is learning that when he is talking about the Kurdish homeland he does indeed carry a big stick.