SPEAK SOFTLY AND CARRY A BIG STICK….Question: why does all this tough talk about Syria bother me? After all, maybe we really don’t want to invade Syria but we do want to send a message. What’s wrong with that?

Answer: it never works. I’m sure there are some examples that I’m forgetting, but loud public threats never seem to accomplish anything except making the other guy mad. It sure hasn’t worked for the Israelis or the Palestinians. It sure didn’t work against Saddam. And it hasn’t worked against Castro.

Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly and carry a big stick” wasn’t just blather. He recognized that loud talk just gets people’s backs up and makes it harder to accomplish your goals. Better to engage in private negotiation where everyone can save face, while at the same time making it clear that you’re willing to back up your words if it comes down to that.

The Bush administration has the “backing up your words” part down pat, but they don’t seem to understand the “speak softly” part. They should learn.

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