Political campaigns are tough in many ways. One general problem with them is that candidates desperately need to do or say things that will generate interest or attention in their campaigns. But if they win, they immediately have to transition from being an entertainer to being a statesman. Two words that should strike fear into voters on this front: Donald Trump. Does anyone really think he could make that transition?
Case in point this week, in a guest column written by U.S. Senate candidate Eric Holcomb that ran in the Times of Northwest Indiana, the candidate wrote:
“Our commander-in-chief is more interested, it seems, in polishing his Nobel Peace Prize than providing American leadership around the globe.”
Now that’s entertainment Indiana. But this inappropriate statement is more than that. It announces a couple of things to me that I don’t think Mr. Holcomb intended. The first thing is that it sets a tone of divisiveness that I didn’t know D.C. lacked. And secondly, it is insulting to the Nobel Prize as if America shouldn’t want its leaders to inspire the award. Seriously, why would we want our President to be lumped in with people like Nelsen Mandela, Mother Teresa and Teddy Roosevelt?
Since Holcomb is a Republican, let’s focus on President Roosevelt. He won the award in 1906 specifically for his role in negotiating a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. History teaches us many things about Roosevelt’s foreign policy though. Obviously he served before the United States became the superpower that it is today. Even then though, he made famous the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick.” This famous line that he first wrote in a letter in reference to New York gubernatorial politics, became descriptive of his foreign policy as president, years later.
These days, the “stick” is far bigger than it was back then, but America seems to have lost the skill to pull off the “speak softly” thing. I think most Americans will agree that we need to continue to assemble and support the most powerful military in the world. Agreeing with this doesn’t make any candidate special. Finding ways to be safe and free without deploying it is what does.
To many voters, our nation’s foreign policy seems to be reduced to determining where the threats to freedom exist, and arguing over when we engage our military to end the insurrection. In its award to President Obama in 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee was making a statement of approval regarding his departure from that thinking as a policy. Candidates for office nearly six years later now debate the short term success and actual outcomes of Obama’s diplomacy approach as detailed in the award statement. No policy arena inspires after-the-fact debate like foreign policy.
The fact is that we can become safer as a nation by doing a better job of being hated less. While it is true that nations around the globe look to us and our military for intervention when things get tough for them, it is dangerous for us to believe that no international problem can be solved without an American physical touch. Foreign policy is a broader term than most voters realize. It is a body of work that includes immigration policy, economic and humanitarian efforts, disaster response and diplomacy to name an obvious few.
While polishing his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama has maintained the most powerful military in the world. He shouldn’t get any bonus points for that. His successor would be wise to carry on in that regard. What voters should be drawn to next year is the candidate that will keep our military in its top position while improving our standing in the international community in every other way. In other words, let’s continue to work at being hated less.
During his Nobel Lecture in December of 1910, President Roosevelt said “I ask other nations to do only what I should be glad to see my own nation do.” Things clearly have changed for us since these words were spoken. I don’t think America often views itself in such a humble way these days. We should try.
It has often been said that Presidents are remembered for their leadership on foreign policy more than anything else. The people at the Nobel Prize would say true leaders lead us to peace. I agree. The world’s most prestigious award for peace should be polished, and regularly. Thanks to Eric for inspiring me to read about an old award this week. Like Obama’s more recent one, it also deserves a little polish.