Fear is a potent deterrent

September 23, 2009


When I was a kid, there was a bully in our neighborhood. He never picked on kids his own size and certainly not on anyone larger. Rather, he punched, pushed and kicked kids smaller and weaker than himself, especially those who refused to respond to his threats. Stirred by his adversaries’ impotent responses, the bully felt free to slug anyone he fancied. Most kids tried to avoid him, thinking their demonstration of weakness might protect them from being hit. It never did. Having set themselves up as easy targets, the bully went after these kids first.

This lesson learned early in life has served me well as a citizen of the United States. It is why some choose to arm themselves, install alarm systems on their homes, own large dogs and learn self-defense. During the Reagan years, in matters of foreign policy, self-defense was known as “peace through strength.” And it worked. America’s strength and the assurance held by much the world that we were willing to use our muscle against threats served to deter those who might have wanted a piece of us.

Now we are faced with an administration that believes pandering, appeasement (as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty bravely called it) and negotiation can change the nature of dictators with dark souls. That “strategy” was on display again this week when President Obama spoke to the United Nations and talked with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Bullies like Abbas, and the people he represents, love to negotiate with the West because it weakens us and bolsters their spirit. We give and they take without giving anything in return. The Middle East is a textbook example of failed negotiations between unequals.

In the days of Al Capone, individuals and businesses bought “protection” from the mob. Today, no public or private insurance policy is available to protect us from predatory nations or terrorist organizations. A punch in the nose — or the threat of one — still deters bullies far better than signed agreements, which they have no intention of honoring.

Why have the world’s bullies suddenly become more galvanized against the West, especially the United States? It’s because they believe President Obama’s loftiness about talking to despots instead of standing up to them demonstrates weakness. So we’re going to talk (again) to North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il about dismantling his nuclear weapons program when he has refused to honor previous promises to cease and desist. With his track record, why would we believe any agreement he signs the next time?

When tyrants like Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Venezuela’s Chavez, Cuba’s Castro and, increasingly, Russia’s Putin, see a foreign affairs novice like President Obama they may believe his pocket can be picked. History — and human nature — has shown that appeasing evil begets more evil. Does the president believe that he has something of a divine gift? Will the sound of his voice and his steely glare compel the tyrannical lion to lie down with the peace-loving and docile American lamb?

If our foreign adversaries believe America will not respond to aggression, we’ll get more aggression.

In 1956, Hungarian freedom fighters believed the United States would come to their aid against the occupying Soviets. When we didn’t, the tanks rolled in and many were killed. When President Kennedy met Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961, Khrushchev concluded that Kennedy was weak. This conclusion precipitated the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly led to nuclear war.

Then there was Vietnam, which some still believe America abandoned before it finished the job. Osama bin Laden believes this. He has cited Vietnam as his main reason for believing he can outlast the U.S. in the terrorist war.

There was a time when America was feared. That time has passed. Either we restore it or we’ll live — or die — to regret it.


thelonious 8 years, 8 months ago

Wow...Cal seems to be saying that being a bully is the way to be. I bet Cal was/is a bully himself.

Cal is confused. You can defend yourself without being a bully or "instilling fear". You do have to stand up for yourself, but you don't have to cross the line into bullydom.

KansasVoter 8 years, 8 months ago

Cal is an ignorant old fool. Why does the LJWorld waste resources on dinosaurs like him and David Broder? Neither one of them has been right about anything for decades.

parlet 8 years, 8 months ago

Well, Cal is right about one thing: fear scares the hell out of me.

sfjayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

So is he saying we should invade N Korea, Venezuela and Iran?

Brilliant considering how that strategy worked so well in Vietnam and Iraq.

That is the problem with these guys, they never bring any ideas to the debate, they just scream all the more. They do tend to scream the loudest, and fear monger the hardest when their most threatened. When they realize their worldview is headed for the dustbin of history.

somedude20 8 years, 8 months ago

"Bush was a leader" and so was Jim Jones, wanna follow him?

Shane Garrett 8 years, 8 months ago

Alexander the Great, Genghis Kahn, India, Russia. Alex, What are leaders and countries which failed to conquer Afghanistan?
It would be best to allow the Afghan tribal leaders and their people to deal with the foreign fighters known as the students of god. Who gives a plug nickel about the democracy of Afghanistan, really. Pull our troops out soon. The United States will have to stay in Iraq as that is our mess. However, we have had eight years to pay back Al-Qaeda for their attack upon American soil. Bring them home now.

Boosh 8 years, 8 months ago

Remember, fear sells. Fear sells better than sex.

1029 8 years, 8 months ago

What the U.S. needs to do is launch an unprovoked attack on some nation that won't be able to put up a fight--maybe Canada or some island nation. The rest of the world will see this and say "Wow, the U.S. means business! Better not mess with that country!" (I like Canada, but a symbolic attack may be necessary to ensure our freedoms exist for the long-term)

Obama is a weak leader. What kind of moron tries to settle differences through talking with enemies? You don't talk to enemies. You hurt them and make them feel pain and show them who is tougher. They are enemies for a reason. Americans are more special than other people. Most people who live in other countries are barely human--more closer to evil-doing monsters. It's time America puts its foot down and recognizes this fact. We need to vote out Obama in 2012, vote in as many cold-hearted, ruthless, foreigner-hating Republicans as possible, and get more of these Obama-worshipping liberal morons in line by making them understand that fear is real. Evil-doers want to hurt us and our freedom-filled way of life, and so we must hurt them first before they can do this. Talking has never been a way to settle disputes, and it never will be.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 8 months ago

Gonna need a draft soon......if we want to take on all those evil ones Cal sees under every bush.

jonas_opines 8 years, 8 months ago

"There was a time when America was feared. That time has passed."

Hitler was feared, Genghis Khan was feared, Stalin was feared.

Maybe what you might have thought to focus on, Mr. Thomas, was this:

"There was a time when America was respected. That time has now passed."

I wonder if that has anything to do with using fear as a deterrent? Nah. . .

jonas_opines 8 years, 8 months ago

"History — and human nature — has shown that appeasing evil begets more evil."

History might also show, if you deign to look down your nose at it, that in many cases Fighting evil begets more evil. Fight the Russians in Afghanistan with the muhajadeen and create Al Quaeda. Fight the Russians in South America and create many dicatorships. Oppose the Communists in China by promoting the dictator Chang Kaishek, making the communists our enemies. Isolate Cuba because it's Communist. Isolate North Korea because it's Communist. Force open closed Japan, then punish it for emulating Britain, France, us etc. in advancing their own civilization. Pull down democratically elected rulers in Iran and install the dictator Shah, then isolate Iran when they rebel against their dictator.

We constantly create our new enemies by fighting our old enemies, in a chain that seems not to end. And still think that the status quo is the way to go?

gogoplata 8 years, 8 months ago

Hypocrisy just oozes out of this article. The USA is the biggest bully of all.

tbaker 8 years, 8 months ago

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.

John Stuart Mill

jonas_opines 8 years, 8 months ago

Funny how easily nobility of cause bleeds into snivelling self-service. And funny how little some care.

jonas_opines 8 years, 8 months ago

Of course, expecting consistency out of our resident Muse of Hypocrisy is probably like expecting water out of a stone.

tbaker 8 years, 8 months ago

Violence only leads to more violence.

This one is so stupid you usually have to be the president of an Ivy League university to say it. Here's the truth, which you know in your heads and hearts already: Ineffective, unfocused violence leads to more violence. Limp, panicky, half-measures lead to more violence. However, complete, fully thought-through, professional, well-executed violence never leads to more violence because, you see, afterwords the other guys are all dead. That's right, dead. Not "on trial," not "reeducated, "not "nurtured back into the bosom of love." Dead. (Gen. Richard Hawley)

In this world; in this day and age, If we come to the negotiating table and face an adversary who believes we are unprepared for this sort of resolve, we will reap what we sow. History is replete with examples. We shall soon get a lesson in this. During Mr. Obama's Presidency, the Israelis will be forced to act in order to deprive Iran of a nuclear weapon. All of the platitudes and talking will not stop this. When that happens, and rest assured it will, we will be on Israel's side, or at least that's what the treaties we've signed say we will do.

We will have to act because this world is filled with those who want all of us dead. We will have to exterminate, not régime change. We will have to exterminate, not nurture into the bosom of liberty and justice for all. We will have to exterminate, not try to win-over whole populations because we mistakenly believe that inside every Islamic fascist there’s an American, trying to get out. We will have to fight back and whole societies will be in the balance. They cannot be changed. They cannot be turned into democracies. They cannot be satisfied. They will never stop attacking us. Mark my words: we will soon see the only thing we can do with them: they can be targeted by an Ohio-class fleet ballistic missile submarine.

If we do not have the national resolve to behave this way, we will most definitely be challenged by those who do. If we project strength, if we project a willingness to stand and fight, we may yet avoid these hard choices. Its not only common sense, it's the history of the human race. Ignore it, think happy thoughts, assume the best in mankind's nature, and see what happens.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.