Every now and then the English language produces an interesting word filled with imagery. One of my favorites is “pussyfooting” as it describes how someone or something behaves cautiously or timidly like a cat before making a commitment to action. It’s also a great way of describing American diplomacy in the 21st century, representing politicians who are afraid of committing themselves to a course of action.

The poster child for this expression was former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of the United Kingdom who pussyfooted around Hitler in 1938 and declared “Peace for our time” which turned into an embarrassing joke. Had Hitler been properly challenged early on, World War II may have been averted.

The world is a lot more dangerous than it was in 1938, particularly when you consider the weapons now available. We are not at a loss for antagonists either. There is, of course, the “Axis of Evil” including North Korea, Cuba and Iran, most of which are headed by tinhorn dictators, and let us not forget our old buddies the Taliban and Somalian pirates. I am simply at a loss as to why we accept the shenanigans of the comedy team of Kim Jong-il, Fidel Castro, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The only thing these clods understand is strength, and all of them can be handled easily if we wanted to, but that’s a big “if.”

North Korea is perhaps the most dangerous of the lot as they like to rattle sabers. They are also the easiest to take out, simply by full economic sanctions coupled with surgical strikes to take out any nuclear program they are working on. If a military and economic buildup could bring down the Soviet Union, it should also bring down the nut jobs in the North, or doesn’t anybody remember Ronald Reagan? The same is true for Iran and Cuba.

The Taliban is a little more difficult to handle as they are elusive and hide up in the hills of Afghanistan with their tails between their legs. Bin Laden is probably hiding up there as well. Digging them out shouldn’t really be that difficult. If they do not want to change their ways or surrender, just sprinkle a layer of Napalm on the hills, add salt and pepper and serve at room temperature. Why should we be restrained with an enemy who is hell-bent on our destruction?

For some reason people think the Somalian Pirate attacks are difficult to prevent. Maybe so, but has anyone heard of escorted convoys or secured maritime lanes, or did this go out with the 1940’s?

Aside from military intervention, which nobody really wants, the secret is economic sanctions, but I mean “real” sanctions, not the half-assed measures currently in place. For example, other countries typically try to fill in where America drops out. If America declares a trade embargo against a country, like Cuba, any other country trading with them should be penalized in our country accordingly. As much as I love our neighbors to the north, under this scenario Canada would be penalized for trading with Cuba.

Currently, our government is looking to loosen Cuban economic sanctions, not to tighten them. In exchange for allowing more US dollars and tourism to flow into the country, Castro promises nothing in return. I somehow fail to see the logic in this. There is a big difference between appealing to someone’s intellect in the hopes they will do the right thing, versus negotiating from a position of strength. “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” was Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy which he described as, “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”

Our problem is not so much a matter of a specific enemy, as it is on how we tend to pussyfoot around diplomatically in the fear our adversaries might react negatively and do something foolish. I tend to believe such an approach is interpreted as a sign of weakness and only emboldens our enemies. If we can show we are serious about maintaining our interests, that we can demonstrate strong determination and resolve, then they will think twice before crossing us.

Let’s put it in simpler terms; when you were a kid in school, which teacher did you take more seriously, the one who simply scolded you or the teacher who put you in detention or paddled you? A little “Big stick” diplomacy can go a long way.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

For a listing of Tim’s Pet Peeves, click HERE.

Download Tim’s eBook (PDF), “The Bryce is Right! Empowering Managers in today’s Corporate Culture” (free DOWNLOAD).

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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