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OPED: Trump must avoid Carter's mistakes
With apologies to Edgar Allen Poe, this is for those of you born after "the valley of the shadow," when vicious hordes attacked the sovereignty of this country by invading the American Embassy in Tehran.
It was a time when a novice like the one now governing in the White House faced a tough decision: whether to speak softly or use a big stick, the preferred American policy.
Unfortunately for Jimmy Carter and this nation, he chose the first option. He did so despite having graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he'd helped the chief architect of the nuclear submarine program. After the academy, he was summoned home by his mother to run the family peanut farm, got bored and was elected to one term as the governor of Georgia, enough experience, he thought, to run the country. Wrong.
So, when late in his presidency a mob of Iranian thugs took nearly all the embassy's staff hostage, he tried to jawbone his way out of the massive problem. This went on day after day until he and his military advisers decided to try rescuing the hostages but instead put on a show of ineptness that ended with a helicopter crash in the desert and the whole mission aborted. Our allies shook their heads, the non-aligned were amazed, and our enemies trembled — with laughter — and then made plans to have at us. The big stick had become a tooth pick in front of the world.
Now the current occupant of the Oval Office has a similar but far more serious decision to make. Should he act beyond diplomacy, as he has threatened to do repeatedly, or use what influence he has left by asking for a near worldwide boycott of North Korea, which he did last week?
It has been suggested that Carter should have picked up the phone and informed the Iranian powers that they had committed an act of war — and that unless the embassy was vacated and the American prisoners sent home within 24 hours, their country would cease to exist. Iran was no military match for the U.S., so it's assumed the Persian extremist leaders would have had little option but to comply.
Instead, Carter's timidity was the final blow to his already dwindling re-election hopes. His inability to bring back the hostages severely damaged this country's prestige internationally. And worse, it began decades of destabilization in the Middle East, leading to the morass we now have been bogged down in for more than 10 years. Ultimately, an accord was reached for Iran to halt nuclear development in exchange for lifting sanctions. But the Iranian agreement is being targeted by Donald Trump.
Trump's latest demand to wipe out North Korea if it doesn't stop testing hydrogen bombs and shooting off missiles came before the United Nations and shocked everyone in its forcefulness. The next day, however, the novice seemed to have backed off his bellicosity by proposing the strongest kind of sanctions.
Confusing? You bet it is, and it was apparent that somehow cooler heads were influencing Trump. It is equally apparent Kim Jong Un, the crazed pig who runs North Korea and sees himself as a deity, hasn't been intimidated by Trump's threats. He obviously doesn't believe them or is so mad he doesn't care. Don't forget that he has starved his citizens to pay for his nuclear obsession.
Back when Carter could have saved us from enormous grief with stern talk, this country had a huge advantage over its opponent. Today, the North's arsenal reportedly already includes nuclear weapons capable of reaching this country and that threat to our democracy probably will steadily increase as the North adds more to back its huge army. Neighbors like South Korea and Japan, who are our allies, are more than a little concerned — and should be.
No one wants what may be necessary. But eliminating this menace might be the only way out of the "valley of the shadow."
Speak softly for a while, Mr. Trump, but perhaps not too long.
— Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.