Only a conspicuous mind would be able to unravel the meaning behind the words spoken by Vice President Teddy Roosevelt a few weeks before his arrival at the White House, after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901: “Right here let me make as vigorous a plea as I know how in favor of saying nothing that we do not mean, and of acting without hesitation up to whatever we say. A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick — you will go far.’”
Later he would add: “Boasting and blustering are as objectionable among nations as among individuals, and the public men of a great nation owe it to their sense of national self-respect to speak courteously of foreign powers, just as a brave and self-respecting man treats all around him courteously. But though to boast is bad, and causelessly to insult another, worse; yet worse than all is it to be guilty of boasting, even without insult, and when called to the proof to be unable to make such boasting good … If the American nation will speak softly, and yet build, and keep at a pitch of the highest training, a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far. I ask you to think over this.”
The concept of the “Big Stick” clearly defined Roosevelt’s resolution to enter into agreements with other parties on the premise that he could place the “Big Stick” on the negotiating table, next to the ostentatious presidential chair, so as not to leave any doubt of its violent implementation in the event that no conclusion was reached in favor of Uncle Sam’s economic interests. In this specific case, the conclusion was an armed intervention in the Southern Hemisphere’s member countries.
Roosevelt and various other U.S. presidents have used the forceful “Big Stick” method to get the better of not only Mexico but also Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama, among many other countries that make up the global concert of nations. How far we are from the words of Woodrow Wilson: “The truth is, we are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless.”
Nowadays, it is no longer necessary to send fearsome Marines to invade another country in order to safeguard Yankee interests. President Donald Trump counts on another type of “stick” with extraordinary efficiency and a lower operating cost, one that doesn’t require the mobilization of one or many fleets to bring his arbitrary politics of dispossession to life in the use and abuse of the United States’ grand economic power. The “Big Stick” is known these days as a “tariff.” It’s enough for Trump to simply sign an order, by which a tax is imposed on the importation of certain products coming from whatever part of the world, in order to “reason” with different governments that are reluctant to accept unreasonable and intolerant dictates from Washington.
Trump no longer has to send troops to Mexico, as happened in 1846, 1914 and 1917, and which was on the verge of happening again in 1927, to impose his every whim. It was enough to withdraw customs officers at the border for a few days to complicate and stop the passage of thousands of cargo vehicles containing perishable Mexican products, which consequently went bad, resulting in multimillion dollar losses. Mexico, an oil country, imports the great majority of its oil and gas to the United States. If the furious White House occupant decides to impose a levy on these energy sources or cancel exports to convince the Mexican government that it is incompetent in fighting the war on drugs and unable to stop the flow of migrants to the United States, devastation to the Mexican economy would occur in unmeasurable proportion, not to mention the damage that it would also do to American industry, even if just for a few days.
These days, Trump doesn’t need to send in the Marines to impose his politics; it’s enough to press the button known as “tariff” to unsettle the world economy with consequences beyond his incendiary imagination.
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