Posted by Anita Folsom
This is a tale of two Roosevelts. Teddy Roosevelt, president from 1901 to 1909, believed that the United States should be one of the great world powers. He encouraged American expansion into overseas markets, built up the American military, and governed a robust U.S. economy. He popularized the adage, “Speak softly and carry a big stick!”
His distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, served as president from 1933 until his death in 1945. For the first seven years of his presidency, FDR spent on large government welfare programs, slashed military spending, and never saw unemployment below 12% in the 1930s, but still he wanted the United States to play a large role in world affairs. Did this strategy work? No. By and large, world leaders ignored him until the crisis of World War II. The British prime minister Neville Chamberlain called FDR’s efforts in world diplomacy “Yankee meddling.” Germany’s Adolf Hitler ignored Roosevelt as well. The Japanese simply expanded their empire further into China and southeast Asia.
Fast forward to today. President Obama has once again taken a page out of FDR’s 1930s leadership manual. Obama wants to cut our Navy back to fewer ships than we had before World War I. Under his leadership, the state department weakened security at our embassies and consulates overseas. Instead of maintaining a strong military, Obama is spending on stimulus packages that have had little effect to promote either more jobs or spending in the private sector. Most stimulus money has gone to increase the size of government at the state and federal levels. With a weak U.S. economy and declining military presence, other nations are questioning the role that America plays in international diplomacy.
Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt was right. The “big stick” is both a robust economy and a strong military. Unfortunately, our current president is following the strategies of the other Roosevelt.
For more information on FDR’s failed strategies in world diplomacy and military strategy, read FDR Goes to War, by Burton and Anita Folsom (published by Simon & Schuster, 2011).