The United States is the top dog — the top dog in all the world. Diminished, yes, but still top. And in dealing with such countries as Mexico — very far from the top — we can afford to be large-minded, generous, considerate.
Diplomatically speaking, it costs you nothing. And gains you much.
A nation, a people, must be allowed its self-respect. Its dignity. A nation, when it is little, must not be made to feel like a lackey or a wretch — or to be made to pay.
We are a big, rich country. If we feel we need a wall on our southern border, we can certainly pay for it. There is no need to humiliate a (relatively) poor neighbor.
Today, I’ve thought of Bill Buckley, who had experience everywhere, but who had lots of experience in Latin America. He knew. He knew the great sensitivity in Latin America about the yanqui colossus. He knew our opportunities for good and our opportunities for harm (so to speak).
I think of him particularly in the Panama Canal debate, versus Reagan. I think my 14-year-old self was on Reagan’s side. But you couldn’t deny that Buckley made some good points.
I hope that Governor Reagan will not tell us tonight that Panamanian pride is not involved in the matter of the treaties. He may tell us that Panamanian pride must, in this case, be subordinated to [our] national interest. And if he convinces me that the national interest requires the subordination of Panamanian pride, I shall side with him.
But he must not tell me that pride does not count. He must not tell us that the Panamanians should not be expected to share those passions which moved Egyptians only a decade ago to undertake huge sacrifices, closing their canal. And he ought not to suggest that American pride is one thing and Panamanian pride quite something else.
Bill later said that, “as a result of our concern for our own self-esteem,” we “are big enough to grant little people what we ourselves fought for 200 years ago.”
Yes, little people and big people. Not polite to say, but real. And the president of the United States need not — must not — be small.
I expressed a couple of these sentiments on Twitter just now. And I have the following response (in two parts). I quote it because it is typical — even regnant.
“Wrong, these are not ‘little dogs’ these are astute people who have known how to take advantage.”
“If the top dog had not been nearly destroyed by an American hating administration, we could afford that. No, the US must be strong again.”
I understand these sentiments very well. As long as I’m on Memory Lane: I cherish the memory of another Bill, Safire, on Nightline, saying that the United States should not walk around with a “Kick Me” sign on its behind.
But put yourself in the mind of a Mexican. A patriotic, self-respecting Mexican. How would you like to be treated by the American president? All of this makes a big, big difference. And behaving with both principle and a sense of grace toward little people is in the American interest.