Ronald "the Gip" Reagan understood it. George Bush understands it, too. When negotiating with an adversary, you are better served negotiating from a position of strength.
Determined to rid the world of the Communist menace, Ronald Reagan decided to beat the Soviets at their own game by overseeing the largest peace-time military build-up in U.S. history (for all intents and purposes, all history). Why? Because he understood two things much more clearly than all his detractors: many countries around the world were ruled by dangerous people; dangerous people never negotiate with people weaker than themselves.
Reagan believed that the Soviets and Communism had to be defeated. He believed war could be avoided if the United States could negotiate effectively with the Soviets. He knew, however, that the Soviets would not, under any circumstances, negotiate with the U.S. as long as they believed they were stronger militarily than we were. As he expected, the Soviets responded to the U.S. military build-up with a build-up of their own. The stagnant Soviet economy was crushed by the economic weight of the build-up and, ultimately, collapsed. This resulted in a U.S. victory over the USSR without a single shot being fired. His critics said it couldn't be done. They called him "crazy." Reagan knew better. We should all be grateful.
Two decades later, the dividends of strength remain apparent as the mere hint by President Bush that he may send troops to liberate the oppressed peoples of Liberia has the country's once arrogant and intransigent leader, Charles Taylor, offering to flee the country to avoid conflict with U.S. troops.
Liberia, a West-African nation founded during the 1800s by freed slaves from America, has been ravaged by civil war for more than a decade. President Taylor, who once worked as a gas station attendant in Boston and later escaped from a Massachusetts jail, rose to power in the small African nation as a leader of a rebel faction fighting to overthrow the government in Monrovia, Liberia's capital. He is considered a war criminal for his support of rebel forces in neighboring Sierra Leone - forces who killed tens of thousands of their own countrymen and women by chopping off their limbs with machetes during a civil war that reached its height during the Clinton Administration (though called upon by many nations to help stop the open genocide, neither the Clinton Administration nor the United Nations was effective at curtailing the slaughter). Taylor is generally considered the major impediment to peace in the region.
For many months, Taylor has been openly defiant of U.N. requests to end the violence and allow free elections in Liberia. In essence, the warlord previously implied that free elections would only occur over his dead body. And that is were Bush came in. In an eight minute speech Tuesday morning on Goree Island, Senegal (Goree Island was once a thriving port of embarkation for slave ships traveling to America), Bush signaled a willingness to seriously consider deploying troops to stabilize the war-torn nation. Taylor and his henchmen had no difficulty deciphering the underlying message from Bush - "leave now or I will have you thrown out." Taylor got the message loud and clear. In fact, he has accepted an offer for asylum from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Taylor, elected president in 1997 after threatening to continue waging civil war if he lost, repeatedly rejected calls for his resignation by U.N. officials during the Clinton years. Although a thug and murder, Taylor isn't altogether stupid. He knows that Bush, unlike Clinton before him, has the fortitude and moral clarity to do what he says he's going to do. One need only ask Saddam Hussein about President Bush's resolve.
With that resolve (and the battle-hardened U.S. military) in mind, Taylor will most likely agree to a more peaceful transition of power which will ultimately lead to an end of the Liberian genocide and a real chance for peace after years of strife. Following "the Gip's" lead, Bush will negotiate the situation in Liberia from a position of strength, the only effective strategy when dealing with killers and madmen who achieve power through death and destruction. In the end, Bush will win, he will win for the Liberian people, and he will "win one for the Gipper."