Nice but firm countries finish first

The United States will be friends with practically any other country, as long as that country is also willing to be friends. But woe to those who aim to do the US harm.

Being open and friendly, but tough when one needs to be, is a strategy for success. In other words, nice guys but resolute guys finish first.

That holds true not just for individuals, but also for nations. And the United States is one such nation.

The world is blessed to have many countries – especially developed Western countries – that promote the ideals of freedom, democracy, peace, economic cooperation, and humanitarianism. It is a far cry from centuries past, when the major countries' primary goal was to divide and conquer.

But there is an unenlightened contingent. Numerous countries, especially "rogue states," still insist on spewing out insults and vitriol, and blaming their internal troubles on other countries. They have the medieval mentality that belligerence is the key to advancement.

The latter group of countries is why the former group can't be too nice. Giving into bad guys' demands can have disastrous consequences. A famous example is when Great Britain acceded to Hitler's desire to usurp more territory in 1938, thinking that once his immediate demands were satisfied he would no longer be a threat. Britain's leaders were under the erroneous impression that bad guys could be dealt with solely through talks, diplomacy, and appeasement.

The United States can sometimes be too nice, too. In 1994 it signed an agreement with Pyongyang to allow North Korea limited nuclear-power generation in exchange for a freeze on its nuclear weapons program. As it turned out, North Korea did no such thing.

By and large, though, the United States combines niceness with toughness.

America is akin to a rich, successful, and happy person. Such a person is affable and receptive toward everyone he meets. Yet he is vigilant, too. Being rich, he's envied. There are people who don't like him just because of his good fortune or his outsized influence. Some wish to hurt him. For those people, he's firm. He plays hardball right back with them. And he doesn't give in to their demands.

America is willing to be friends with almost any country as long as that country is willing to be friends with America. And if that other country is not willing, America still holds out hope that someday it will change its mind.

During the cold war it was the Soviet Union that was the antagonist, not the US. Because the Soviets were ideologically against the American way of life, no amount of trying to befriend them would have worked. The only thing the US could do was be ever-prepared and ever-vigilant – make sure the Soviets see the weapon at America's side, while always having an olive branch stuck in its back pocket. After the Soviets finally shed their bad attitude, the US happily and readily presented them with that crumpled old olive branch.

A more recent example is Libya. In the wake of Saddam Hussein's ouster, Libya finally has realized that being cooperative with America, not antagonistic, is in its best interests. And the US couldn't be more pleased to welcome it into the community of civilized nations.

Whether it is a nation or a person, a key to success is to be friendly and kind to anyone who reciprocates, yet tough toward those who try to inflict harm.

A computer model even illustrated this lesson. Developed by The Santa Fe Institute, it was a digital fish tank. Users could introduce new life forms to observe whether their species thrived or died out among the other life forms. According to tech guru Winn Schwartau, each life form had a complex set of rules governing its behavior. Over time, wrote Schwartau, the life form that consistently dominated abided by the following rules:

"1. My species will always play nice with you. I will never be aggressive to you. We will make every attempt to cooperate and work with you and everyone in our (global) fish tank.

2. If you [mess] with me, I will annihilate you without any warning. Period."

That was written pre-9/11. Like Japan and Germany 60 years prior, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein discovered how seriously we take Rule #2.

And as long as we keep abiding by both rules, America, like the fish in the digital fish tank, will stay on top.

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