Big Brother or Big Bully? Essay

Big Brother or Big Bully?

The Roosevelt Corollary, Big Stick Policy and

 Their Implications on Obama’s U.S. Foreign Policy

Big Brother or Big Bully?

The Roosevelt Corollary, Big Stick Policy and

 Their Implications on Obama’s U.S. Foreign Policy

            President Theodore Roosevelt introduced the Roosevelt Corollary in 1904, with the intent to substantially amend the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was originally aimed to prevent European governments from penetrating American territories in order to colonize lands and interfere with state governance. The Doctrine considered any effort doing so as an act of aggression requiring intervention by the United States. The modifications brought about by the introduction of the Roosevelt Corollary gave the country a new role as an “international policeman”, for the new policy reserved the right to set up an intervention exclusively for the United States of America.

The Roosevelt Corollary

            The Monroe Doctrine was designed as the United State’s answer to European ambitions of colonization and intervention. The Corollary “refashioned” this plan to include Latin America (Lens and Zinn, 2003). The inclusion of Latin America paved the way for U.S. intervention in Cuba in 1906, Nicaragua in 1909, 1912 and 1926, Haiti in 1915, and the Dominican Republic in 1916. The Roosevelt Corollary justified these interventions as a method of maintaining order and prosperity for these American “allies” (LaFeber, 1993).

            The Roosevelt Corollary found many enemies in its seemingly obtrusive approach. Many characterized this modified policy as imperialistic and unnecessary foreign interventions, citing its many weaknesses and negative effects, a few of which are (Coyne and Davies, 2007):

·         Total focus on foreign policy vs. liberty at home

·         Growth in military spending

·         Exclusive power by ruling elites

·         Long-term instability

·         Economic fluctuation, militarism and war
·         Imposition of costs and taxes to the ordinary public

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

·         Increased organized crime

·         Tendency to abuse military power

·         Stagnation of social and political change

·         Lack of public trust towards political institutions
Roosevelt’s Big Stick Policy

            Theodore Roosevelt characterized his infusion of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine as a Big Stick Ideology, from a famous African proverb saying “Speak softly and carry a big stick. You will go far.” His Big Stick Policy became a form of leadership resembling Machiavellian ideals, in such that peaceful and amicable negotiations are coupled with threats of the “big stick”.

            Roosevelt’s Corollary and Big Stick Policy embodied the exercise of U.S. domination by combining careful consideration with prompt and decisive action in the face of crisis. The United States manifested these ideals and policies, especially in their governance and relationship with countries in Latin America, Asia and the Pacific at the beginning of the 20th century.

            The biggest influence of the Corollary and the Big Stick Policy in Latin America was evident during the time of the Canal Diplomacy, which sought to pursue the constructions of canals across Central America. Nicaragua and Panama experienced the biggest hits of the Big Stick Policy, when the U.S. experienced jurisdiction problems in the course of constructing the Nicaragua Canal, and later when it refused to pay construction costs to Colombia and eventually encouraged Panama to revolt against Colombia.

            The United States again made the world aware of its dominance in its involvement in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Theodore Roosevelt played middleman in peace talks between Russia and Japan in the Treaty of Portsmouth (Harrell, 2005). Afterwards, both Japan and Russia expressed disappointment over Roosevelt’s role in the resolution. The United States then sent out the Great White Fleet—America’s new modern Navy—to quell these negative sentiments and establish once again the American as a supreme superpower.

            The Great White Fleet was another example of Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy in Asia and the Pacific. This new, modern American Navy cemented the United States’ presence and influence in the region, resulting in the Root-Takahira Agreement between Japan and the U.S. This treaty ensured that both parties respected their individual territories and maintained the existing state of affairs in the Pacific. This allowed America to secure its diplomatic and economic interest in the Philippines, and did so for more than 40 years.

Roosevelt’s Corollary and Obama’s Foreign Policy

            With the negative effect and legacy that Monroeism, the Roosevelt Corollary and the Big Stick Policy has left, the Obama Administration now faces three top challenges to hurdle with respect to improving U.S. and Latin American relations.

            First is to eliminate the unilateral enforcement of these doctrines and ideals—there was neither request nor consultation between U.S. diplomats and their Latin American counterparts. Second is to do away with the air of superiority that America holds over its “brethren”, believing them to have the inferior ability to protect itself.  Third and possibly most important is for the U.S. to mend its legacy of intervening with Latin America’s domestic affairs, and avoid using its ties to justify “self-serving intrusions” that have tarnished Latin America’s self-esteem and independence (Brenner and Landau, 2009).

            The Roosevelt Corollary has given the United States a long-standing history of negativity and estrangement from our Latin American counterparts—Eisenhower with Guatemala, Kennedy with Cuba, Johnson with the Dominican Republic, Reagan with Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. George W. Bush’s invasion of non-Latin American Iraq did not help in improving the United States’ reputation as a friendly ally. President Obama needs to create an assurance that the Monroe Doctrine and all its offshoots are dead and gone, and to ensure that his foreign policy is aimed at nothing but the development of genuine ties with Latin America, who it considers to be a strong, valuable global contributor.


Brenner, P., & Landau, S. (2009). Farewell, Monroe Doctrine. Foreign Policy in Focus. Retrieved June 24, 2009 from

Coyne, C.J., & Davies, S. (2007). Empire: Public Goods and Bads. Econ Journal Watch,           4(1). Retrieved June 23, 2009 from

Harrell, D.E., Boles, J.B., Gaustad, E.S., Griffith, S.F., Miller, R.M. & Woods, R.B. (2005).      Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans    Publishing Company.

LaFeber, W., Cohen, W.I., Iriye, A., & Perkins, B. (1993). The Cambridge History of     American Foreign Relations. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Lens, S. & Zinn, H. (2003). The Forging of the American Empire. London, UK: Pluto Press.