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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Today's tale from Aesop: Soft Power and the DeNiro theory of relations

I am told that Barack Obama has announced the return of soft power.

Soft power is a term used in international relations theory to describe the ability of a political body, such as a state, to indirectly influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies through cultural or ideological means. The term was first coined by Harvard University professor Joseph Nye, who remains a prominent proponent, in a 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. He further developed the concept in his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Its usefulness as a descriptive theory has been challenged often, but soft power is still being used as a term that distinguishes the subtle effects of culture, values, and ideas on others' behavior from more direct coercive measures called hard power such as military action or economic incentives.

So we will ask you to reform your terrorists effectively, or prevent the Russians from using your ports as a base, or reduce your commerce with certain nations, and if you do that, we will send you 500 peace corps volunteers who will teach your villagers to fish. Or,... we will help you with a loan guarantee so you can build that factory Nike has been thinking about, or we promise to accept 1000 medical students and have our taxpayers foot the bill. You just have to do this unpleasant thing we ask of you which is not popular, will put you in danger, and will probably irritate other nations such as China, Russia and Iran who act without conscience, and might offer you a squadron of SU-35's or J-10's or show you a portrait of large stick instead.

We will point to the constitution and portraits of Lincoln. We will exclaim over the 600,000 union men who died to kill slavery in this land. We will indicate our standard of living. We will direct your attention to the squadrons of dictators and absolutists systems who have fallen away as they have claimed we are fat lazy soft and done.

Now there will be those who will say, that even thought we espouse this soft power we still have the stick. But we have for better or worse, in this election, eschewed the idea of the stick as unpleasant, and have found it causes others to not like us.

The penultimate moment of the execution of the military edge of soft power came under J Carter, when we deployed 2 squadrons of F-15's to Saudi Arabia, to deter the Russians, and then announced they would carry no ammunition or weapons.

This was impressive, but perhaps not in the way hoped for.
There has been much made of the Team of Rivals idea of Mr. Obama's (if that is what we have)

Only Sen Clinton, among all those appointed, is a hawk on any issue and she will now be captive of that most neutral of american institutions, where FDR only hoped they remain so, at the outset of WW2.

Having eschewed the stick in any meaningful way, and seeking to use brilliant suasion and guilting on other nations who may not share our values, what do we propose which has value?

Will we convince the Belgians to curtail or end ALL immigration and protect their own people with soft power?

Will we convince the North Koreans to give up the lies of three generations and a nuclear weapons program which is the RESULT of the resort to soft power with soft power?

Will we convince the Russians that their interest in the medium and long term lies in total cooperation with us over Iran with soft power?

Will we inveigle the nations around Venezuela to ice cold, and complete unyielding resistance to the dictator with soft power?

These people who are conviced the world has advanced past history, and that human nature has been transmogrified by logic need only consider what used to be Bombay during Thanksgiving.

The result of soft power is very plain. Oh, there is a place for suasion and cultural arguments in very specific circumstances, but in the end .... our argument for the better angels of someone elses nature must finally come to rest against something more substantial than that. After all, we will be arguing against avarice, sloth, instant gratification and hedonism....
For some, hope is an answer. As for me, I prefer to go on without it, and rely instead on the cynical forces in man, and what that compels, as this is what some men in 1789 seem to have had some success with.

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posted by Epaminondas at permanent link#


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soft power? That's like a guy saying he's got a limp dick at a porn audition.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008 11:03:00 pm  

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