Friday, October 03, 2008

Why American Needs To Return To Soft Power

We are the strongest and richest country in the world, and I have no desire to see us become a nation of cringing, self-loathing apologists.

Yet it is also true that one can show grace in the exercise of power, rather than taunting those in a weaker position.

The real model for this is George H. W. Bush, who was an exemplar of the intellectual/internationalist wing of the old Republican coalition.

Bush 1 was a master of diplomacy; he won a worldwide mandate to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and even get the rest of the world to chip in and pay for the conflict.

That's real leadership--eschewing the cheap high of defiant action in favor of real results.

I hated Chirac (that cheese-eating surrender monkey) and Schroeder as much as anyone, and I wish that Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin would be eaten by wolves. But we're the greatest country in the world, not a 3rd-grader. We should make decisions based on facts and what's good for our country, not based on whether someone hurt our feelings.

That doesn't mean kowtowing to other countries. But it does mean treating everyone with respect, even those who don't deserve it, emphasizing similarities rather than differences, and reclaiming the moral high ground.

I love America, which is why I want to see it restored to its traditional standing as the shining beacon of good in this world.

(posted originally as a response to comments on "Obama: The Liberal Reagan")


Foobarista said...

The problem is that Obama - if elected - would still be an American President. As such, anti-Americans will find a reason to hate him just as they hated Bush - and Clinton.

He'll blow off Kyoto - since he can't get it through the Senate - and he'll keep troops in Iraq and possibly escalate the war in Afghanistan. If he tries any "world-pleasing" actions - which I usually take to mean pleasing BBC, Guardian, and Der Spiegel editorial writers - he'll be a lame duck within a year of taking office as Congress will say "frak you".

Can you spell Jimmy Carter? I knew you could...

He'll probably do better than Bush in marketing the US position - he certainly can't do worse - but I expect Obama will be burned in effigy in some European capital within six months of inauguration.

Thomas Leavitt said...

The reason we need a return to "soft power" is simple demographics and pragmatism: the populations of China and India each exceed our own by large margins, as do their rates of economic growth, and the ultimate result is inevitable unless something changes radically: superior economic and military power.

It is only in the best interests of the United States (and it's citizenry, long term), to delegitimize the use of unilateral military force, and strengthen international institutions of governance, in order to create an authoritative global consensus that will protect us from the depredations of superior powers, and to help us to counterbalance those whose political interests we don't share.

I know it is hard for Americans to imagine not being the supreme military power of the world, but unless we want to spend ourselves bankrupt (and it is not as if we aren't already doing that as it is) ala the Soviet Union, we need to not be in a position where we have to rely on our own military power alone, to ocunteract foreign aggression.

We can already see the results of this in our inability to compell India's co-operation in non-proliferation... and our absolute silence relative to China's nuclear arsenal.

The silver lining is that India, unlike China, has a reasonably strong democratic tradition (undeniably messy at times) and thus might well act as an effective counter-weight. India's economic development has also been a lot less "statist" and more decentralized than China's, and I think in the long term they will benefit from this. The somewhat common language and extensive cultural interchange may also help.

Are either one of them likely to be a "threat" to invade the United States? Not likely. Are either one of them likely, at some point, to be in a position economically and militarily to engage in unilateral actions that the United States finds objectionable, and which we are not in a position to unilaterally respond to with credibile military or economic sanctions? Quite possibly.