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October 29, 2006

Hard Power/Soft Power/Smart Power
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Hand-wringing has already begun over how progressives can capitalize on the public collapse of faith in the Bush Administration's foreign policies to sustain a political advantage that will endure beyond November 7.  George McGovern has resurfaced to claim that if running now on an antiwar platform, he'd win.  Others insist progressives not cede the credibility they've won by embracing hard power and rejecting "cut and run."

We're closer than we think to a strategy that makes policy sense and will strengthen public trust in our ability to handle foreign affairs.  Dozens of books and articles written by progressives converge on key points:  embrace of American military power coupled with a clear-eyed view of its advantages and limitations; vigorous, activist diplomacy - bilateral and multilateral; far-sighted efforts to build institutions and structures that will fortify U.S. interests against threats and counterweights into the future. 

My own version was an April, 2004 article in Foreign Affairs entitled "Smart Power."  It takes on the Administration's one-track militaristic foreign policy.  While not rejecting Joseph Nye's emphasis on "Soft Power" - diplomacy, cultural influence, and moral suasion - it argues that these cannot stand alone in an era of deadly threats.  The piece coins "Smart Power" as a synthesis of hard and soft, arguing that America's military and economic preeminence and its cultural and ideological appeal need to be tied together in a brand of power that reinforces both.

There are countless other formulations better than mine:  two good relatively recent ones are the Center for American Progress' Integrated Power and the Princeton Project's Forging a World of Liberty Under Law

In recent weeks, as what remained of the conservative foreign policy consensus has disintegrated, a critical segment of the American public now seems ready to embrace ideas like these.  They know unilateralism, arrogance and over-reliance on the military won't work.  They are seriously concerned with threats from terrorism, a violent and chaotic Middle East and nuclear proliferation.  They know that stronger alliances and more effective diplomacy will advance US interests.  They have faith, though not blind faith, in America's purpose and its capabilities. 

They will be receptive to cogent foreign policies that reflect these beliefs, and this is exactly what progressives have to offer (in the meantime, the Administration has started to embrace some of this out of necessity, but so far the public is sophisticated enough not to be impressed).

I don't believe Iraq will be the test, in the sense that the key focus must be a unitary, detailed plan for escaping the quagmire.  The public understands that Iraq is so far gone that proposals can now only aim to be the best of the worst, and so fluid that any prescription will be out of date by the time it hits hits Baghdad.  This is why not having a consensus progressive formula has not hurt to date.  The public is tired of an Administration that has pretended to have answers at every turn, and won't fault progressives for failing to do the same.

So now a short list of 5 issues where progressives are well-positioned to build public support based on existing policies, and 5 areas where more work needs to be done:

Five areas where progressives are well-positioned with existing policies:

1.  Multilateral Diplomacy - Most progressives have coalesced on a view that recognizes both the strengths and weaknesses of the UN and other multilateral institutions, sees the imperative of making US advocacy in such forums as effective as possible, presses the need to reform and modernize such institutions, and acknowledges that there are times when we cannot depend on such bodies for action.  After Iraq and its aftermath, the American public gets that dismissing and sidestepping the UN tends to boomerang, but also realizes the forum's limited utility in solving problems like proliferation.

2.  Alliances - Americans see the costs of our frayed alliances.  Progressive prescriptions include both reinvigorating existing alliances like NATO and Asean, as well as creating new bodies including a coalition of democracies.  They advocate building intensive and multi-dimensional relationships with an array of allies among major countries in the developing world, recognizing that this will require give-and-take.

3. Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process - Progressives have consistently stressed the importance of sustained, activist American leadership toward a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement.  The American people have witnessed the costs of the failure of effort on this score.  One rumor is that the Baker-Hamilton commission on Iraq will stress this as a way forward for the region.

4.  Broader non-proliferation strategy - Progressives have argued persuasively in recent months that bilateral talks with proliferators are necessary, if only for political advantage.  They've also made the case for reconstructing the global non-proliferation regime.  As the silent treatment fails and the NPT collapses, the public will be ready to embrace this.

5.  Real energy security - The public sees the rhetoric-reality gap in Bush-era energy policies and wants strategies, such as progressives have proffered, that are less beholden to industry.

Here are 5 areas where more work is needed:

1.  Size and Shape of the Military - Some have argued (including Larry Korb at CAP very persuasively) that the military needs to be enlarged, others (myself included) have stressed the need for new capabilities to better position us to intervene in failing states like Iraq and Afghanistan.  The public will be concerned about the future of the military as Iraq winds down and progressives need answers.

2. Free/fair trade - Its distressing that after two elections that have divided progressives on issues of free trade, we're not closer to a broadly agreed set of policies.  Gene Sperling of CAP and others have good ideas, but they need further study and syndication.  This hits livelihoods and pocketbooks and is a guaranteed political headline issue.

3.  The Fight Against Terror - The American public is becoming increasingly receptive to the case that calling it a never-ending "war on terror" has had pernicious consequences in terms of the untrammeled expansion of executive power and the US's moral capital around the world.  Its time to pivot toward a new framework for the fight against terror that can endure over time and mitigate some of the excesses.  Many progressives have started this work but there's more to be done to build consensus.

4.  Democracy Promotion - Progressives generally agree that the baby of fostering freedom and democracy around the world must not be cast out with the bathwater of the Bush Administration's failed policies.  We need to continue to promote democracy, but with more sophistication and sensitivity than the efforts of recent years have shown.  Progressives will need to spell out what this entails and why it will work.

5.  Proliferation:  The Details - While I give progressives credit above for some broad prescriptions that are right and can win support, talking about talking to would-be and actual proliferators is not enough.  We need to flesh out what a new non-pro regime would look like, and what to do in the meantime with the likes of Iran and N. Korea.


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Some have argued ...that the military needs to be enlarged, others (myself included) have stressed the need for new capabilities to better position us to intervene in failing states like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whatever is decided, I hope everyone is now familiar with the Rand study on the forces levels needed to occupy a country. It recommends "1,000 troops for every 100,000 inhabitants" in order to maintain security.

This means that any nation with more than 15 million people is beyond our army's power, given its present size.

We're closer than we think to a strategy that makes policy sense and will strengthen public trust in our ability to handle foreign affairs. Dozens of books and articles written by progressives converge on key points: embrace of American military power coupled with a clear-eyed view of its advantages and limitations; vigorous, activist diplomacy - bilateral and multilateral; far-sighted efforts to build institutions and structures that will fortify U.S. interests against threats and counterweights into the future.

That's not a "strategy". It's a series of vague truisms and dodgy rhetorical gestures embodied in euphemisms and weasel words.

I assume most Americans would support the use of American military power to go after countries that are attacking us. I assume also that most of them would reject the use of American military power against countries that are not threatening us. Is this embracing US military power or not? Who can say, right?

I trust that most Americans can still see the difference between the pablum manufactured by communications specialist and a genuine national strategy.

I like the piece and agree that Democrats are stepping forward with some very imaginative and useful thinking on foreign policy and national security.

Where they have fallen short is in providing a vision. The problem with the list you give is that it mixes apples and oranges, without providing such a vision. The apples are the challenges we face in the world. The oranges are the tools of statecraft we need to deal with those problems.

The challenges are only partially here. The ones front and center are the use of terror as a tactic and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Both are important, current and real. Both are also symptomatic of underlying challenges the list does not deal with, or not fully.

These are: 1) Rising states that could change the dynamics of the international system - China, India, Brazil - and declining states that could destabilize the system - Russia. 2)The challenge of globalization, poverty, inequality, economic interpenetration, and declining fossil fuels. 3)The challenge of governance - not "democracy promotion;" that has been discredited fully by the Iraq adventure and is not an achievable goal (begging a longer discussion). But stable, effective, responsive, and relatively representative governance in key areas of the world is a current challenge. 4)Conflicts of identity - we avoid this too often, but the independent reality of ethnic and religious strife is a source of deadly conflict today and the international community has precious little strategy to cope with it.

These challenges are all important, and the synergy between them is the "witches brew" that leads to the current conflict-laden dynamics of the international system. They share a key characteristic - no one nation, not even the "only superpower" can solve them.

This takes us to the tools. Alliances and a multilateral approach, including reform and institutional innovation are tools to confront these challenges, as well as deal with the symptomatic and critical threat posed by terrorist tactics and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

But we need to focus on the American tools, in particular. Here I must part company with the many who argue (unpersuasively, in my view) that we need to increase the size of the US military to cope with these challenges.

The military is stressed because we are rotating more than 200,000 military personnel through the Iraq/Afghanistan theater of conflict. That stress will diminish radically if our forces are no longer in Iraq. That should be our objective, not increasing the size of the military to cope with rotational stress in Iraq.

There is no convicing evidence of another mission for the forces that is anywhere near as demanding. Unless, of course, progressives favor "doing another Iraq" somewhere else - regime change in Iran or Syria, for example. I doubt the American people are ready for that; I doubt progressives support that; I even doubt the forces are anxious to repeat Iraq somewhere else.

We should not be starting with the military tool. What is needed is a more synergistic approach to our use of all the tools of statecraft to deal with the challenges we face. This means, in short, focusing more time and attention on our diplomatic capabilities, foreign assistance programs, public diplomacy, trade and international financial policies, intelligence, and homeland security.

In various ways, all of these tools have languished as we, particularly the current administration, have reached for the military as the answer to these complex challenges. The military has a very important role to play, but that role is in support of our mission and our statecraft, not in place of it.

So I would welcome a dialogue, at the institutional and budgetary level, that focuses on the strengthening and integration of the toolkit, which is a longer discussion. I would not start Democratic national security policy with a call for 40,000 more in the military, unlike others, but for a broader institutional view. Then, in its own way, what is done to reshape the military for its appropriate role in the broader strategy is far easier to define.

Ultimately, all of this demands a vision. And, I would submit, the vision is not one of America charging into the world to fix things. I have called it a vision of "Hope, Leadership, Engagement, and Strength." That may not be the best bumper sticker, but I do think it important to focus on the "vision thing," while we are tackling the specific challenges and creating the synergies we need in the toolkit to implement our goals as a nation.

The best thing we could do right now with our power is to put it towards the Millennium Development Goals. I think that addresssing these 8 huge goals would earn worldwide respect and bring about an amazing outcome. Ending world hunger and extreme poverty, universal education, vaccines for preventable diseases ie TB, Malaria and finding cures to HIV/AIDS, not to mention promoting sustainable development, etc. If we put our political will towards these ends, the world would be safer, more stable, more economically powerful, and environmentally friendly. The Borgen Project is working towards achieving these goals by encouraging our leaders to take action!

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