Hendrik Hertzberg’s Talk of the Town piece on the Obama administration’s new direction in foreign policy as iterated by Hillary Clinton during her Senate confirmation hearings caught my eye. He writes:  

Thesis: Hard Power. The kind fetishized by the outgoing Bush crowd, especially Cheney. Guns, bombs, tanks. Humvees, Hueys, M16s. All about blood and guts. Antithesis: Soft Power. The kind preferred by certain thinkers and political scientists, including, most prominently, Joseph S. Nye, Jr., the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations at Harvard. Movies, books, songs. Ideals, diplomacy, moral authority. All about hearts and minds. Synthesis: Smart Power. The kind favored by—well, here’s Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State-designate, in her opening statement, last Tuesday, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“We must use what has been called smart power, the full range of tools at our disposal—diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural—picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foreign policy. This is not a radical idea. The ancient Roman poet Terence declared that ‘in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first.’ The same truth binds wise women as well.

Zing! I love that bit about wise women! She’s so awesome now that she’s not approving attack ads whose purpose is to stir up latent racial fears about her political opponents. But I digress.
When I was (briefly) an international relations major in college, soft power was a concept discussed by my professors in a serious, almost sad way: it was the corrective to the shoot-first-ask-questions-later Bush approach to foreign policy. I remember discussing how the economic integration of Europe, which led to political integration and the formation of the EU, would insure that there would never be a European World War again, ever. We would discuss such lofty ideals and then turn on the TV to watch Baghdad burn.

I would assume that Hillary Clinton’s people are exactly the kind of Neoliberal types that I studied with in DC. They are younger and more flexible and quick to point out that a lack of economic opportunity, infrastructure, and political stability is the surest way to encourage an outbreak of radical Islamist madrassas in a given area. 
And this brings me to compassion. If the Bush era was characterized by Orwellian violence to language and thoughtless, purposeless violence to human beings, would the deployment of smart power (the child of soft power) be a compassionate foreign policy? Is such a thing possible?
For smart power to work we have to have something both legitimate and appealing to offer as an alternative to, say, theocracy or dictatorship. Unfortunately, the value of our cultural and moral assets have (cough) declined in recent years. Wouldn’t it be nice if Clinton, who is brilliant, forceful, and transformational, was working in concert with another transformational leader to restore soft power to our arsenal of diplomacy?
Oh wait.
I’m excited to see what happens next.
More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad