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The right mix of hard and soft power

THE GRAND DEBATE over American foreign policy and its war on terrorism can be reduced to a single question: How many carrots versus how much stick?


In other words, how much should the United States depend on its military might, its hard power, to go it alone against its enemies, brushing aside reluctant allies to get the job done? And how much should America deploy soft power, appealing to a mutuality of interests, an attraction of shared values, and a willingness to consult others, tiresome though that might be, in order to get people to want the same outcomes? The Bush administration has chosen to emphasize the former and neglect the latter.

Two new books illustrate the great divide. Richard Perle and David Frum have written "An End to Evil: How to win the war on Terror." Joseph Nye's new book is "Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics." The authors are private citizens with government experience. Perle is one of the intellectual gurus of the neoconservatives. Frum put the "axis" in the "axis of evil" speech, while Nye invented the term "soft power."

Perle and Frum see a world infested with demons that America must righteously smite. A united Europe is not in US interests, they say, and America must help Britain to keep its "independence" from it. Overthrowing the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq is not enough. Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia should be boldly confronted. As for the United Nations, it "does considerable harm."

National sovereignty is an "obligation as well as an entitlement," they say, so if we need to "raid" Syria to look for weapons or bomb North Korea's nuclear plants, so be it, although "it is true that we do not know where these facilities are."

Perle and Frum consider themselves "realists." The world's problems are a result of "weak-willed leaders." Where foreigners see "unilateralism," Americans see "leadership." US government agencies, CIA, FBI, State, and Defense, need to be cleansed of a "troubling weakening of the spirit." Soft power does not enter the Perle-Frum equation.

Their grandest vision is to transform the undemocratic regimes of the Middle East into democracies that would gentle them into bowing to American and Israeli interests. As for the Palestinians, they should "swallow disappointment" and accept Israel occupation or move out. Even President Bush comes in for criticism for failing to realize that a Palestinian state may be a nice idea but simply won't do.

Nye is no less an advocate of hard power when it's necessary. But it is soft power that can help "get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. . . . It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced." When we appear to ride roughshod through the world, we squander that power, Nye says.

"It is a mistake to discount soft power as just a question of image, public relations, and ephemeral popularity." It is a form of real power -- "a means of obtaining desired outcomes," whether the issue be terrorism, infectious diseases, nuclear proliferation, or global warming. Sometimes nations find it necessary to act unilaterally and preemptively.

Neglecting soft power can make pro-Americanism the "kiss of death" to elected leaders when anti-Americanism is sweeping the electorate. This is why the United States was unable to get Turkey, Mexico, and Chile on board when it needed help before the Iraq war, Nye writes.

This week death kissed Spain's pro-American leaders, who now find themselves out. A new government promises to pull Spanish troops from Iraq in an appalling act of appeasement. But who is to say that a little more US soft power might not have kept Spain in the "coalition of the willing?" Spain may represent only 1 percent of the forces in Iraq, but Nye quotes General John Abizaid as saying: "You can't underestimate the public perception both within Iraq and within the Arab world about the percentage of the force being so heavily American."

Getting the right mix of hard and soft power is crucial to US leadership in the world, but promoting democracy is better done with carrots than sticks. And the alarming rise of anti-Americanism all over the world is not going to make it any easier.

If war is necessary, a model of the right way to go about it is the way George Bush senior carefully and patiently gathered his coalition together to attack Iraq and free Kuwait. His son's necessary intervention in Afghanistan met the standards of legitimacy. The wrong way was amply illustrated by the current Iraq war that began a year ago, and the United States is paying a heavy price for its mistakes.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

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