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I'll add to this great comment by poemless my own two cents:

(Please note this is not my point of view, just one I think needs to be added to the debate.)

Some in the left (both from inside the US and outside) look at the foreign policy actions of administrations from both parties over the years and conclude that whilst Bush's cabal has taken things further than usual, it is not the sea change sometimes presented.

That is to say, there is something in the US system of government that lends itself to foreign adventures and something in the US doctrines (CFR perhaps?) that crosses both parties and lends itself to interventions careless of human rights of people on the ground.

Some take this thesis and run with it all the way to "there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans."

Just to emphasise again that I don't believe this, but I do think it's not a completely irrational point of view in the milder form. I'd sum up the critique this way:

The US is (at least in the theory) a country whose internal political system is quite a model of democracy and justice that has lessons for most of the world.

BUT, many people confuse that with an instant legitimacy in the foreign policy arena. The facts of US actions in many parts of the world are that they have involved a goodly amount of anti-democratic, violent, anti-human rights behaviour. This record spans administrations to some degree. Thus we have to conclude that whatever the internal goodness of the US, its system of government does not make it instantly a "hyperpower who should always be acceded to."

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:37:54 AM EST
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Anything and everything I'd have wanted to point out has been said in these two comments by poemless and Metatone, so I'll just thank them and give them my backing. :-)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 03:43:43 AM EST
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I had a long discussion with Drew over why the US is unable to project soft power, its foreign policy options being military action or isolationism. I was not able to get a coherent answer to that [the why, the how and what are more-or-less clear], and I don't fault Drew, he was honestly trying.

So the question is still open: why can't the US project "soft power"?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 06:09:04 AM EST
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I think there is an issue that the US has an almighty military machine, currently eating 50% of all elective Govt spending.

So, however, nuanced all issues are, the fact is the Govt has paid for an almighty hammer, it's probably hard to stop your problems from looking like nails.

Also, there's the machismo factor. Soft power looks like compromise. Compromise looks like weakness. Weakness only encourages enemies. And you can't be doing that.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 08:59:22 AM EST
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Isn't the US military machine currently eating also 50% of the world's military spending?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 10:51:01 AM EST
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How big was the US military machine at the time of Commodore Perry?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 11:09:41 AM EST
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 It's an interesting question.  I'd like to think about it some and read your discussion with Drew and then offer my thoughts on it.

 At first glance, it may be that there have been some rather too-isolated instances of the US' use of "soft power".  

 One thing I'll need is a much clearer idea of exactly what that term means, as you use and understand it.

  Good question, though.  Interesting question.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 01:39:01 PM EST
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My definition of soft power is "defending your national interests without military intervention".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:22:43 PM EST
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Or the threat of military intervention...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:25:16 PM EST
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In the case of the US it amounts to the same thing because of "credibility" issues. For the threat of force to be credible it needs to be exercised.

"Establishing credibility" is an interesting concept I first heard from Noam Chomski on Pacifica Radio. I think the transcript is here>

Establishing Credibility

And the US doesn't want to present evidence because it wants to be able to do it, to act without evidence. That's a crucial part of the reaction. You will notice that the US did not ask for Security Council authorization which they probably could have gotten this time, not for pretty reasons, but because the other permanent members of the Security Council are also terrorist states. They are happy to join a coalition against what they call terror, namely in support of their own terror. Like Russia wasn't going to veto, they love it. So the US probably could have gotten Security Council authorization but it didn't want it. And it didn't want it because it follows a long-standing principle which is not George Bush, it was explicit in the Clinton administration, articulated and goes back much further and that is that we have the right to act unilaterally. We don't want international authorization because we act unilaterally and therefore we don't want it. We don't care about evidence. We don't care about negotiation. We don't care about treaties. We are the strongest guy around; the toughest thug on the block. We do what we want. Authorization is a bad thing and therefore must be avoided. There is even a name for it in the technical literature. It's called establishing credibility. You have to establish credibility. That's an important factor in many policies. It was the official reason given for the war in the Balkans and the most plausible reason.



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:29:32 PM EST
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 Okay, thank you.  When I have more time, I'll read that excerpt and your discussion with Drew and let you know my views.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
by proximity1 on Tue May 30th, 2006 at 02:42:57 PM EST
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 Migeru,

 Here's a start---

      So, Migu, I read the dialogue of____ on Soft power.

    The most obvious and direct answer--and Drew brought it out himself--is  that « soft power » is indeed in use constantly by the US and all other governments.   When it works,  you don't see it except via indirect indications.  The professionals who are involved, however, see the effects of the closed-door discussions, the back-channel dialogues.   These are literally daily  phenomena.  « Soft power » is in use whenever high-level talks produce a trade-off, a quid  pro quo between governments.   Trade agreements are soft power; development aid, foreign loans, investment in foreign capital and infrastructure; the granting of memberships in international bodies; the relaxation of barriers; cooperative scientific research; all of these, or, conversely, their denial, are elements in soft power tactics.  There are of course other sorts of  incentives--direct  bribes in cash or resources, the offer of military cooperation; espionage intelligence sharing; technical assistance in areas where a  nation is particularly needy.  The only reason to look upon it as somehow sinister in nature is that it is so often so largely un- or under-reported  and that the interests being so well catered to are the same largely or exclusively corporate ones which happen also to give so generously to political campaigns--nota bene: both Republican and  Democratic party campaigns.

    The one thing that I'd stress in difference to Drew's picture is that the Democrats as office  holders, and as governing  administrations are in no way strangers to these habits.   This  goes on administration in and administration out, without regard to political party.  Differences of emphasis occur as when, for example, the senior Bush administration came into and then left the White  House and  then returned again in 2000.   With each arrival of the Bushes,  the Saudi Arabian regime found itself once more in a relatively more privileged position vis-a-vis the people in the White House.

    I also agree with Drew's view--expressed variously by the difficulty of pinning them down as neatly definable--concerning the fluid character of these « interests » of the U.S.  

To follow your line of  quesioning, then, you would like to know why it isn't used more, or, ideally, why it isn't used exclusively.

 For that there are numerous possible explanations; but the most obvious to me is that there are a number of "interests" which simply don't lend themselves to being pushed and achieved by soft means.

 In particular, there are the too frequent and recent examples of Uncle Sam whipping forceful discipline--or trying to on those of his wayward erstwhile obedient client-state tin-pot dictators.  With these, the "soft" techniques have been tried and proven ineffective; then Uncle Sam gets really, really angry.

But that is only the first example I can think of.

  More, perhaps, later, if you're not satisfied with this response.

  I also agree with Drew's observation that, in general, the great majority of Americans are simply not interested in or aware of or informed about international political affairs.  It's already more than they can manage to interest themselves in their own domestic political affairs !

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed May 31st, 2006 at 03:13:29 PM EST
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I also agree with Drew's observation that, in general, the great majority of Americans are simply not interested in or aware of or informed about international political affairs.  It's already more than they can manage to interest themselves in their own domestic political affairs !

It depends on the domestic issues we bring up.  Americans were certainly paying close attention to the Social Security debate, and the collective view was quite clear.  They were quite clear on the Terri Schiavo case, as well.  They're certainly becoming more and more clear on their collective opinion of Iraq.  But, as I told Migeru, Americans simply don't seem to give a damn about international affairs unless it is a case that might call for military action.  If soldiers are not headed into harm's way, they'd rather watch Oprah than the BBC.

An example: Most Americans probably haven't the slightest idea of what happened at Versailles after WWI, but most seem capable of speaking with at least some intelligence about WWII -- probably because they've grown up hearing stories from their grandparents.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jun 1st, 2006 at 01:41:49 AM EST
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