Soft Power and Hard Power

Victor Davis Hanson is a pip – and you can read about him here.  He’s the neoconservative military historian, columnist, political essayist and former classics professor, and best known as a scholar of ancient warfare, as well as a commentator on modern warfare.  We should be more like the Greeks, or the Spartans, or whatever.  Of course, he’s a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution up north, and Fellow in California Studies at the even more rabidly right Claremont Institute, down here in Los Angeles.  Until recently, he was a professor at California State University, Fresno, where he began teaching in 1984, having started the classics program there.  For the neoconservatives, he’s their intellectual, and their staff historian. He thinks this Iraq War was a good and worthwhile undertaking and that it has been, with some reservations, a laudable success – and no one else seems to get that.  He says the Theban general and statesman Epaminondas, the generals Sherman and Patton, as well as Winston Churchill, are his heroes.  He lives in an odd world. He’s big on ruthless and merciless warrior heroes.


Can you guess? He doesn’t have much use for what is called soft power – “the ability of a political body, such as a state, to indirectly influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies through cultural or ideological means.” The term comes from the Harvard guy, Joseph Nye, in his 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, and his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics


The basic concept of power is the ability to influence others to get them to do what you want. There are three major ways to do that: one is to threaten them with sticks; the second is to pay them with carrots; the third is to attract them or co-opt them, so that they want what you want. If you can get others to be attracted, to want what you want, it costs you much less in carrots and sticks.


We just don’t do that. Victor Davis Hanson argues we shouldn’t do that (the item is Houses of Straw – The EU’s delusions about the sufficiency of “soft” power are embarrassingly revealed.) The Europeans are down with Joseph Nye, and that’s just wrong, or so he says.


The Iranians have those fifteen those British sailors. Britain and the EU have not bombed the snot out of Iran. Soft power is useless when confronting fundamentalist religious regimes like the one in Iran. The feckless Europeans just don’t get it. Yawn.  We’ve heard this before.


The counterargument from Andrew Sullivan –


He’s right – as far as he goes. But what he fails to grasp is that, under Bush and Cheney, the West has not only much less soft power thanks to the U.S.’s abandonment of humane treatment of military detainees, but the collapse in hard power is even steeper. It’s the crumpled paper tiger of the US military in Iraq that is fueling Iranian aggression. The grind of the under-manned and under-planned Iraq occupation has destroyed the U.S.’s credible hard power in the Middle East. With this deft, disgusting game with British sailors, Iran’s regime is reminding us of two things: that we have no real soft power left among our allies, and that our hard power is being slowly degraded and humiliated in Iraq. All of this is a direct consequence of the Bush administration’s grotesque incompetence these past six years. They are worse than Carter; and the American people were smart enough to dump him after four years. The truth is: Bush and Cheney, for all their bluster, have actually weakened the United States internationally and strengthened the hand of our most dangerous enemies. They are our Chamberlain. We await a Churchill.


Everyone wants to use Churchill one way or the other – but Sullivan has a point


WASHINGTON, April 2, 2007 – For just the second time since the war began, the Army is sending large units back to Iraq without giving them at least a year at home, defense officials said Monday. The move signaled how stretched the U.S. fighting force has become.


What would Epaminondas do? Where is our Patton to slap around those who wine and complain?  Where is our next General Sherman who will burn Baghdad, not Atlanta, to the ground – and march to the sea, destroying everything in his wake? We’re short on heroes.


And even the Australians are complaining now, about that David Hicks business


As you might imagine, I am a very pissed off Australian. David Hicks might be one stupid Australian supporter of Al Qaeda, I grant that. I also grant that he was likely a very minor and irrelevant part of that organization, a stupid man caught up in something much greater than himself (and something the facts cannot say he was really involved in).


As an Australian I am an instinctive friend of America, and like my fellow Australians I admire what America is. But, America’s abrogation of the rights and privileges we expect among free peoples and America’s expectation that we will go along with this is hateful. Our PM, John Howard, is I hope going to lose the next election because he would not fight for his fellow Australian and because he followed President Bush where no Australian was inclined to go.


There are two main issues of concern and indignation:


(1) The extent to which America ignores or rewrites the fundamental tenets of western civilization concerning the rule of law, due process, the admissibility of evidence, habeas corpus, the right to face the accuser, etc, i.e. your heretofore moral high ground.


(2) The manner in which you, America, conduct your investigations. Your record is replete with failed indictments and vengeance after the fact new charges of doubtful legality, may I mention Chaplain Yee, designed to punish someone who had in fact done nothing wrong. Remember the charges Hicks was supposed to have faced, e.g. reconnaissance of the US embassy, withdrawn after it was clear that the embassy was not even in existence at the time (and thus did not pass the basic laugh test). The coerced plea bargain of Hicks to achieve some form of immunity from transparency and follow up suit is just so par for the course.


As a civilization, our greatest weapon against terrorism and hate is to adhere to the greatest and most effective values and laws that define us. To do otherwise is to make us into the image of what we fight.


I am not sure Americans quite realize the full extent of what happens in the world of ideas and law. Nations Adhering to the western ideal use the best practice and precedent to order their own affairs. When a major power in such affairs, America, carries much weight and its effect is mirrored to one extent or another in changes elsewhere, the draconian changes to laws and civil rights is apparent elsewhere.


No one, these days has much to thank America for.


The Hicks judgment is a travesty on so many levels it is hard to quantify. It is a dismal display of American justice and you should be ashamed, very ashamed.


As for me? To the extent I can I will work for his immediate release. Not because I think he is innocent but simply because no one has adequately demonstrated that he is anything more than absolute gullible, stupid wannabe who does not know what or who he is. He has already paid whatever dues he was supposed to have paid in Guantanamo Bay, an illegal prison.


As to Major Mori, Hicks’ defense counsel, he has become a media hero in Australia and God bless him. He is the only person in this affair who might be described as shining and a credit to his uniform. I do not know what penalties he will in due course pay for his defense of the luckless Hicks but I wish him well and all honor. Mori is a true American.


So much for the reputation, honor, influence and power of the United States. Victor Davis Hanson is smiling.


Kevin Drum has another take


… this case is a good demonstration of what the Bush administration has cost us. The fact is that the whole issue of enemy combatants in an age of transnational terrorism is a really difficult one. This isn’t a conventional war where we can just release prisoners after it’s over, nor is it like domestic crime, where the state has the power to coercively collect evidence and demand testimony. It’s a helluva hard problem, and under normal circumstances we’d all be well advised to cut the administration some slack as they try to figure out how to deal with it.


And we might, if it weren’t for what this administration has done. But the combination of torture and “coercive interrogation,” including rendition of high-value prisoners; widespread imprisonment based on evidence the Pentagon knows to be blatantly fabricated; and the administration’s almost fanatical resistance to even minimal standards of review, has convinced even sympathetic observers that the Bush administration isn’t struggling to find a solution to a hard problem. They just want to keep people locked up forever – unless it happens to be politically inconvenient, of course. Is it any wonder virtually no one trusts us on this subject any longer?


No, it is what happens.


Heck, even the pro-torture guys on the right are recanting


I think it’s worth putting up a post noting that I have changed my mind.


For starters, I was bit more flip than I should have been. At the ripe age of nearly 32, I probably can’t get away with blaming that on my frivolous twenties. But in any case, yes, I have changed my mind on torture in the last four years. I was wrong.


… I should have opposed torture for the same reason I oppose just about every other surrender of power to the government that naive people (in this case, like me) tend to think looks good on paper: Because the government won’t use it competently, because the government will abuse it, and because the government will find new, inappropriate contexts in which to use it.


It’s one thing to argue that torture may be justifiable and effective in a few, limited circumstances. It’s another to believe that once you’ve given it the power, government will only use torture in those same limited situations where it’s justifiable and effective.


I’m certain that if given the power to torture via public support and the endorsement of Congress, it’ll only be a matter of time before the definition of “national security” expands to include not just terrorists we’re certain have designs on killing us, but terrorists who might have designs on killing us, to terrorists who could, one day have designs on killing us. And of course, from there it’s a short jump to a an expanded definition of torture-able “national security” threats broad enough to include accused child pornographers and drug dealers.


Of course, all of this likely moot. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re currently torturing suspected terrorists. The question is whether or not to sanction it under federal law. I’m now opposed to that. I’m now of the opinion it should remain illegal. It’ll still happen, but it’s important that the presumption be that it’s wrong, and that those we catch doing it will be punished. If an agent of the government can prove in a court of law, or perhaps in the court of public opinion, that torture was necessary to prevent a catastrophe, let him try, and let the president pardon him if he proves persuasive.


Now that is odd. Victor Davis Hanson is not smiling.


Add that this fellow is not alone. Via the compilation from Timothy Noah, hard power has led to public defections from the administration itself –


Matthew Dowd, Bush’s one-time pollster and chief campaign strategist, and Victor Gold, who ghosted one book with Bush pere and co-authored another with Lynne Cheney – are rather noisily dumping their shares. Dowd gave an interview on the front page of the April 1 New York Times. Gold gave one on April 2 in the Washington Post‘s Style section and is peddling a new book about his disenchantment titled Invasion of the Party-Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP.


Dowd and Gold were preceded in their sell-off by Kenneth Adelman, a former member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board who told The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg of his disillusion with his old friend Don Rumsfeld in a Nov. 20 “Talk of the Town”; David Kuo, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who in October poured out his heart to 60 Minutes and to, and in his book Tempting Faith; Paul O’Neill, Bush’s treasury secretary, who leaked 19,000 memos from the White House, National Security Council, and Treasury Department to journalist Ron Suskind for his book The Price of Loyalty (published in January 2004) and also tattled extensively to 60 Minutes and Time; and John Dilulio, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who decried (again to Suskind, this time in Esquire) the nonexistence of serious policy discussion in the Bush White House in January 2003.


That’s some list, and the White House is steaming over Dowd –


In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.


He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.


“I really like him, which is probably why I’m so disappointed in things,” he said. He added, “I think he’s become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in.”


In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle to break so publicly with him.


They say Dowd is unhinged, as in this video – Sunday on Face The Nation, White House Counselor Dan Bartlett spoke to Bob Schieffer about him –


Schieffer: “Are you suggesting he’s having some kind of personal problems and this is just what has resulted?”


Bartlett:  “No, I think as expressed in the paper that he himself has acknowledged that he’s going through a lot of personal turmoil, but also he has a son who is soon to be deployed to Iraq.  That can only impact a parent’s mind as they think through these issues.”


Ah, the stress of war drove him crazy – the spineless wimp is worried that his son could die. (Patton knew how to handle that sort of thing – with a hard slap -and no Spartan or Theban would betray his leader this way.)


Gold, on the other hand, is more concerned what has happened to conservatism under Bush and Rove and Cheney – “I really came to the conclusion that there was a threat to our system, to our way of life, and it was coming from those I thought were my people.”


Add this – “For all the Rove-built facade of his being a ‘strong’ chief executive, George W. Bush has been, by comparison to even hapless Jimmy Carter, the weakest, most out of touch president in modern times. Think Dan Quayle in cowboy boots.”


Ouch!  But then there’s his (former) friend Cheney – “A vice president in control is bad enough. Worse yet is a vice president out of control.”


Gold says that Cheney brings to mind the adage of that Swiss writer Madame de Staël, who wrote (while in Paris of course) – “Men do not change, they unmask themselves.”  It seems Cheney has a deep streak of paranoia and megalomania – Gold says he just did not see it at first – “He was hiding who he really was. He was waiting for an opportunity.”


He got it.


Kevin Drum again – “The line of former supporters who now understand that (a) Bush is incompetent and (b) Cheney is a serious loon is getting mighty long. Welcome to the club, Mr. Gold.”


According to US News and World Report, we’re just one month from the next tell-all, from George Tenet.


Ands now Henry jumps ship.  AP Exclusive: Kissinger says military victory not possible in Iraq – “Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who helped engineer the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, said Sunday the problems in Iraq are more complex than that conflict, and military victory is no longer possible.”


This is getting ridiculous.


So, we all know steely hard power just doesn’t work, and makes things worse. The folks with the other view just happen to run everything, for now.



About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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