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Nancy Snow

Nancy Snow

Posted January 21, 2009 | 11:21 PM (EST)

Obama Soft Power, Smart Power II


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.--Joseph Nye


We have left the Age of Bush, which emphasized the sticks approach to power and entered the Age of Obama, the age of attraction and cooption, more popularly known these days as soft power.

Can we now officially release ourselves from the post-9/11 era?

Despite the global economic woes, I sense that America has found her footing again. We still have that pull factor in respect to our experimental, innovative, risk-taking values. We don't guarantee that everyone rises equally but we do offer opportunities to pursue our dreams and goals that are almost unparalleled.

This is not an endorsement of the "greatest country on earth" mantra, mind you.

In November 2008 I was invited to the downtown Washington, D.C. headquarters of Voice of America Television. The topic was Obama's use of soft power in his new administration. Word on the street was that Mr. Soft Power himself, Joseph Nye Jr., would be commenting on the subject for the same TV package. You can read the accompanying article and watch the piece online here

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton has said she would employ smart power in her management at the State Department by seeking "more partners and fewer adversaries." She even put a little gender flourish on the matter:

I believe that American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted. 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 Terrence declared that in every endeavor, the seemly course for wise men is to try persuasion first. The same truth binds wise women as well.

Dean Nye today published a piece in the LA Times about this resurgence of soft power/smart power in the Obama administration, a move away from fear and domination to inspiration and hope, clichés though they may be. There is no question that just the symbolic presence of Obama as American President is a trust-infusing and credibility-building move in the world.

Nye again:

If I am persuaded to go along with your purposes without any explicit threat or exchange taking place -- in short, if my behavior is determined by an observable but intangible attraction -- soft power is at work. Soft power uses a different type of currency -- not force, not money -- to engender cooperation. It uses an attraction to shared values, and the justness and duty of contributing to the achievement of those values.

What matters today in the soft power equation include the following:

• Global Media
• International Reputation and Credibility
• Pop Culture
• Globalization
• Diplomacy
• International Development/Humanitarian Assistance

The United States holds no monopoly on soft power. In many respects, our soft power has been a double-edged sword, aka "We Hate You But Send Us Your Baywatch."

In the Age of Obama, we now may be looking at a shift toward "You're Likable Enough and Send Us Your Desperate Housewives."