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al-Thawra, Syria

The American Model: Between
Hard Power and Soft Power


By Khalaf Ali al-Miftah

A new American approach invests in the excess of American power in the form of media, culture, economy and the so-called moral credit of the U.S.

Translated By Mouhsine Abdellaoui

24 December 2012

Edited by Hana Livingston


Syria - al-Thawra - Original Article (Arabic)

Over the last few years, the term “soft power” has been in popular use in discussions on how to manage international relations, including conflict management. To find what might be called “the birth of the term,” we must refer to American researcher and strategist Joseph Nye, who distinguished between three forms of power: hard power, soft power and smart power. Hard power is primarily military force and all the relevant elements essentially aimed toward inflicting direct, material and human impact on opponents. Soft power focuses mainly on cultural, moral, scientific and economic elements. Its impact is through the attractiveness of the model behavior, making the creator of the model more attractive and acceptable to the targeted people. Soft power affects the targeted people’s culture, behavior, and way of thinking. Smart power is in between hard and soft power, namely, the practical embodiment of U.S. President Roosevelt’s advice, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Talking about Nye does not negate the fact that Roosevelt indicated the importance of soft power beginning in the late 1930s. At that time he formed a board of Americans whose main objective was to spread American culture and the American model through cinema and the media. It was this campaign that launched the Voice of America, the Association of Cultural Freedoms and other organizations. These groups work on marketing American culture and the American model of political life and practice, particularly the concept of democracy.

The adoption of a U.S. foreign policy based on hard power in both military and economic spheres has been declared poor planning by numerous strategists and U.S. research centers. This policy has hurt America’s image among many peoples of the world. They see America as a model re-forming the concept of hegemony and colonialism with new tools. This has contributed to the formation of a negative stereotype of the U.S. in the world’s collective imagination.

Discussing hard and soft power does not eliminate the fact that the fundamental basis of U.S. foreign strategy still depends on the logic of using military and economic force to exert hegemony over world policies. In that respect, talking about the importance of soft power as a priority seems to be an alternative used in a different context. It is used if hard power proves to be costly for America’s human and material resources. Perhaps the American empire cannot bear the internal and external repercussions of the unprecedented and growing hostility and hatred toward it by most peoples of the world. Anti-American sentiment is especially increasing after the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan and other adventures perpetrated by U.S. political, military and economic forces.

After his inauguration as U.S. president in 2009, Barack Obama talked about the importance of giving new life to the so-called American values of freedom and self-determination, which are, in essence, President Wilson’s principles. Several research centers and strategy specialists perceived this as a new American approach to dealing with international issues after the fall of unipolarity. They see it as the prevailing American model for which Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, Leo Strauss and others paved the way.

Based on that, American non-governmental organizations, in coordination with the U.S. State Department and the CIA, have proceeded to promote a new American approach that invests in the excess of American power in the form of media, culture, economy and the so-called moral credit of the U.S. It includes a public relations campaign consisting of economic subsidies, financing the so-called civil society organizations, scientific missions, providing scholarships to American universities, and polarizing political, technical, and media cadres by organizing tours throughout the U.S. to become familiar with the American model from within and to see the facts of American life. In this way, the negative stereotype fueled by the forceful approach of previous U.S. administrations turns into admiration for the charm of the American model. This proves the right answer to the problematic question posed by cultural, media and societal institutions since the Sept. 11 attacks: “Why do they hate us?” (referring to how most peoples around the world view America).

Several researchers from America and from other countries have sharply criticized the forceful approach. That approach is still used by the U.S. administration in forming new policies that do not fit with Obama’s suggestions to change the political tools used to deal with the rest of the world. This is reflected in real data from the U.S. budget: While $36 billion is allocated to the U.S. State Department, the budget for the Department of Defense is over $750 billion. This number exceeds the military budgets of more than half the countries in the world.

These figures, as well as the American militarization approach in the global political arena, do not give the impression of a fundamental shift in the American method of dealing with world affairs. America’s image in the eyes of the people of the world seems to be incarnated in Guantanamo prison, not in the Statue of Liberty.



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