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Friday, August 18, 2006

SemiHard, SemiSoft  

Gerard Baker in the London Times Online:
Some will say that the US's ineffectiveness is a direct result of the loss of its "soft" power. Alienating the rest of the world has weakened its ability to achieve its objectives. Idiocies such as Abu Ghraib and the brief flirtation with torture as a legitimate instrument undoubtedly hurt America's image. But I don't truly see how the failings in the Middle East could have been avoided by Washington's being nicer to foreigners. What's been missing is resolute leadership.
Some call it lack of leadership. Some call it overwhelming force behaving underwhelmingly; others, failures of will or commitment. But it seems to me not an accident that failures of hard power and soft power are found together.

It isn't (I think) that the jihadis are simply better at fighting an information war than the West is - although they certainly are better organized. (See also fauxtography, Pallywood, and Iraqi stringers). At least they know there's a war on, and that this is a major battlespace.

Nor is it (entirely) that Soft America (where the experts in using soft power tend to live) appears to believe that their role in this fight is to restrain their compatriots' knuckle-dragging tendencies (or at minimum refuse to inflame them.)

Surely there is a dynamic interrelationship, an exchange and a balancing of energies, at work. If the shadow is kept from appearing too dark doesn't that mean the light must be dimmer? If one side of the body is weakened, the other doesn't tend to overreach in compensation, but limit its range of movements also.

It isn't just America. Hasn't Europe's vaunted soft power grown progressively less effective as its hard power continues to atrophy?

Baker again:
It is hard for me to recall a time when the world was such a scary place. No one should rejoice at America's weakness. The world is scarier still because of it.
Complacency may not be as offensive as rejoicing, but it leads to much the same outcome. Whether the semisoft call for better leadership, or the semihard for more will, the problem is other than either realizes, and greater than either can address alone.

The desired course is probably not to hang (or confront or submit) separately.

posted by Kelly | 2:25 PM link