Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Soft Power is a Fancy Way of Saying Indecisive

When Barack Obama completed his long march on the White House, liberal pundits promised us that he would completely transform US foreign policy from the dark days of the Bush Administration through soft power. Now thanks to all that squelching soft power we have gone from a foreign policy in which few liked us but we could get things done unilaterally... to a foreign policy in which everyone supposedly likes us but are actually less willing to help the new multilateral us, and as a result what we are left with is a foreign policy approach that can't get anything done at all anymore.

Anyone observing Obama's months of waffling on Afghanistan and Iran (the waffle clearly being an obvious example of soft power) can't help but conclude that soft power is just a fancy way of saying indecisive. An excuse for endlessly exploring ways to win over others to our point of view, leading to an endless chain of meetings in which nothing actually gets done. Soft power is a committee's way of making more committees, a boost for foreign aid and a chance to spend countless lives and dollars trying to fight wars the way that everyone else would like us to fight them. Which is either not at all, or wearing bright blue helmets and paying off insurgents who turn out to be playing both sides.

The Bush Administration tried soft power over and over again, only to find that old fashioned hard power is what actually gets things done. Anyone who remembers Colin Powell making his pitiful rounds at the UN remembers that. And it's no real surprise, because while soft power may be helpful for soliciting handshakes, long term alliances are sustained by at least one of the partners demonstrating his ability to carry his own weight, act forcefully and punish betrayals of the alliance. Even Barack Obama who has championed soft power toward Iran and the Taliban, flipped over to the old fashioned kind of power when it came to FOX News. Of course all it took to make Obama abandon the mantra of soft power was for him to confront a situation that unlike Iran and the War on Terror, he considered to be a genuine crisis... a cable news network not beholden to his agenda.

Soft power is perfectly fine if you're running for office while trying to be as non-threatening as possible. But real leadership requires making the hard decisions no one else will, and you can only pass the buck so often to the Pentagon or Joe Biden's office, before it becomes clear that you don't have a foreign policy, above and beyond simultaneously running for office in every country in the world.

Democracy may be a popularity contest, but foreign affairs aren't, and soft power is premised on D.C. rules, the notion that if you hand out enough pork, you'll win more allies. But handing out pork to the Taliban, just insures you'll be facing well fed Taliban come next spring. If an honest politician is a politician that stays bought, then tribal cultures who are always looking to cut deals three different ways, have no honest politicians. Paying an insurgent to go home, while the Taliban pays that same insurgent to fight, only creates a chaotic battlefield in which it becomes impossible to know on who's side anyone is anymore.

Every war in which America focused on winning hearts and minds first, and winning the war second, is a war we've lost. You can't buy loyalty, only a temporary ally at best. What you can do is win loyalty or insure loyalty by demonstrating that you have staying powers and that your words are not simply words, but have a tangible reality and active consequences.

The key words in foreign affairs are what's in it for me. A payoff is the cheapest and least worthwhile way to gain an ally, because all you gain is an ally for sale to anyone who can make a higher bid, who has no loyalty whatsoever, and will sell you out when the moment is right. Mutual interests are a much stronger bond, but they require actual mutual interests based on substantive agendas, rather than the virtual mutual interests based on some deluded notion that assorted third world dictatorships have the same wishes for peace and beliefs in a better future that we do. Finally there need to be negative consequences, whether stemming directly from us or indirectly from what will occur if the course of action we propose is not followed.

Soft power as practiced by Obama however is all carrot and no stick, letting our enemies munch away on the carrot, while we promise never to let a stick touch our hands. If you talk enough of peace to the wrong people, it becomes indistinguishable from surrender. If you adopt a foreign policy whose chief virtue is that it allows you to make speeches, while kicking over all the military decisions to the military, while denying them the support they need to implement those decisions-- then you've created an environment in which you will insure that they will fail, while your public image will succeed. At least until the consequences of your ego and incompetence moves the country from the Chamberlainian mode, back to the Churchillian.

The key problem with Obama's plan for Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan is that he has no plan except to avoid becoming entangled with any of them in order to shift blame for the coming disasters on someone else's head. Generals often end up with the responsibility for implementing political decisions that make no sense in relation to the facts on the ground. Obama's political decision on the War on Terror can be best summed up as, "Keep busy, but don't involve me in any of it, or ask me for anything." A rule that General McChrystal openly broke thereby throwing the Afghanistan debate into the public arena, and forcing the White House to try and defend their non-policy, even if the only soldiers they can find to do it are bravely manning their blackberries and pencil sharpeners in Joe Biden's office.

Embracing soft power is a handy way to act busy without accomplishing anything or risking much of anything. The Clinton Administration used soft power to go after Al Queda. The Bush Administration used bombs and bullets. Now we've switched back to a soft power breakfast buffet of waffles with a hearty serving of appeasement and pork, topped off with Coalition soldiers dying because their rules of engagement now favor the Taliban, because one side was paying off the Taliban without the other knowing about it, or because the Taliban are certain that their victory is near and have become bolder than ever.

Soft power means never having to be sure of anything, never having to do anything and never having to say sorry to the people who die because of your ineptness and indecisiveness. Isn't soft power wonderful?


Lemon said...

Sad but the government has lost its way and has no clue anymore.

Keli Ata said...

Thing aren't going to improve as long as Americans are willing to settle for the faux government endorsed version of equality in which every one can achieve mediocrity versus true equality in which all Americans are truly equal and free to attain greatness by their own definition of it, not the government's.

Faux equality. Everyone is free to be common and boring with little to look forward to.

It sucks the spirit right out of the country when people start feeling the most they can strive to achieve is a state defined level of success rather than shooting for the stars.

OT but Orwell's 1984 sort of addresses the conflict between the two in the main character's name--Winston Smith. A personalized and meaningful first name and an all too common, just a another brick in the wall last name.

Keli Ata said...

You're right Sultan. It's not that No Drama Obama doesn't know how to treat people with a heavy hand. He does and does so with his perceived enemies routinely.

The soft power is reserved for people and situations that could damaged his image and ego. For example, the over concern about being on the wrong side of history regarding the Iranian protests this summer.

LEL said...

Our soldiers are being killed while hussein obama remains indicisive. Either you fight a war to victory or you do not fight. Either hussein obama listens to General McChrystal and sends the forces needed to win or he should bring the troops home. There is no in between when in comes to war.

Sultan Knish said...

no there isn't, either you commit to victory or give in to defeat

Keli Ata said...

Frankly though I am surprised Obama's peacenik supports aren't going crazy. He promised them the troops would be pulled out entirely in a year. He truly is a liar.

Not that I support the peacenik liberals but Obama hasn't delivered on any of his promises not to mention having a defeatest attitude towards the war.

I mean, if he's not ending the war and bringing the troops home and he's not committed to victory...what the heck IS he doing? Why are our guys getting killed in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Seeing as the result is continued terrorism and dead Americans, could Obama and Islamic terrorists be different sides of the same coin?

Note--I support the war on terror 100-percent. Just questioning the veracity of just about everything that comes out of Obama's mouth.

BTW: Wonderful article, Sultan.

DP111 said...


An interesting read is "The Malakand Field Force" - Winston Churchill.

He wrote this as a very young man. just out of Sandhurst, and then posted tp quell the Pushtu tribes of SWAT, Mahound etc. Reading it, makews you aware that nothing has changed in those tribal areas. They are the same. they do not respond to bribes but are well aware of honour and the law of revenge.

In those days, when even the telegraph was a week's hard ride, the British army could do what we cannot do. These days our forces have to fight with a gaggle of lawyers in Florida, linked to battlefield via satellite, looking over their shoulders, and telling what they can and cant do.

Read it. You will enjoy it.

Download "The Malakand Field Force" - Winston Churchill.

Brenner said...

always remember Churchill was no friend of Jews, his support of Zionism was merely to excercise a divide and contol

He believed in The Protocals, and believed the Jewsih Conspiracy, when given the choice he sacrifed British Jews to their deaths in the East

Churchill stopped missiles – at British Jews' expense
Secret MI6 files reveal, for 1st time, leader's agonizing deception of Nazis

LONDON – With Nazi "flying bombs" raining down on the nation's capital and largest population center, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a fateful and agonizing decision to use a double agent to redirect the missiles toward the Jewish sector of the city, secret MI6 files reveal for the first time.

Sultan Knish said...

I never imagined he was, but he played a vital role in stopping the Nazis nonetheless and deserved better than he got from his countrymen

Post a Comment