Monday, February 18, 2008

Soft Power

In what is being seen as a trip to establish a legacy, President Bush is currently visiting Africa. In a presidency marked by the use of hard power, this current effort is an example of soft power. After seven years, Bush can be accused of too little too late, but his reception in Africa, where his popularity is immense, would seem to speak otherwise. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete had this to say, “I know you will leave office in about 12 months' time. Rest assured that you will be remembered for many generations to come for the good things you have done for Tanzania and the good things you have done for Africa. Your legacy will be that of saving hundreds of thousands of mothers and children's' lives.” These lives have been saved from malaria and HIV/AIDS.

The president launched a plan in 2005 to reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 80 percent of malaria cases occur. The disease kills at least 1 million infants and children under five every year. Bush's five-year plan calls for $1.2 billion, so far congress has funded about a third of this program. Congress has also agreed to his plan to spend $15 billion on HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa. He is now urging congress to double that. While in Tanzania, Bush also announced a plan to distribute 5.2 million free bed nets in six months, enough to provide a net for every child between ages one and five in Tanzania. On top of this he also promised $700 to help Tanzania build up its infrastructure.

"The power to save lives comes with the moral obligation to use it," Bush said about these efforts. This relatively sudden reliance on soft power is finally a glimpse of the compassionate conservatism that he promised. Joseph S. Nye Jr., distinguished service professor at Harvard University, describes a country’s soft power as coming from three resources: “its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority).” Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during President Bush's first term, now a colleague of Nye, makes the case for soft power this way, "You don't need to walk into a room and pronounce yourself ... in charge, everyone knows when the United States is in the room. You gain much more by not even speaking about it."

The nearly exclusive use of hard power throughout the Bush presidency has had a negative effect on the ability of the US to use soft power now. The world's only remaining super power launching a preemptive war in the opposition of world opinion is precisely the sort of thing candidate Bush warned us about in 2000 when he said, "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us." Arrogant foreign policy is bereft of moral authority. American political values have likewise been diminished as a source of soft power due to the limitations of civil liberties since 9/11. Consumerism as a cultural export has not only not endeared America to the world, it is part of the depravity that some terrorists have named as a source of their enmity.

Humility is not something our nation can fake any more than respect can be demanded. The sort of goodwill currently being created in Africa can spread if this is the beginning of better ethical international behavior. Regardless of motivation, morality in diplomacy is both effective and welcome.


sojoman said...

I do think that good moral behavior gives one the right to be heard. I think Bush could have made his case better at the beginning of his presidency, which in turn would have given him the moral authority to be aggressive on terrorism. I think he still should have refrained from starting a war, especially when there was no end game.

But I think you're conceding here that he's doing something that may be part of a legacy that he wants to create. The country in general, I think, is realizing our misplaced priorities. Jim Wallis being the guy with the bullhorn. President Bush may really be a softy who was manipulated by Karl Rove and others to create a smokescreen for his other shortcomings. But it may be too little too late.

Alia said...

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