U.S. Foreign Policy Commission Touts Need for 'Smart Power'

Guy Taylor | Bio | 12 Nov 2007
World Politics Review Exclusive

WASHINGTON -- Across the world, "America may be less well regarded today than at any time in its history," according to a report issued last week by a bipartisan group of politicians and foreign policy experts. But "it is not too late to reverse these trends, even in the Arab and Muslim World," the report found.

The "Commission on Smart Power" that penned the report was convened by the Center for Strategic International Studies, a non-partisan think tank. Titled "A Smarter, More Secure America," the report calls on the next U.S. President to embrace three foreign policy themes to guide U.S. global engagement: "a renewed commitment to the United Nations, reinvigorating our alliances, and working to erase the perception that the United States has double standards when it comes to abiding by international law."

The list of authors who contributed to the report is long, and includes both Republicans and Democrats. Among them are former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Hagel, David M. Rubenstein, cofounder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, and Anthony Zinni, the former head of U.S. Central Command.

The commission's co-chairmen, Richard L. Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state under Colin Powell during the first term of the Bush administration, and Harvard University Professor Joseph S. Nye Jr., were on Capitol Hill and television last week touting the report's findings -- along with their own largely critical views of the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Armitage, for instance, sharply criticized the administration on public television's "Charlie Rose Show" Nov. 6. "Leadership is not simply a matter of vision, it is that for sure, but it's vision, execution and accountability," Armitage told Rose. "The latter two traits of leadership, that is execution and accountability, have not been existent in this administration and I think the president has paid a very dear price for it."

He pointed to the Iraq war, claiming that while President Bush had the "vision" to topple Saddam Hussein, the subsequent implementation of the war's strategy has been a failure, with no one held accountable.

Why America's Image Has Suffered

The report cites a variety recent polls as evidence of the slide in worldwide public opinion of the United States, among them a 2007 BBC World Service poll of more than 26,000 people across 25 countries. One in two of that poll's respondents agreed that "the United States is playing a mainly negative roll in the world."

A 2006 Zogby poll, which found that the majority of people in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Lebanon said their opinion of the United States had declined in the past year, was also cited.

A key cause for the decline of America's image, the report claims, has been the U.S. response to 9/11. The nature of the horrific attacks, the report asserts, made the country "angry and frightened," and found leaders working to restrict foreigners' access to visas and surround U.S. "embassies with concrete barriers and barbed wire."

The report also cites regional reactions against U.S.-backed globalization policies, and a Bush administration shift away from supporting agreements and institutions with widespread international support, as causes for the rise in anti-American sentiment.

Additionally, it notes a rise in perceptions of "American incompetence," pointing specifically to how the rest of the world viewed the "weak response to the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Katrina."

Defining Smart Power

Commission Chairman Nye, who is largely credited with coining the term "soft power" during the 1990s, defines "smart power" as: "The ability to combine your hard power -- coercion carrots and sticks -- with your ability to get what you want through attraction, which is soft power."

Nye, who appearing with Armitage on "Charlie Rose," cited the Cold War as a bygone era when "we were pretty good at this."

"We had hard military power that deterred Soviet aggression but we also had soft power in the sense of our ideas, values and public diplomacy behind the iron curtain that eroded their faith of communism behind the wall," he said. "When the wall finally went down it went down not under a barrage or artillery but under hammers and bulldozes."

Comparing those events to today's "generation-long struggle against extremist terrorism," Nye said "we've got to be able to combine our hard instruments and our soft instruments into a strategy."

"That's smart power, that ability to combine the two," he said. "If you rely solely on hard so that it undercuts your soft then you don't have a strategy, and that's unfortunately, I think, what we've been doing."

Armitage suggested that in the wake of 9/11 the United States has missed opportunities to win public favor abroad because it allows security concerns to crush the ability of U.S. leaders to connect personally with foreign countries. He cited the actions of China's current leadership as a shining alternative to the often aggressive and sometimes hostile manner with which the Bush administration interacts with the foreign populations during official visits abroad.

During a 2004 meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Chile, for instance, Chinese President "Hu Jintao came early to Chile, he stayed, he toured around, he invested in vineyards and everything else," Armitage said. "He was a very friendly guest, where, because of our own security concerns, we come in very heavy with 800 or 900 people, our own armored limousines, several helicopters, C-5s, etc., and all in all it gives a very different impression."

Armitage added that from a geopolitical standpoint, China in recent years has been "very instructive" in "using all the tools in their tool kit" to project smart power.

A New Multilateralism

Noting that, "throughout the Cold War, American leaders defined internationalism in terms of treaties and institutions," the report stresses the need for the United States to "work through treaties, alliances, and multilateral organizations -- so-called norms-based internationalism."

For example, it says an expanded Group of Eight, including an additional five members in China, Mexico, India, Brazil and South Africa, could provide a forum for forging common solutions to global problems.

"The next administration should seek to strengthen the G-8 summit process," the report asserts, "by proposing a set of high-level meetings on those issues routinely addressed by the G-8 that require sustained global attention: energy and climate; non-proliferation; global health; education; and the world economy."

Calling further on the United States to favor multilateral over unilateral action in its foreign policy, the report says "the next president should put priority on reforming the United Nations more broadly, reworking the governance structures of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and jumpstarting World Trade Organization negotiations and strengthening its enforcement."

Sitting with Enemies

The Boston Globe last week reported that "both Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they hoped the report would spark a national debate about America's changing global role."

Armitage and Nye appeared before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs Nov. 6 to tout the report's recommendations.

The committee's chairman, U.S. Rep. John Tierney, a Democrat, said the report "spells out the path for our country to get back on the offensive, and I don't mean that in a military sense."

Nye and Armitage asserted that its recommendations should serve both Republicans and Democrats running for President in 2008.

Their public statements, however, seemed also to be indirectly geared toward affecting the current debate over U.S. policy toward Iran, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Specifically, Armitage, who resigned from the State Department in late 2004, was critical of the Bush administration's reluctance to more directly engage in talks with Iran.

"I don't necessarily think that you need to come away from every diplomatic encounter with someone winning and someone losing," said Armitage. "Sitting across the table from an Iranian or a North Korean for that matter is an activity in diplomacy, surely, but it's also an ability to engage these folks, it's an ability to get some intelligence, it's a lot more than just diplomacy. I think it's the better part of wisdom to sit down with your enemies without conditions."

Guy Taylor is World Politics Review senior editor.