“Soft power” is the ability to get what you want through attraction, particularly to a country’s culture, ideals, and policies, rather than through various forms of hard force such as, in descending order, military might, diplomatic coercion, or economic bribery.
Author Joseph Nye, the Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, quotes Newt Gingrich to the effect that the measuring rod of our success is not how many enemies are killed but instead, how many allies are gathered.
An effective president uses “smart power,” an ever-evolving balance of command and control, (hard) power and soft power that co-opt. Or as Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
To illustrate: “$100M might buy a Navy ship of war or an Army brigade with tanks and artillery, two forms of hard power, or it can buy 1,000 diplomats or 10,000 Peace Corps volunteers or a water desalination plant capable of distilling 100M cubic meters of fresh water a year, three softer forms of power.” (From amazon.com review by Robert Steele.)
Soft power is also the ability to attract others and persuade them of the validity and desirability of our values and way of life, to persuade other nations to share our objectives or desired outcomes, the ability to create a unifying consensus, an international cooperation, in part by considering the interests of others.
Soft power can backfire: political scandals, corporate corruption, CEOs acting like pigs at the trough, and other excesses of capitalism can engender cynicism and disenchantment that undermine the lure of a country’s culture, or bring into disrepute its policies, or suggest that it does not walk its talk.
In many respects soft power is akin to President Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as a “shining city on a hill,” a bright beacon of freedom, prosperity, and justice for the entire world. A vision of the United States at its very best, the America we can be, want to be, should be. It is a compelling vision, darkened if at all only by our collective failure to 100 percent live up to its potential.
I like the idea of America as a shining city on a hill.
I would much rather lead by example than by force. An America that works, an America whose schools are the best, whose courts are the fairest, whose prisons are the emptiest, an America where everyone has an opportunity to earn a piece of the pie, where transparency and accountability are the norm, where entrepreneurial capitalism is honored and cronyism capitalism spurned, where government is small and community is large, where it is performance that counts, not race, color, creed, or connections. That is the America I see in my dreams.