Sunday, April 19, 2009

The overweening desire to be liked and the implications for "soft power" 

Barack Obama's global apology tour continued in Latin America this week. Power Line says that he embarrassed himself, "and us." Well, not me. I am never embarrassed by the president of the United States, whether I agree with him or not. I admit that it is a defense mechanism of sorts developed during the Carter administration, which corresponded with my politically passionate teenaged years. Being an American individualist means that I am not responsible for and therefore cannot be embarrassed by what other people do. Leave that to the collectivists.

But I do think that this apology stuff runs two big risks: That it weakens our "soft power" rather than strengthens it, and that it triggers enormous disappointment when the day finally arrives that the Obama administration actually asserts American interests at the expense of other countries.

Obama is getting the headlines he wanted to get. From Reuters this morning, "Obama a hit with US critics." Becoming more popular with people who dislike us was considered by the left and certain academic foreign policy specialists to be the cornerstone of greater American "soft power," the ineffable national advantage that supposedly accrues from sheer popularity or respect.

The question, of course, is whether popularity and respect tend to reinforce each other, or tend to nullify each other.

Obviously, popularity among the voters of our democratic allies is useful soft power, because it makes it easier for these countries to support us. See, e.g., the impact of George W. Bush's unpopularity on the political fortunes of foreign leaders who were otherwise inclined to support us in Iraq. That is why I am not too worked up over President Obama sucking up to the European chattering classes, distasteful as it is. There is some potential for benefit in it as long as he does not, in the end, compromise essential American interests.

It is not nearly so obvious that popularity among Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Fidel Castro and the Latin American left increases our soft power in the least. In addition to being dictators, these guys are clowns. If the rest of the world sees us sucking up to these guys, why would we not also seek applause from from Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Assad, or Kim? American strength -- distinct from the use of military force -- also promotes "soft power." Perhaps Barack Obama should pay more attention to Spain's King Juan Carlos, who knows exactly how to deal with Hugo Chavez. Did the world respect Juan Carlos more or less after his confrontation with Chavez? The answer, I think, is obvious.

The other problem with popularity as a source of soft power is that it is extremely fickle. It is unreliable, and it tends to vanish into hostility if it is disappointed. There will come a day when Barack Obama's domestic political considerations or -- yes -- good faith assessment of America's geopoliitical interests require him to take positions that are unpopular among people inclined to anti-Americanism anyway. The dashing of high expectations among foreign audiences might result in its own blowback.

There is value in making America popular again, but only among certain audiences and in certain respects. Popularity for its own sake that undermines respect will not increase our "soft power," and might well diminish it in the long run.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 19, 09:47:00 AM:

It is too early to tell how the Obama road show will play out. I hope he is able to have an effect similar to the Putin/Bush meeting. Putin won over Bush on a personal level and then used that "relationship" to great advantage down the road.  

By Anonymous Sally, at Sun Apr 19, 10:02:00 AM:

I don't actually think there is such a thing as "soft power". I can't think of any instance where soft power got the USA something. I can think of lots of situations where hard power did though.

And I'm not embarrassed by Obama running around the world apologizing for America because it seems clear that he doesn't mean it. He's cynically manipulating, or trying to manipulate, his various audiences into believing that America has been properly chastened and now humbly begs the world for forgiveness. To what end, I have no idea. Presumably it's for domestic consumption back in the US, firming up his credentials with the Bill Ayers crowd. Certainly any foreign leader who buys Obama's Uriah Heep act deserves to be manipulated. Otherwise, it's fairly hilarious, this openly arrogant, narcissistic politician presenting himself as the living embodiment of an America on its knees.  

By Anonymous MarkJ, at Sun Apr 19, 12:42:00 PM:

Obama must be truly dumber than we think. He should have had all the cameras turned off or checked at the door before he met with Chavez. Why? Because in 2012, those photos are going to come back and bite Zero in his taut, muscular ass like we can't even imagine. If I were Michael Steele (or whoever the GOP Chairman is in 2012), I'd be running those pics 24/7 every hour on the hour during the campaign. Oh yeah.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 19, 02:33:00 PM:

I too tend to think that there is virtually nothing to "soft power" - it's meaningless fol de rol to me.

Obama is who he is - a smooth talking, jive talking, race baiter with sympathies to anything or anyone who is anti-American, anti-Caucasian, anti-Christian, anti-free market, etc.

The American people rarely make big mistakes but I'm afraid they made a big one this time in electing a wimpish, leftish lawyer. Then again, the American public was not shown the real Obama - there was a huge filter in front of him erected by the mainstream media.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Sun Apr 19, 03:40:00 PM:

Well, he sure as hell embarrasses me! People all over the world are looking at this empty suit who has replaced patriotism with narcissism...and they perceive quite quickly what the majority of the American electorate chose to ignore.

The fact that we have chosen him to represent us reflects negatively on US.

We should all be ashamed.  

By Anonymous Squealer, at Sun Apr 19, 09:32:00 PM:

A little excerpt on the topic of soft power:

Q: England's House of Commons
A: Ben Franklin

Q. What was the temper of America towards Great Britain before the year 1763?

A. The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of the crown, and paid, in their courts, obedience to the acts of Parliament. Numerous as the people are in the several old provinces, they cost you nothing in forts, citadels, garrisons, or armies, to keep them in subjection. They were governed by this country at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper; they were led by a thread. They had not only a respect, but an affection for Great Britain; for its laws, its customs and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce. Natives of Britain were always treated with particular regard; to be an Old-England man was of itself a character of some respect, and gave a kind of rank among us.

Q. And what is their temper now?
A. Oh, very much altered..

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Apr 20, 12:14:00 AM:

'Soft power' and 'hard power' are absurd distinctions born from absurd polemics in the End of History age.

There is only power. Power is the ability to make people do things that they wouldn't otherwise do. Whether it's by force, persuasion, or bribe is irrelevant, except in keeping some milk-blooded academics awake at night when their fragile sensibilities are violated.  

By Blogger Whiskey, at Mon Apr 20, 12:15:00 AM:

TH you don't get it but let me explain it for you.

WOMEN love that stuff. Women live and die by being popular, it's the ruling principle of every female group.

Obama is the female candidate. Single Women (most of American Women now) voted for him 70-29. That gave him his victory.

Women HATE HATE HATE hard power because they are not good at it, lose politically when SEALs exercise it by killing jihadi pirates, and win when Obama grovels.

Obama is the Big Man rockstar, who grovels at the feat of any anti-American dictator, King, or hereditary ruler, and who endorses an explicitly anti-White Guy agenda.

Women, particularly White women, HATE most White guys, who are both peer competitors, and givers of largely unwanted attention. Most women are single, and thus have no consideration of a husband's interest in the family fortune. Thus Women love, love the soft power and endless apologies, it plays right into their own advantages.

Not the least of which is an aching, feminine desire to be like/loved.

Men of course wish to be feared and respected by most, and loved only by family. That is because men and women are profoundly different, and want profoundly different things.

Obama will be a smashing success at HOME with this because no matter how abject his failures, women will see him as both the Big Man and "one of them." He's a very female leader (and in the worst rather than the best way).  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Mon Apr 20, 06:47:00 AM:

Women are from Venus

Men are from Mars

Obama is from Kenya  

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