Sunday, February 1, 2009

Soft Power

What the hell is “soft power”? This phrase has slipped into the au courant logosphere in association with Barack Obama.

The intelligentsia confidently assure us that Obama’s administration will either utilize, or improve, or magically call into existence America’s “soft power.”

Does “soft power” mean: negotiating while threatening force; negotiating while not threatening force; appeasing, begging, cajoling, importuning, surrendering, hoping for the best?

My guess is that it means all of these things and none of them; it is a flaccid and vapid neologism tossed about smugly by those who seek to demonstrate their moral and intellectual superiority without committing to actually trying to make any sense or saying anything in danger of being contradicted by actual facts.

An internet search reveals that the term was coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye who defines it thus:

“Soft power is the ability to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than using the carrots and sticks of payment or coercion.”

Which, I believe, proves my assertion above. QED.

What, one wonders, might “attract” Ahmadinejad, or Haniyeh, or Assad, or Osama bin Laden, or Raul Castro, or Hugo Chavez, or Kim Jung Ill, to give one the “outcomes one wants”?

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