Hegemony & Leadership Toolbox



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In order to regain its soft power, America must recover democracy. Our foreign policy must aim to spread economic stability, human rights, and freedom around the world, or it won’t be accepted by other nations. Our power both implies and depends upon responsibility. Condoleezza Rice’s idea that American foreign policy should aim to maintain our position as the world’s only superpower will not, and should not, be accepted by any other nation unless that position is clearly conducive to genuine advancement for humanity. For only the world-historical mission of spreading genuine democracy, with all that entails, can justify America’s tremendous power. But also, only commitment to that mission can maintain America’s position. Without that justification, without that commitment, America will inevitably lose its legitimacy. That, along with the limitations of military power, is a lesson of the Bush administration’s failure in the Middle East. Here it’s worth mentioning that Nye’s concepts of soft power and smart power were prompted by the disaster of Bush’s foreign policy and which currently guide the improved approach of Hillary Clinton. In a April 13, 2004 interview, Nye explicitly linked America’s loss of soft power to the Bush administration’s failed foreign policy: “Saddled as we are with a foreign policy that largely relies on the hard power of our military and economic might, rather than capitalizing on the soft power of shared values, we would all agree that America’s recent foreign policy initiatives are seen as less than successful in the eyes of the world.”4 In the historical context of American foreign policy, Nye’s position repudiates the “war on terror” frame articulated by Bush’s cabinet, along with the assumption that the U.S. should aim for global hegemony and the benighted doctrines of unilateralism and the pre-emptive strike.5 Despite its departures from the polities of the cold war, the Bush doctrine continued to emphasize a military approach to international power over diplomacy or development, to the detriment of American standing in the Middle East. Nye’s task, like that of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, is to regain for the United States the soft power lost during Bush’s tenure. One of the strongest features of Nye’s approach is that he recognizes the potentials of social media for expanding the power civil society and perceives them as consistent with both America’s values and its interests. The decentralization of information and the development of citizen diplomacy, in his view, tend to shift the management of foreign policy away from governments and toward non-state actors. The result is that soft power takes on a new importance in foreign policy: “a new information revolution is changing the nature of power and increasing its diffusion. States will remain the dominant actor on the world stage, but they will find the stage far more crowded and difficult to control. A much larger part of the population both within and among countries has access to the power that comes from information.”6 The increasing importance of soft power is especially so in the case of the Middle East.7 American success in the region can no longer rely on military supremacy deployed by the U.S. government, but must now draw on civil society. With the loss of legitimacy we suffered as a result of the Bush doctrine, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the scandals of Guantanamo Bay and Abhu-Gharib, and the endemic human rights violations of Israel’s government, and American support for authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, “our public diplomacy must acknowledge a world that is far more skeptical of government messages than we have assumed” (Nye, 2004:143). Meanwhile, the consistently non-violent quality of the Egyptian protests created an irresistible legitimacy in the face of violence and injustice, and many inspiring and terrifying accounts flowed out of Egypt through Twitter and Facebook, including from members of foreign media reporting from the ground. Egypt’s revolution thus raised the bar on the requirements and possibilities of soft power in a way that has forced the United States to respond. The State Department has moved to integrate social media into its diplomacy. You can communicate with the State department via Twitter and Facebook, and they have made several strong statements on keeping the internet open. It is to her credit that Hillary Clinton is looking into the future of global civil society and its political impact: “The connectivity of social media may be one of the great tools, not just for organizing protests, as we saw in Tahrir Square, as we saw even before that in Tunisia, but I think it’s also a way for people to break down stereotypes and divisions between them.”8 Her approach to the use of new media is tied to a clear understanding of the new importance of civil society and other non-governmental actors in public diplomacy. But the use of social media in the organization and communications of the Egyptian revolutionaries has outpaced the policy establishment’s extensive efforts to grasp its power. Social media networks played an integral role in developing international support for the revolution by legitimizing its democratic aims and by exposing the Muburak’ regime to the international public sphere.9 Egyptians used smart phones to record events, create records of criminal activities and persons, coordinate their activities, and send reports of events out of Egypt. Social media was used as a forum to debate the interpretive frame of news reporting, as in the negotiation of the terms “protesters,” “thugs,” “revolutionaries,” and so forth that took place during the period from the Tunisian protests and the overthrow of Muburak. And journalists in the West, many of them from a Middle Eastern background, stayed connected to friends and family through Twitter, Facebook, and You Tube and remained consistently ahead of mainstream media in their reporting. Such journalists have also shown themselves to be more dependable than some of their counterparts, and even some policy wonks, in developing analysis of the situation as it unfolds.10 The accuracy of their reports on the Egyptian people’s struggle for freedom has gained a degree of solidarity between the Egyptian and the American public, and the latter have organized protests, written letters to their representatives, and signed petitions. The networks generated by following the Egyptian revolution have been extended by the revolutions and protests in Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Morocco, just as the previously existing networks on behalf of the Iranian opposition were extended for Tunisia and Egypt. Finally, it’s difficult to fault the U.S. Government for being overly cautious in its approach to the revolutionary wave sweeping across the Middle East. But it seems clear enough that the sooner Nye’s smart power recommendations are implemented, the better. As we’ve suggested, the State Department seems clearly committed to adjusting to the suddenness, the novelty, of this major shift in foreign policy. The question is not, then, whether Obama and Clinton have the intelligence to see the right course of action, but whether they have the political will and support to take it, and whether they will take it soon enough. For it will have to involve an accommodation of more democracy in America. For just the same networks have been extended to Wisconsin, and Michigan, and so on. America’s recent failures in foreign policy can ultimately be explained by the fact that America’s foreign policy is not democratically framed. Instead, through their influence over the government, corporations deploy the American military according to their own interests. In order to resume its position of world leadership, America must be democratic in every aspect, which is to say that our relationships with other nations must be determined by civil society and not by multinational corporations. Genuinely democratic nations usually don’t start wars unless there’s a broad consensus about an immanent threat because it’s the people who decide policy and who risk death in combat because they are the same people, and because of the power of citizen diplomacy and international friendship.


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