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Soft Power

By Ian Lynch  Posted by Ian Lynch (about the submitter)     Permalink
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In what is being seen as a trip to establish a legacy, President Bush is currently visiting Africa. In a presidency marked by the use of hard power, this current effort is an example of soft power. After seven years, Bush can be accused of too little too late, but his reception in Africa, where his popularity is immense, would seem to speak otherwise. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete had this to say, “I know you will leave office in about 12 months' time. Rest assured that you will be remembered for many generations to come for the good things you have done for Tanzania and the good things you have done for Africa. Your legacy will be that of saving hundreds of thousands of mothers and children's' lives.” These lives have been saved from malaria and HIV/AIDS.

The president launched a plan in 2005 to reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 80 percent of malaria cases occur. The disease kills at least 1 million infants and children under five every year. Bush's five-year plan calls for $1.2 billion, so far congress has funded about a third of this program. Congress has also agreed to his plan to spend $15 billion on HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa. He is now urging congress to double that. While in Tanzania, Bush also announced a plan to distribute 5.2 million free bed nets in six months, enough to provide a net for every child between ages one and five in Tanzania. On top of this he also promised $700 to help Tanzania build up its infrastructure.

"The power to save lives comes with the moral obligation to use it," Bush said about these efforts. This relatively sudden reliance on soft power is finally a glimpse of the compassionate conservatism that he promised. Joseph S. Nye Jr., distinguished service professor at Harvard University, describes a country’s soft power as coming from three resources: “its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority).” Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during President Bush's first term, now a colleague of Nye, makes the case for soft power this way, "You don't need to walk into a room and pronounce yourself ... in charge, everyone knows when the United States is in the room. You gain much more by not even speaking about it."

The nearly exclusive use of hard power throughout the Bush presidency has had a negative effect on the ability of the US to use soft power now. The world's only remaining super power launching a preemptive war in the opposition of world opinion is precisely the sort of thing candidate Bush warned us about in 2000 when he said, "If we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us." With our foreign policy having lost much of its moral authority, it is high time we made an effort to make more friends than enemies.


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