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Friday, June 09, 2006

America's Fading Glow - John Brown

June 05, 2006
 
John Brown, a former Foreign Service officer who practiced public diplomacy for over twenty years, now compiles the "Public Diplomacy Press Review," which can be obtained free by e-mail here.
 
“Power,” Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, Jr. tells us “is the ability to alter the behavior of others to get what you want. There are basically three ways to do that: coercion (sticks), payments (carrots), and attraction (soft power).” Today’s American soft power—our ability to influence others overseas through who we are and what we do—is shrinking, as poll after poll shows. This loss of soft power reduces America's ability to shape global developments in ways favorable to the national interest. What can be done about this?
 
There are several reasons for the decline of America’s soft power. The most immediate is President George W. Bush’s aggressive foreign policy. Since our internationally condemned attack on Iraq, our country is seen as the illegitimate sheriff that shoots first and asks questions later. Contrast this to the worldwide sympathy for the U.S. immediately after 9/11, when we were considered the attacked, not the attacker. Due to our unilateralism, we have lost the respect—to be sure, never universal—that we earned as a world leader resisting the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century.
 
Second to the aggression is the hypocrisy of Bush's rhetoric. The president proclaims the pursuit of human freedom as his foremost goal while we are becoming a parody of the Statue of Liberty, covered in prison torture garb from Abu Ghraib, obsessed with our own security but with nothing liberating (or even stabilizing) to offer to the rest of the world. Forget the “democratization” programs (also called “transformational” ) hyped by Condoleezza Rice’s State Department. For much of the world, the reality is that we prop up dictators in Libya and Kazakhstan so long as they give us what we want. And, while claiming that America cares about humanity, Bush disregards transnational issues such as the global environment and supports visa regulations that offend foreigners who wish to visit or study in the United States.
 
A third reason for our loss of soft power is that, with over six years of Bush’s “we’re just plain folks” rule, our cultural exports increasingly fail to seduce overseas. To be sure, the best purveyors of American consciousness abroad don't necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government. Yet, judging by the barometer of pop culture, American style is no longer as "cool" as it was, despite the international success of some Hollywood blockbusters. Culturally, we are more and more perceived as the old New World. “[T]he American brand isn't at its shiniest,” U-2’s Bono  recently stated. “The neon is crackling."
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