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Soft Power
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Here's an interesting review of Tom Friedman's latest book on globalization, The World Is Flat.

I thought this bit was interesting:

This is one paradox of "neoconservative" foreign policy: It lacks the conservative's faith in the politically redeeming power of markets. Indeed, Bush, far from trying to lure authoritarians into the insidiously antiauthoritarian logic of capitalism, has tried to exclude them from it. Economically, he's all stick and no carrot. (Of Iran he said, "We've sanctioned ourselves out of influence," oblivious to the fact that removing sanctions can be an incentive.)

Of course, if you took this approach—used trade, aid, and other forms of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power" to globalize authoritarian nations and push them toward freedom—hyper-tyrannies like Saddam Hussein's Iraq would be the last dominoes to fall. More promising dominoes would include Egypt, even Saudi Arabia. But according to neocon reverse-domino theory, it only takes one domino.

Since I essentially ascribe to the "neoconservative" approach to foreign policy, I have to take exception to this analysis. It's not that people who are "all stick" don't have faith in the power of markets to effect change. The problem with engaging dictatorships economically is that you are, in effect, supporting them.

This then leads to the charge that Americans have a double-standard when it comes to freedom, that we prop up dictatorships, and so on. One's actions speak louder than words, though both are important. But when you lift restrictions and engage in open trade with someone like a Hussein or Kim Jong Il, you are legitimizing their government, helping them to stay in power, and sending a mixed message to the world. It indicates, not that you are politically savvy in your attempt to destabilize shitty governments through soft power, but that you care more about money than about human rights and democracy.

No, the best policy, the clearest policy, is to marginalize and isolate the worst regimes in existence. That should include countries like Saudi Arabia. Shape up and join the world community, economically and politically (there should also be a basic human rights standard to be a part of the UN, much less serve on the human rights committee).

This policy doesn't show a lack of faith in markets...quite the contrary. It demonstrates the incentive for change for the those countries who want to join the world community. For those that simply will not change, and continue to engage in gross crimes against humanity, what is needed is a solid political and economic front. Part of the inability for sanctions to really work is engagement and solicitude from countries like France and Russia. If rogue nations can do an end-around sanctions, then they aren't going to be very effective, are they?

So while soft power sounds like the deft, nuanced way to elicit change, all in all it's a bad idea. It props up crappy governments and sends mixed signals. In the end, it's best to call horrible governments out, identify them for what they are, and marginalize them. Democracies outnumber and outrank nondemocratic governments by a vast margin now. If we simply unified in our resolve and influence, the outmoded form of governance known as the dictatorship would go the way of the dinosaur.

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