Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Remembering US Soft Power

There's an interesting piece up right now on Foreign Policy's “The Oil and The Glory” blog on US diplomatic efforts in Georgia – an American chef from California's Napa Valley recently gave a cooking demonstration at the house of the US ambassador to Georgian chefs on how to prepare recipes using wine and grapes from Georgia's indigenous wine-making regions. The whole event was broadcast on Georgian TV and was reportedly well-received by the Georgians. Author Steve LeVine argues that it was a fine example of “soft power” on the part of the United States, something which diplomatically we use to excel at, but have abandoned in the past decade thanks to changes in presidential policy and the War on Terror (soft power is opposed to “hard power”, e.g. military action, which has been the primary focus of US international efforts in the past few years).

LeVine is right in his assessment. The United States has put soft power efforts on the back-burner this past decade, after all, where's the room for cooking demonstrations when there's terrorists to hit with drone airstrikes? At the same time though, China has been making real progress diplomatically, especially in Africa, through the use of soft power efforts like development aid and underwriting vital infrastructure projects alone. It's worth noting that the United States came out on the winning side of the Cold War not through military might, but largely because it had the system of government and society that people wanted to immigrate to, rather than the Soviet model that significant numbers of people tried to escape from. And the image of that government and culture were spread in large part though American soft power efforts. The Georgia cooking show demonstrates that soft power can still be an effective tool for American foreign policy today as well.
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