The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Soft Power

Both Barack Obama and John McCain will visit the site of the World Trade Center on this seventh anniversary of 9/11. What’s most interesting isn’t what they say today, but rather what they’ve said about the attack and it’s causes over the past seven years.

Amir Teheri discusses the two candidates' divergent views:
McCain's answer is simple (or, as Obama might suggest, simplistic): The United States was attacked because a resurgent Islam has produced a radicalism that dreams of world conquest and sees America as the enemy.

In different shapes and sizes and under a range of labels, that radical streak of Islam has waged war on America since 1979, when Khomeinists seized the US embassy in Tehran and held its diplomats hostage for 444 days. [Jimmy Carter was President at the time.]

The killing of 241 Marines in Beirut in 1983, the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and a host of other operations that claimed more American lives were episodes in a war - the reality of which the United States faced only after 9/11.

McCain doesn't hesitate to acknowledge that his country is engaged in a Global War on Terror. He doesn't believe that 9/11 might've been prompted by some wrong America did to others. To him, the nation was an innocent victim of "Islamic terrorism."

McCain asserts, "America faces a dedicated, focused and intelligent foe in the War on Terrorism. This enemy will probe to find America's weaknesses and strike against them. The United States cannot afford to be complacent about the threat, naive about terrorist intentions, unrealistic about their capabilities, or ignorant to our national vulnerabilities."

He'd pursue and fight these "enemies" wherever they are - including, especially, in Iraq. "If we run away," he says, "they are going to follow us home."

All of this seems to be a bit too straightforward for the nation’s “elite” thinkers in academia, the arts, and the media, just too facile an explanation of what we face and why we face it. Their view, like Obama’s, is a bit more nuanced:
OBAMA, by contrast, doesn't use terms such as "the Global War on Terror" or "Islamic terrorism." Nor does he claim that America was simply an innocent victim.

In one speech, he used the image of a US helicopter flying over the poor countries in Africa and Asia, where it's seen as a symbol of oppression. He says his objective is to turn that helicopter into a symbol of American aid to the downtrodden.

For Obama, the threat comes not from terrorists but from "extremists" and their "program of hate." He never uses such terms as "jihadist," judging them hurtful to Muslims. He speaks of "violent extremists who are a small minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims."

In one speech, he claimed that the Islamists aim only at "creating a repressive caliphate." He seemingly hasn't heard of jihadist movements whose declared aim is to destroy the United States in the name of Islam.

The threat of terrorism has faded over the past seven years, just as it faded after each of the many terrorist events that were precursors to 9/11. Because there have been no follow-on attacks, the public is focusing elsewhere. That’s understandable, but it can also be dangerous in the long term.

If we elect an administration that will not name the enemy and believes that Islamofascists act out of “oppression” rather than religious zealotry, our efforts against this existential threat will again fade, much like they did during the Clinton era. The result will be another 9/11-like event.

Barack Obama believes that “soft power” is the solution, that foreign aid, continuing dialog, negotiation and the like will obviate the need for “hard power”—an option that is anathema to Obama and his followers. Tehani describes his soft power approach:
He plans to double US foreign aid to $50 billion a year, allocate a further $20 billion to offering "alternatives to madrassa education" in Muslim countries, provide Afghanistan with another $1 billion a year in support and spend $5 billion on a "Shared Security Partnership Program" with foreign governments.

And he promises to "bolster our ability to speak different languages and understand different cultures" - as if America's unique cultural spectrum didn't already include large numbers of speakers of every living language, with millions of immigrants each year. Sorry: The nation was not attacked because Americans don't speak Arabic or don't understand Saudi or Egyptian cultures.

Obama also says he'll open "America Houses" in Muslim capitals. These would be community centers with libraries, Internet cafes and English-language classes. Has he considered the possibility that these might become prime targets for terrorists?

Plus, he'd set up an "America's Voice Corps," which would recruit and train thousands of young Americans to go to Muslim countries to explain "American values" and, in return, "listen to Islamic voices."

More important, perhaps, Obama promises to attend "a significant Islamic forum" (presumably, the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference) within his first 100 days in the White House. He believes that the magic of his eloquence might do what America's hard power has failed to achieve. In an early version of this idea, Obama wanted to invite all Muslim heads of state to a Washington summit. He doesn't realize that this would endorse the claim that Islam merits a special treatment even in international relations.

Idealism is a wonderful thing, but it can rapidly become problematic when it forgets the lessons of history and refuses to see the world as it really is.

All of us want to use software power, but many of us in the Center recognize that soft power works best when you’re dealing with “soft” adversaries—people who are driven by reason rather than fanaticism, people who are willing to compromise their beliefs in an effort to achieve agreement, people who truly want to live in peace and are willing to give something up to do. Islamists are none of those things. They are “hard” people and they will not respond to soft power unless they are forced to do so by hard power.

The harsh reality of all of human history is that hard power make "hard" people "soft." When it is applied properly, it makes hard people amenable to soft power. Obama and his followers may not like this reality, but the span of history confirms it.

Barack Obama appears to be constitutionally unable to recognize this fact, much like Jimmy Carter was unable to recognize it almost 30 years ago. Carter's “soft power” actions in 1979 precipitated a cascade of events that, it can be reasonably argued, resulting in the tragic event whose anniversary we recognize today. I can only wonder whether a President Barack Obama‘s decisions in 2009 might lead to some other sad anniversary 30 years hence.