Monday, October 10, 2005

More Boykin Award Nominations, Regrettably


Joshua Landis' Syria Comment slides one past that I hadn't heard about: On October 3, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor called for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Landis runs a transcript of Mr. O'Reilly's remarks, which occurred while he was speaking with former presidential candidate and retired General Wesley A. Clark.

This follows on the heels of the preacher Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the nearest thing the Western Hemisphere might have to Syria's president. Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Robertson are the second and third nominees for the 2005 Boykin Award, given to the public figure who does the greatest damage to U.S. soft power in a calendar year. Let me explain.

Lately, I've started using a carrot-and-stick metaphor to describe the differences between soft power (ideals, institutions, achievements) and hard power (military and economic coercion). Most people, like most horses a century ago, would rather be lured by the promise of a carrot than beaten with a stick. For the U.S., the carrot—the lure that will get people in other nations to be more likely to agree with U.S. policies—is a combination of things:

Aligning our policies with our ideals (a fair justice system, democratic elections, free speech, economic opportunity, racial equality)

Listening to other nations (to their history, language, concerns)

Humility (doing what's good for U.S. interests without highlighting other nations' shortcomings)

Tools that get our message out (international broadcasting, two-way educational exchanges, cultural centers, touring American orchestras and theater groups, active public diplomacy)

There are other soft-power tools, but this list is a start and will be argued over, added to and refined. Despite the incompleteness of this list, I'm sure that one thing detracting from U.S. soft power—something that takes people's eyes off the carrots the U.S. has to offer—is when famous people who are in no position to threaten another nation do so.

Commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Pat Robertson, lightly traveled though they may be, must realize that the whole world knows the U.S. has a stick—its armed forces—which could destroy anything it was swung at. Every nation includes this fact in its foreign policy calculations, which makes the world a more peaceful place than it might be in the absence of such an overwhelming threat.

As a result, there is never a need to emphasize that the U.S. holds a stick that could end a foreign leader's life or even incinerate an entire city; it is counterproductive to do so. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, the U.S. can afford to speak softly about carrots, because everyone knows about its big stick.

No comments:

Site Meter