Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I've written before about the absurdity of the notion that "soft power" is more important than the "hard" (i.e., military) kind, and the strange role of the fall of the Soviet Union in making this canard credible to certain gullible analysts. But it's hard to imagine a more perfect textbook case of this delusion than Joseph "Soft Power" Nye's op-ed in the Washington Post. See if you can detect any traces of actual history in his description of the Cold War:
Historically, Americans have been good at wielding soft power. Think of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms in Europe at the end of World War II; of young people behind the Iron Curtain listening to American music and news on Radio Free Europe; of Chinese students symbolizing their protests in Tiananmen Square with a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
For forty-four years, Eastern Europeans groaned under Soviet despotism--FDR's gift to Stalin at Yalta. Chinese freedom-lovers still suffer under heavy repression today, their hopes having been crushed under the tank treads of the PLA at Tienanmen square in 1989, just as the Iron Curtain was about to fall. But to Nye, this horrible history of uninterrupted tyranny, which America was helpless to end, was in fact a glorious demonstration of America's success at "wielding soft power"--all because of a few slogans, radio programs and effigies.

Perhaps if the period in question had ended a few centuries ago, Nye would have an excuse for his own pitiful lack of perspective. But the events about which he demonstrates such utter and complete cluelessness happened during his own adult years, within any normal person's clear living memory. That he can still be respected as a serious scholar after publishing such nonsense is simply baffling.

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