Smart Power and the golden mean in US policy

In the XXI century, the concept of the „Smart Power” was introduced in the US security and global security dispute. It was first presented by Professor Ney who wrote: „Smart power is neither hard nor soft. It is both.” (Nye Jr., Joseph S.. Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics, New York 2004). From the further reading, Smart Power appears to be something between hard and soft power with use of both extremes if necessary. It means that „smart”, in this combination, constitute wide range of all means available for the user. The very reason of this idea, lies in the correct selection of those means, with most extreme taken into account, pre-dated by the correct planning and assessment of the own and others situation and capabilities, and specific for the each situation.

One can say it was all in used long before Ney was born and no concepts are necessary for that. It is partially true, because even Aristotle was describing his concept of „Golden Mean” as something between two extremities (Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 1233b15). When, Stagira born Greek, described what this concept means, he illustrated it using example of Sparta, as being too militarized: „they train for war but not peace” (Aristotle, Politics, 1270af and 1271b). In other examples he also warned, to not go into extremes in long range activities, but search for golden mean, which is not the mathematics middle, but is specific for each situation. This exactly fits in the Smart Power concept. Aristotle was far from pointing military means as wrong, he even advised Alexander the Great how to conduct his conquests. But he was equally far from militarism pointing how to settle things in the conquered territories without any further military actions. It looks like the theory of „Smart Power” is old as the history of politics itself. Using old or even ancient ideas as a basis for a new concept has a deep meaning. Such building of new concepts on the best known ground – the history, can give the best results. In recent times, when more and more radical ideologies are coming to life, searching of the golden mean by Nye, is very much rational and helpful for the policy makers. Just policy makers have to use it.
Smart Power appears to be most reasonable ideology deriving from the oldest historical background. Yet leaders like Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot followed just most radical way of Hard Power. Truth is, that for Stalin could be „successful” for a long time using so brutal means, but it was in specific circumstances and finally even „communist” system had to end, leaving countries where it was introduced in ruin. On the other hand Dalai Lama, uses his non violent policy, urging persecuted Tibetans to stay peaceful and just discuss, prey and wait for the change of the course of Chinese policy toward their nation. Of course using both of those kind of leadership, is most of all determined by the tools we have in our disposal. In case of Tibet there is not much more they can do. Any other action without any capabilities or international support (other than even best Hollywood movies) is pointless.
USA is the powerful enough to use policy they choose and this relate to the global leadership. But even for such mighty country the consequences of those choices are very profound. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created circumstances, which have forced next US president to change policy, shifting from Hard to Soft Power. Drawing red lines in Syria and then, after Asad regime crossed them constantly, refusing any further actions; hesitation in taking any actions against growing ISIS threat; just soft means in face of Russian aggression against Ukraine; or ignoring by Israeli government, continuous US president’s objection for their settlements program in West Bank proves, that administration of Barack Obama is not willing or unable to pursue the idea of Smart Policy. Although it was stated by Hillary Clinton in her first official appearance as a Secretary of State of the USA in 2009. The idea elaborated then by Hillary Clinton, sounded like exactly fitting the international situation. But whether the rest of US administration was not ready to follow this path or all of it was just said to fulfil election promises, the concept was not used.
But in fact there are some traces of Hard Power under president Obama administration. It was done unofficially and consisted of hard means like worldwide spying program, drone wars, secret military operations and others. It was some kind of Smart Power and probably could have been more successful, but was provided inconsistently, just to fight the remnants of the previous US president threats like Al-Qaeda. It seems like Obama administration didn’t want to realize a new threats, like they believe that under such extraordinary speaker and negotiator there can be no new problems. But such policy produced negative outcome in double: as half of the world believed Obama is pretending to be a peaceful and cooperative, but in fact tried to continue ineffectively hard lined Bush’s policy, and second part saw Obama as unable to use any Hard Power means. President Obamas inconsistence was well seen especially in Syria where US supported Syrian Rebels, even when they joint with Al-Qaeda. All of this shows that president Obama prepared kind of Smart Power strategy but unappreciated or overrated many important factors. Unfortunately international relations in the second decade of the XXI c., have great dynamics. Therefore president of USA shouldn’t exclude hard means from use. He underestimated Russian will, to rebuild its empire. In 2008 the Georgia was attacked by Russia, but still Obama used his reset concept just few months later. Although idea of reset could be good, but it had to be also hard means prepared if it didn’t work. When president Obama sent signals that his focus (after reset with Russia) have been shifted from Europe to Asia, it was a vital information for president Putin. He acknowledged, that such situation made a best ground for his plans. If president Obama denies Israelis settlements in the West Bank, he have to find the tools in his large toolbox to prevent Benjamin Nataniahu and his Likud from pursuing this goal. In the Syria the better was not draw any lines, because building any alliance was very much doubtful. Determining such point of US reaction, when none from the Western world finally supported the idea, put president Obama in very bad position. To fulfil his promise he would have to start unilaterally military steps against Syrian regime supported by Russia and Iran. Against Russia, fully depended on natural resources, strong impact in this sphere would be much better (and it was partially done). In the same time unofficially large shipments of western weapons, at least from the  time of Crime annexation, would make the difference in this situation. Just discussing the shipment of the gas to the central Europe, and underlying, that such perspective is possible in tens of years make whole discussion ridicule.
Unfortunately his hesitations, red lines without consequences and admitting to have no strategy prepared to fight ISIS (which shouldn’t be stated publicly even if it’s truth), produces a picture of weakness and inability to use both – soft and hard power in a proper measure. Unfortunately, for many leaders in the world, too much of soft power, means weakness and in this case most probably this opinion of the president Obama will prevail.

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