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Soft Power

I re-read Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics. It is not as poorly written as I remembered it being, but it is poorly written. There are editing errors every ten pages or so throughout the book. When I read this the first time in 2006 or early 2007, I developed a bias against the author because he had caused me to have to read such a sloppy book. That bias still exists. So noted. That said, I don’t think soft power is much more than an a catch phrase or some sort of diplomatic/political short hand. It is not a type of power. It is not anything more than a subset of political power. There is no substantive difference between soft power and payments. My friend Joe will cat-sit for me because he really likes me or my friend Joe will cat-sit for me because I’m paying him 10 bucks a day to do so. Either way, Joe is happier cat-sitting for me than he would have been if he didn’t cat-sit for me.   And either way, my relationship with Joe (long term great friend, clear potential for life-long great friend or just short term spendthrift) affects Joe’s decision.

I can see why Nye is upset by the various uses of “his” term soft power. It’s used loosely and in different ways because it is a loose idea and can be applied in many different ways. I will use the concept soft power in my life. I have used it since I first read the book. It is a buzzword though. As a buzzword, it’s helpful.

In the book, Nye defines soft power and introduces it within the context of the Iraq War.  Then he explains how our culture, our domestic policy and our foreign policy all affect our soft power with other countries.  Next, he reviews his interpretation of the soft power of Russia, Europe, Asia and NGO’s.  The penultimate chapter details the three dimensions of effectively wielding soft power (daily communication, strategic communication and long-term relationships (like exchanges)) and returns focus to the Middle East.  The last chapter reviews Nye’s thoughts on the costs of ingnoring soft power, presidential types (really) and a summary.

Our book club used this book for it’s first discussion.  Several members thought the concept was very useful and that I was being too analytical with my insistence that soft power is just a sub-set of political power.  So noted.  It is a useful concept and the jargon is still alive and well in our world.


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