The Main Point recently received this missive from the admirable and starry-eyed nonagenarian pundit Norman Berke:
Socrates, in a session with his disciples, according to Plato, posed the following question. What policy should you adopt if your neighbors should turn belligerent and become your enemy. One disciple answered quickly, saying, we should attack them before they attack us. Socrates replied, in that case you will always have them as an enemy; wouldn't it be preferable to seek out the possibility of an amicable settlement. And thus was born the policy discussion of the relative merits of hard power vs. soft power, which is still very much with us today.
Down through the ages nation states and empires have debated this difference, tho mainly opting for hard power, and just as often regretting it. The Athenians didn't follow Socrates advice and lost their golden age trying to subdue the Spartans. Spain became a second rate power trying to hold onto the newly empowered Dutch throughout most of the 17th century. Napoleon didn't have to invade Russia to keep his empire. History is replete with such examples. The use of hard power, has, on occasion, been necessary and beneficial.
One such use would be World War11 in successfully defeating evil, although it was preceded by a disastrous attempt at soft power resulting in the agreement at Munich. It cannot be employed to cover up weakness. Another necessary use of hard power would have been the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 with its intent to hunt down the perpetrators while also freeing a nation under the yoke of the Taliban. However, a reversal of policy, resulting in the invasion of Iraq, became, instead, a disastrous use of hard power and a severe setback to the self interest of the United States.
The president of the US has recently completed a swing of eight days in Europe, Turkey, and Iraq, followed shortly thereafter with a swing through Latin America. To those who listened carefully, there was a consistent and powerfully expressed message. Back home, the pundits, while admiring the talk and the delivery, honed in on the limited accomplishments: Europe's refusal to stimulate, and reluctance to commit to more involvement in Afghanistan, all the while missing what was behind the words, a radically new and about face message to the world, that America would henceforth, in its own self interest and that of the world at large, commit itself to the active and unremitting use of soft power. Again, opponents at home picked up on going soft on Cuba, and daring to shake the hand of Chavez. What cannot be denied is that in such a short time there has been a remarkable change among the peoples of the world.
As I sit here, I cannot recall a comparable time in history where the world's leading military power held out the olive branch with an offer to lead the world in ameliorating suspicions, long harbored resentments, hatreds. Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria, and others will be viewing a new and different America. In the course of this new era of foreign policy, there will be much criticism within, and suspicions without will die hard. It may not work, may well turn out a grand failure. Can you turn an adversary into a friend? It will be a fascinating time to watch and be a part of. As Secretary of State Clinton said, "let's put ideology aside; that is so yesterday"