November 21st, 2011
06:18 PM ET

Stokes: The GOP war on 'Smart Power'

Editor's Note: Jacob Stokes is a policy analyst at the National Security Network and editor of the progressive foreign policy blog DemocracyArsenal.orgThe views expressed in this article are solely those of Jacob Stokes.

By Jacob Stokes - Special to CNN

On foreign policy, the platform shared by Republican candidates for president can be encapsulated in one phrase: the war on smart power.

The concept of smart power was coined in 2004 to describe the belief that trade, diplomacy, foreign aid and the spread of American values should be employed alongside military force to achieve U.S. goals in the world. It brings together a mix of soft power, the proverbial carrot, with hard power, the stick, in order to achieve aims. The concept is so basic, so elemental as to be almost cliché – it’s foreign policy 101. And yet the Republican field has dedicated itself to rejecting it.

In the first debate focused solely on foreign policy issues, Rick Perry promised to start the foreign aid budget at zero and make receiving nations re-justify their assistance every year; Mitt Romney and others agreed. That view shows a profound misunderstanding of the role aid plays in fighting America’s wars and of the miniscule proportion of the budget it consumes. Without the proper civilian trainers, nations who beat back insurgent forces find it hard to rebuild functioning societies. The U.S. has encountered this problem firsthand in Afghanistan, with tragic consequences.

When congress suggested similar reductions earlier this year, Andrew Exum, senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, called the cuts “embarrassing.” He said such actions show the people who proposed them are “still uneducated about the wars we've been fighting for almost 10 years now.” The same can be said for the GOP candidates. In addition to helping win the wars we’re in, funding foreign aid can help deal with problems before they require a military response. As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

The GOP candidates have also rejected core American values. Every candidate except the perennial outliers Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul said they would endorse the use of waterboarding if elected. Even conservatives such as Senator John McCain understand that waterboarding is torture and that engaging in such actions damages America’s image abroad. How can an exceptional nation endorse the use of torture? During the Bush administration, world opinion answered that question: It can’t.

Despite lofty rhetoric to the contrary, the ideal of universal freedom has been abandoned, too. Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann have railed against the president for failing to support Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak in the face of democratic protests and have criticized the U.S. action in Libya. (Both protests were supported by another U.S. soft power asset - innovation, in the form of social media.) In the place of freedom, a pernicious anti-Muslim sentiment has crept up, demonstrated most clearly by Gingrich’s characterization of the Arab Spring as an “Anti-Christian Spring.” To be sure, some candidates have backed the revolutions, but their support has been tepid at best.

Bachmann has also suggested that Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan should be forced to pay America back with oil for “liberating” their countries. So much for Colin Powell’s dictum that the U.S. is exceptional because it does not fight for material gain and, "The only land we took after the last great conflict was enough land to bury our dead." It gives a whole new meaning to the favorite conservative phrase “freedom isn’t free.”

Diplomacy, too, has taken a hit. Perry, among others, has called for defunding the United Nations. And Romney’s staunch opposition to the New START Treaty with Russia – an agreement supported by every living Republican secretary of state as well as senior military leaders – plays a central role in his platform.

America still commands great soft power resources, in addition to the most powerful military on Earth. U.S. values, culture, universities, companies and diversity are still, by and large, the envy of the world. China, in particular, wishes it had such pull. China’s communist leaders have gone to great lengths to make the country’s culture and values attractive. Alas, the GOP candidates want to unilaterally abdicate America’s spot as global leader.

The Republican candidates yearn for another American century. The quickest way to ensure the next century won’t belong to the U.S. is to jettison the concept of smart power.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Jacob Stokes.

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Topics: 2012 Election • Foreign Policy

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    The biggest and foremost problem in the world today is the nakedly aggressive foreign policy of the United States and it's allies. That's also the chiel reason for the economic meltdown in both the U.S. and Europe which the right-wing news media, as usual, never talks about! We need to stop playing the role as the world's top bully!!! But then again, I hate bullying in any form!

    November 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Reply
    • Zman

      Onesmallvoice, you lost me with the "right-wing news media" reference, but that was only after I fully realized you were clueless with regard to our aggressive foreign policy playing a role in the world wide economic meltdown. What rock are you living under. The economic meltdown of '08 was caused by bank deregulation and greedy Wall Street hedge fund investors trying to drive the ship up on the rocks. I'd suggest reading more and turning off Faux Noise!

      November 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    The GOP candidates are puppets of the neo-conservative clique, which came into being in 2003. They justify militaristic right with no precedents in American culture or political history and admire the Israeli Likud party's tactics.

    November 22, 2011 at 6:56 am | Reply
  3. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Hey just think!!!! When the GOP regain power, they will start a war with Iran (totally unfunded of course). Then they will draft all the poor people to fight(die) in the war (just like the GOP wants) and give "no bid" contracts to the rich people. Killing two birds with one stone!!! Then we can use Iran's oil to pay for the war. And when the war is over, Iran will sell us cheap oil!!! Just like Iraq........Oh wait........Never mind.

    November 22, 2011 at 9:17 am | Reply
  4. Napoli

    Yeah, what ever. It's Not Working!

    How about a return to Dumb Power? At least that was working......for the 99%.

    November 22, 2011 at 9:47 am | Reply
  5. pmk1953

    The GOP is waging a war on anything that is even remotely connected to intelligence.

    November 22, 2011 at 11:05 am | Reply
  6. Sic Semper Tyrannis

    The words "Smart" and "GOP" should never appear in the same sentence. One can only wait in breathless anticipation until of this magnificent number insists they are the reincarnation of Tomás de Torquemada, or the world is flat or that the universe revolves around the sun. Republicans have all the right answers for the problems of 1945.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  7. pnkearns

    "Smartpower" is a European myth. I heard it all the time from my ex-pat friends in Beijing during the early 2000s. Europe would use "smartpower" to lead in negotiations with Iraq over nuclear proliferation. Europe would use "smartpower" to finally fixing the Israel-PAL conflict after 60 years. And so on and so on. Yes, you can use things like economic incentives and sanctions to push a foreign policy, but these "smartpower" items have limits. As shown by Europe constantly calling on the U.S. for assistance, politically, economically and most important, militarily, when it's "smartpower" fails again and again.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Reply
    • JNagarya

      No one said that "Smart Power" doesn't have limites; in fact, it is implied that the military is there where "Smart Power" leaves off.

      The unilateral and absolutist one-sidedness of "conservative" "thought" is astonishing for its profound shallowness.

      November 23, 2011 at 6:21 am | Reply
  8. Freshieee

    I say we don't vote for ANY GOP candidates. Call me biased, but I think the current President has done a lot to rebuild America's image in the world. Some people, especially the conservatives in the GOP, think that he has abandoned Israel, which he has not. Apparently anyone who disagrees with Israel on anything and tries to support a two-state solution in Palestine is "anti-Israeli." I personally support Israel, which is weird due to the fact that my parents are immigrants from Lebanon, which Israel invaded in the 1980s, but I think we have to find a balanced approach to fixing our problems. And Israel has to know that America will stand by them, but we can't always be there for them. I mean, Israel was created in part because of us, and Israel needs to know that it has to wean off of its dependency on us and to start being an independent nation that can rely on itself, no disrespect to Israel. I also think that striking Iran for gaining nuclear power is idiotic; we'll be condemned by the world, pay billions for an unnecessary war, and lose more of our brave men and women, who in my opinion shouldn't have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. The GOP will ruin America's standing in the world, so let's keep them out of the White House and out of Congress.

    OBAMA BIDEN 2012
    AMERICA 2012

    November 25, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  9. dredded boink

    soft power? more like flaccid power. When you care about "world opinion", morals go out the window. Pleasing your enemies does not turn them into friends This article is a joke.

    December 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Reply

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