Soft Power and Hard Power

Lauren Hendricks, 20, of Tallahassee, Fla., left, and Cameron Tolle, 21, of Cincinnati, chant with thousands of gay rights advocates during a march in Washington, on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Given the amount of talk these days about a big split between the U.S. and its European allies, it's worth taking a second look at Secretary of State Colin Powell's remarks in Davos, Switzerland this past weekend.

Powell arrived in Davos on Saturday, had a full schedule of meetings with various foreign leaders, and on Sunday gave a key address to the World Economic Forum: a gathering of several thousand world leaders from government and business, along with journalists and representatives of non-governmental organizations.

In short, it's a high-powered group of movers and shakers who spend a few days every year in the Swiss Alps talking about the issues of the day and networking with each other in the hope the people they meet will prove to be useful in the future.

The trip came on the heels of Powell's visit to the U.N. a few days earlier, when his French, German, Russian and Chinese colleagues on the security council gave very public signals they were not on board the Bush administration's plan to hold Iraq to the strict letter of Resolution 1441.

It also followed the highly publicized comments of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that France and Germany's opposition represented "old Europe" and that if the U.S. decided to go to war against Saddam Hussein, it would have plenty of European support.

Thus, Powell began his remarks taking note of the conference's theme: "Building Trust." In short, Powell said, America can be trusted. He pointed to recent American involvement in Afghanistan, Kosovo and twelve years ago, in Kuwait, as examples of help from America where people "can trust us to do our jobs and then leave."

Before Powell laid out the administration's case against Iraq, he defused some of the antagonism among those in the audience by noting, "that Americans and Europeans do not always see things the same way." Powell recalled the story of Henry Kissinger, who once found his book on the Atlantic alliance "The Troubled Partnership" placed in the marriage counseling section of some bookstores. The audience broke up. Without mentioning France and Germany by name, Powell said, "in fact, one or two of our friends we have been in marriage counseling with for over 225 years nonstop, and yet the marriage is intact, remains strong, will weather any differences that come along because of our mutual shared values."

Powell is a pragmatist, a realist and his view of a problem, whether military, political or diplomatic, is that you face up to it and work through it. Spending seven and a half weeks resolving differences to achieve U.N. Security Council resolution 1441 is a perfect example. It included not everything Washington wanted, but enough of the key elements - including a reference to "severe consequences" if Iraq did not comply - that it was able to pass by a 15-0 vote, including the support of the French, who were skeptical from the beginning, and Syria, the only Arab state on the Security Council at the time.

After the speech, the skeptics from Europe got their turn in a Q&A session. George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, mentioned the conference had spent some time talking about "the difference between hard (military) power and soft (human values) power." Carey asked, "Was America, at the present time, in danger of relying too much on hard power…?"

The Secretary of State was at his diplomatic best and still he managed to remind his audience pointedly, "Sometimes you are faced with situations that you can't deal with," (unless you use hard power). "It was not soft power that freed Europe (from the Nazis). It was hard power," Powell politely reminded the skeptics: "And what followed immediately after hard power? Did the United States ask for dominion over a single nation in Europe? No. Soft power came in the Marshall Plan….We did the same thing in Japan," Powell added. Solid applause followed Powell's concluding line in defense of American values: "So I don't think I have anything to be ashamed of or apologize for with respect to what America has done for the world."

Because the problem of dealing with Saddam Hussein's regime is the number one topic on almost everyone's list, Powell continued to focus the gathering's attention on upcoming decisions. The Bush administration's leading proponent for a diplomatic solution on Iraq has drawn his own conclusions. "I think the evidence is there and I think the evidence is clear," Powell said referring to Iraq's unwillingness to comply with a number of U N resolutions.

Perhaps hinting at his interpretation of why France and Germany, among others, favor more time for inspectors and are against using military action, Powell then framed the next phase of the struggle for international consensus: "Are we unwilling to acknowledge the evidence because we're unwilling to take the action that the evidence may require us to. And I think that's the debate we're going to have… and then we'll have to make a judgment on what steps are appropriate."

"There comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work, where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works," Powell said. "There are still leaders around who will say, 'You do not have the will to prevail over my evil.' And I think we are facing one of those times now."

Whether France and others now unconvinced will be persuaded in the coming weeks is a matter which involves many leaders juggling their own political problems and the reaction they'll have to face from their reluctant publics against pressure from Washington. The Bush administration is expected to unveil, as soon as next week, new intelligence information meant, in part, to convert the skeptics so that if it comes to waging war against Saddam Hussein, there is ample justification. Secretary Powell's effort in Davos to lay out the case against Iraq was clearly aimed at doing just that.