President-elect Barack Obama has indicated his administration is likely
to be less reliant on the threat of military force to persuade and
influence other countries, and more likely to use so-called "soft
power," the attractiveness of a nation's ideals, culture and way of
The sheer military might of the United
States is unquestioned - U.S. troops are among the best trained and
equipped in the world and they are stationed in some 130 countries.
But as American military superiority has increased, its reputation and
ability to persuade others appear to have taken a hit.
recent Pew Global Attitudes survey shows that positive views of the
United States declined in 26 of the 33 countries where the question was
posed in 2002 and 2007, with even close U.S. allies critical of
American foreign policy. Recent surveys show majorities in nearly all
countries think it is time for U.S. troops to leave Iraq and
Nancy Snow is associate professor of public
diplomacy at Syracuse University in New York. She says the election of
Barack Obama itself is likely to boost America's standing in the world,
before he even sets foot in the White House.
"The world was
holding its collective breath, hoping that the outcome would favor
Obama-Biden," said Snow. "And it did. And I think there was an
immediate downtick of the anti-American sentiment. Now how long that
will last is another thing. Because now he has to govern. But just as
candidate, a candidate of change, to use his words, really symbolically
represented a release from a very unpopular president worldwide."
his victory speech on election night in Chicago, President-elect Obama
promised "a new dawn" of American leadership in the world.
to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as
bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our
nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our
wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty,
opportunity, and unyielding hope," he said.
Mr. Obama has
promised to take the nation in a different direction than the Bush
administration. He has said he will close down the prison at
Guantanamo Bay as one of his first acts in office, and declared the
United States will not use techniques such as water-boarding to obtain
Nancy Snow say Mr. Obama knows that restoring trust is key.
said he wants to restore trust in government. He wants to restore
trust in American leadership, both abroad, and at also here at home,"
she said. "I think what is required now through soft power, it includes
non-violent practices of attracting people, through what you represent,
and what you do, and that is the type of president he has said he would
Snow says Mr. Obama can make use of his excellent
communication skills and his multi-cultural background to restore
America's ability to wield soft power through diplomacy and development
Kristen Lord is an expert on U.S. relations with the
Islamic world at the Brookings Institution in Washington. She says she
is optimistic Mr. Obama will immediately change the tone of dialogue
with other countries, from a "go it alone" approach, to one of mutual
respect and cooperation.
"When Americans show that they are
willing to listen, when they are willing to engage, when they are
willing to address some of the underlying challenges that Muslim
societies are facing, perhaps paradoxically to some, that actually
makes the United States more secure," said Lord.
At her Senate
confirmation hearing, Mr. Obama's choice to be Secretary of State,
Hillary Clinton, vowed to move away from what she called the "rigid
ideology" that many analysts have associated with President Bush's
"I believe that American leadership has been
wanting, but is still wanted. We must use what has been called smart
power, the full range of tools at our disposal - diplomatic, economic,
military, political, legal, and cultural - picking the right tool or
combination of tools for each situation. With smart power, diplomacy
will be the vanguard of our foreign policy," she said.
said she and Mr. Obama would always try persuasion first, and would
rely on military force only as a last resort. Mrs. Clinton said the
United States needs to make more friends and fewer enemies, and called
for the State Department to be fully empowered and funded to seize the
many opportunities for leadership.
President Bush's former
defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was a well known skeptic of the
notion of soft power, saying popularity is fleeting and should not
guide U.S. foreign policy. Rumsfeld maintained the U.S. is strong
enough to pursue its interests as it sees fit, and must accept that
others will sometimes resent it.
Others caution that many people
in the United States and abroad have such high expectations for Mr.
Obama to resolve the world's many problems, that some measure of
disappointment is inevitable.
But millions of people across
the world are expected to watch the inauguration of the new president
with a sense of pride and hope for a better future, and will look to
Mr. Obama's administration for a new kind of American leadership.