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US military primacy is fact - so, now, work on 'soft power' of persuasion

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In September 2002, the Bush administration published its National Security Strategy, which articulated a dramatic change in its foreign policy outlook after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The new strategy declared that "we are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies falling into the hands of the embittered few."

The new strategy attracted criticism at home and abroad for its excessive rhetoric about preemptive military strikes and the promotion of American primacy.

Critics pointed out that the practice of preemption is not new, but turning it into a doctrine weakens international norms and encourages other countries to engage in risky actions. Similarly, they argued, American primacy is a fact, but there is no need for rhetoric that rubs other peoples' faces in it.

Notwithstanding such flaws, the new Bush strategy responded to the deep trends in world politics illuminated by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. And that response was correct in many ways because transnational terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are the greatest threats we face.

But what the administration has not yet sorted out is how to go about implementing the new approach to these threats. The US has done far better on identifying the ends than the means.

The means the administration has chosen have focused too heavily on "hard power," such as military force and economic suasion, and has not taken enough account of "soft power," such as persuading others to want the outcomes it wants. And that is a mistake, because terrorists stand to gain recruits and popular support if the US underestimates the importance of soft power.

Indeed, by acting impatiently and failing to develop a broad coalition for the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration undercut its own strategy and helped Al Qaeda gain new recruits throughout the Islamic world. Recent polls show that after the Iraq war, more people in "friendly" countries such as Jordan and Pakistan are attracted to Osama bin Laden than to George W. Bush.


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