Smart Power

Ernest Wilson, the Dean of The Annenberg School For Communication at USC wrote a paper once distinguishing between hard, soft power and smart power. Over the weekend Secretary of State Rice and Libya’s Gaddafi met to discuss cooperation between our countries. It’s hard now to remember that this was Ronald Reagan’s description of Gaddafi. “This mad dog of the Middle East has a goal of a world revolution: Muslim fundamentalist revolution,” Reagan said. Sound familiar?

The thing about using smart power (sanctions and the offer of aid–carrot and sticks) is that it’s cheap.

Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a grant-making foundation that funds initiatives to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons, says the U.S. approach to Libya — where negotiations happen to change a regime’s behavior — is the opposite of the Iraq model.

“The Iraq war has proved to be very difficult, costly and unnecessary,” Cirincione says. “The Libya model has been cheap, 100 percent effective, and nobody died.”

This model of smart power is of course completely lost on John McCain and his Neoconservative advisors. they would rather rattle sabers at pipsqueaks and accuse them of fomenting “world Muslim fundamentalist revolution.”

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0 Responses to Smart Power

  1. zestypete says:

    You’re right, of course, but sabre rattling seems to have done the trick for McCain’s campaign – three different polls put him in the lead by a slim margin at the moment (see

  2. Thomas says:

    All the Libyan government changes in policy occurred after Sept 11 when Kadafi realized that he better not be associated with the people on the planes, the man has never been a fool. Study a little more modern history and politics before speaking, it make sure the facts fit your story.

  3. Alex Bowles says:

    My own history is a bit fuzzy, but I seem to remember that a key turning point came when Reagan bombed Tripoli.

    My own suspician is that any truly deft leader, recognizing that he has different types of power at his disposal, will consider a mix of all three when deciding how to respond to a given situation, or the challanges of his own.

    What seems clear to me is that dependence on any one form, to the exclusion of the others, is a sure-fire way to loose power (e.g. Iraq).

  4. Alex Bowles says:

    ‘…or the challahges of implementing his own agenda.’

    Must be more careful about commenting via iPhone. It’s just low power.

  5. Patrick says:


    Congrats. You seem to have attracted a whole new crop of trolls.

  6. Morgan Warstler says:

    Libya, is a great example of, if you act right, we’ll come sit down and deal with you. Gaddafi should go speak on Al Jazeera, and reach out to Iran.

    Iran, needs to choose the carrot. It is up to them, right?

  7. Jon Taplin says:

    Patrick-It’s because Boing Boing linked to the Student voter post this morning. They will go away in a day or two. They have very short attention spans.

  8. Greg says:

    They rattle their sabers because their constituency loves it. They like being in the bully role because ultimately conservatives are afraid that the world is ganging up on them, changing, and dissolving their family values. Beating the world into submission is something they can understand.

    Probably my number 1 hope for a Obama/Biden administration is prodigious use of carrot+stick tactics; not to mention developing strong relations with just about every world power within arms reach. Hell, even the French and Germans didn’t get along that well with the current administration.

  9. Morgan Warstler says:

    Boing Boing = trolls?

  10. Jon Taplin says:

    Morgan- Boing Boing means thousands of new readers. The law of large numbers says there will be a percentage of trolls.

  11. Rick Turner says:

    Ahh, that’s it… Jon, you may have to start a new blog one of these days. And ask Cory and Co. not to mention it…

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