July 08, 2004

The Damage to US Prestige

A comment on Daniel Drezner's site led me to think a bit on the US' stance in the world. The original article is about Dan Drezner's electoral fence sitting and he invites his commentators to convince him to vote for a candidate. Vish Subramanian writes:

Taking Kaus seriously is a mstake. He is a gossip-columnist, and this latest pose will enable to bask Kerry from a higher-horse, thats all.

For those who realise how much American power (soft and hard) has been damaged by trying to get rid of Saddam - ultimately nothing more a defanged nuisance - the choice is obvious.

I don't agree that American power has suffered net damaged by the Iraq war. I think instead that we had been suffering a long and debilitating illness, a rot in our hard power that dates back to the "peace dividend" days and a similar rot in our soft power that dates back decades further to when we first started getting into the habit of living with ourselves as we betrayed our principles and made devil's bargain after devil's bargain in the Cold War, sustaining autocrat after autocrat because they were "our bastards".

Taking down Iraq exposed both sorts of weaknesses. The damage had happened long before. As we ramp up our military from peace to war footing, we are benefiting from an awful lot of lessons learned in Iraq in both transformation doctrine, logistics, leadership, and a host of other areas. The next war might not have to be fought at all because of our demonstration that our hard power is the best on the planet and getting better faster than anybody else.

But the soft power side of the equation is even more important. Soft power is not an instantaneous phenomenon. It swells and ebbs over years, decades. The instant analysis and fast polls are simply too focused on the here and now to be meaningful. The fundamental fact, the thing that is going to be remembered when everything settles down is that we came, we kicked out a dictator, and we left, leaving a free government behind. That is the big picture and it is a highly positive base from which to build.

The status of both hard and soft power at the start of the GWB administration is of a patient with gangrene. Gangrene, human rot, doesn't seem so bad in the beginning and all too many patients put off amputation because of the false hope that it will stay that way. Well, we've had our necessary amputation but if we need to curse anything, it was the disease, not the excision procedure that deserves our criticism.

Posted by TMLutas at July 8, 2004 04:39 PM