Soft Power

Lexington Green, of Chicago Boyz, kindly linked to a book review on of Kurlantzick’s “soft power” book by in the open thread.

My thoughts (the quoted section is from the original article):

The “flat world” of globalization, so stridently advocated by Clinton and the current presidency of George W Bush, simply did not create the improved quality of life it promised for many Third World countries.”

How long has the “developing world” been “developing”? How long as the Third World waited as the global Third Estate preparing to take over?

The reason that life in the Afro-Islamic Gap sucks is that the Afro-Islamic Gap is culturally bankrupt. Europe’s experiments with totalitarian fascism were stupidly imported by the Muslim world after World War II, whle sub-saharan Africa’s colonial development was canceled because it cost Europeans too much money.


The continued horror of life in the gap is not because of the Washington Consensus, or Bill Clinton, or even the Iraq War: the continued horror of life in the gap is a reflection of life during most of human history: nasty, brutish, solitary, and short. The Gap, that prison of billions of persons, is the true whore of the world: capable of taknig cash, incapable of love.

After America crushed the final attempts of Europe to give a damn about life in the Gap, Gap elites have profited by taking cahs from this or that foreign power in exchange for some fleeting commodity. During the Cold War, the customers were Washington and Moscow and the good was whether or not to put the meaningless word “People’s ” before the meaningless word “Republic” in their country’s name. Now the situation has chnaged to selling raw physical materials: coal, tin, etc. Not an improvement.

China has moved into the US’s and USSR’s roles of paying with few questions asked. That’s a sign of Chinese power (compared to Deng’s first international act, say, which was to purchase feed-grade wheat to feed starving Chinese), but also a sign of China’s weakness (playing for nickles and dimes). America’s larger goal is to end history on her terms.

The United States is arrogantly accustomed to peace, having driven her early neighbors (Britain, France, Spain) from her neighbors and long ago establishing military hegemony over Canada and Mexico. Now the US extends the reach of capitalist peace under American protection from western Europe and Japan (end of World War II) to self-sustaining capitalist peace for all of Europe and all of the Pacific Rime (now). The material benefits to nearly everyone are obvious. America’s profit is that she manages to stop the rise and fall of states, unlike Britain in the 19th century, France in the 18th, Turkey in the 17th, Spain in the 16th, or the Empire in the 15th. No more wars or rumors of wars, for the first time since the Pax Romana.

Now that’s soft power.

6 thoughts on “Soft Power”

  1. One of the main problems in Africa and former colonial powers is that events on the world stage have at times interrupted or stalled the necessary renegotiation of rights and privileges for the implementation of the social contract necessary for the state to gain legitimacy to govern. Like you argue, during the Cold War this renegotiation was stalled due to the battle between the USSR and the US both of which tolerated despots so long as they were allies and not enemies. Since then, these states have been plagued by the elites you talk about and more recently by the rise of China and its non-interference policy that allows these elites to benefit at the expense of their populations. In the same manner, the GWOT has also allowed them to contextualize simmering conflicts over the distribution of power among various factions in terms of our war on terror, further stalling efforts at such a renegotiation, making our current battle all that more difficult in the long run.

  2. Nykrindc,

    Well said.

    One of the many problems of the Gap is that the tribe and clan are the primary political units, and the state is seen primarily as a method for extracting resources from other tribes and clans. Neither more nor less legitimate than a gun or machete, the State is seen as a tool.

  3. Youssef,

    Thanks for dropping by. I edited that line for clarity. It now reads:

    “The Gap, that prison of billions of persons, is the true whore of the world: capable of taking cash, incapable of love.”

    The statement is true. The Gap is the nightmare remnant of our world as it has been for most of history. When a gap country — generally, a state in the Islamic world or Africa — deals with the outside, little is created. Some part of the Gap is sold, rented, or traded, in exchange for cash. Little development is made, few public goods are created.

    The best thing ever to happen to the Afro-Islamic Gap in the past five centuries was European colonialism. That imperialism, which decisively ended because of Hitler's bankrupting of Europe, dashed hope for generations of men for billions of lives.

    America seems unable, and China unwilling, to put in the combination of blood and treasure required to lift up the Gap in the next few decades. That's too bad.

  4. A combination of Chinese self-interest and Old Core philanthropy could save certain nations (South Africa, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Liberia) if their efforts are coordinated. What it would take for this is for a realistic approach to what is possible and what is necessary. With South Africa especially, the need for a concerted effort by the Core to save it from a descent into domestic economic chaos because of the wide chasm between unmet expectations and slow progress on many fronts is vital. If South Africa can be stabilized with aggressive cooperation and assistance, its stability and growth over the next decade would speak volumes for its neighbors, especially Zimbabwe when the Mugabe regime finally falters.

    Boosting education infrastructure, police training, local-NGO building and small-business promotion can do a world of good for the “Gap”. It is possible, and it would not cost as much in blood, treasure or even time as we think. We just have to learn and apply the lessons of the past.

  5. Eddie,

    South Africa is definitely on the edge between the Core and the Gap. South Africa needs open markets — then the rest are up to her. She has an old enough sys administration tradition to be useful and profitable, if she can keep it.

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