Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Obama's Mishandling in Both Hard Power and Soft Power Diplomacy

The Obama administration is so reluctant to harness America’s hard power in foreign policy that even liberals and foreign leaders criticize his lack of leadership and superpower suicide. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is not enthusiastic to use America’s soft power to advance its national interest and global public interest. We tend to focus on Obama’s inept handling of hard power diplomacy, as the world faces a resurgent of Cold War monsters like Russia and China, and also, the rise of religious fanaticism as typically seen in Islamic terrorists. But more balanced analysis is helpful to review Obama’s foreign policy critically, and explore better approaches for American and global security.

If Obama does not like hard power diplomacy so much, he must pursue more robust soft power diplomacy. However, in his 6 year presidency, he has achieved almost nothing. Normally, peace-oriented nations put heavy emphasis on soft power in their foreign policy. It is too well known that countries like Canada and Scandinavian nations give high priority to development aid and empowerment in their foreign policy, and that makes them vital civilian powers in the world. Such peace-oriented nations are military pigmy, compared with the United States, Britain, and France. Nor are they economic giants like Germany, which is an anchor to stabilize global and European monetary system. Soft power diplomacy is the only way for them to increase their presence in global politics.

Likewise, the Ohira administration of Japan launched a concept of comprehensive security in the late 1970s to fill the gap between increasing requirements for Japan’s contribution to global security and postwar pacifism. As Japan was unable to meet military requirements by the United States and its democratic allies, Prime Minister-then Masayoshi Ohira deepened development aid to ASEAN countries and policy dialogues with them. In a sense, it may be a precursor of current proactive pacifism of the Abe administration, as it was a turn over from unilateral pacifism. In those days, global security was in turmoil as it is today, since the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran and radical students occupied the US embassy, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

In view of the above examples, Obama’s awkward approaches in soft power diplomacy will erode American preeminence on the global stage furthermore. Here, I would like to call an attention to a column by Thomas Carothers, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In this article, Carothers points out that US aid to promote democracy has plunged 28% during the Obama era, and the US Agency for International Development spends 38% less expenditure today to foster democracy, human rights and accountable governance abroad than that of 2009. Particularly, such aid dropped sharply to the Middle East by 72% and Africa by 43%. It seems that the Obama administration prefers to live with stability under dictatorships however corrupt they may be, as they found it difficult to manage clashes between democracy activists and Islamists. Carothers comments that it is understandable, but he warns that autocracy foments corruption, and ultimately nurtures terrorism furthermore (“Why Is the United States Shortchanging Its Commitment to Democracy?”; Washington Post; December 22, 2014).

Criticism also comes from the Arab side. An Arab British journalist Sharif Nashashibi expresses his deep disappointment to American reconciliation with Arab autocrats at the expense of the quest for freedom among the grassroots (“A US resurgence in the Arab world?”; Middle East Eye; December 18, 2014). Obama has cut military presence in the Middle East which was initiated by Bush. Then, America must expand an alternative way of presence to suppress the spread of extremism there. Regretfully, Obama has cut both hard power presence and soft power presence! Is this a simple denial of Bush era foreign policy without showing the vision for the future?

One of the critical incidents to evaluate Obama’s soft power diplomacy is the response to Egypt’s refusal to the entry of Michele Dunne, Senior Associate in the Middle East program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dunne is a primary advocate for democracy promotion among American policymakers. She was going to Cairo to attend a conference by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs under auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Egyptian government denied her entry in a telephone interview when she arrived in Frankfurt for transit. The Egyptian side gave no reason for this (“Egypt Denies Entry to American Scholar Critical of Its Government”; New York Times; December 13, 2014). Eliot Abrahams, former Special Assistant to the President in the Bush administration, comments that this incident implies that the Sisi administration is in a spiral of autocratic corruption and jihadist uprising as it was with the Mubarak administration. Therefore, he argues that this country no longer deserves a strategic partner to the United States (“What’s General Sisi So Scared Of?”; Council on Foreign Relations---Pressure Points; December 13, 2014). Quite strangely, the Obama administration did not pose meaningful pressure to Egypt, regarding this case.

The point is no longer the matter of budget. It is quite doubtful whether Obama is seriously committed to advance American soft power. Obama’s pivot to soft power diplomacy from hard power one is empty. Accordingly, the Pivot to Asia has not strengthened American presence in Asia. Obama was not enthusiastic to support the democratic rally in Hong Kong. At the APEC summit in Beijing, Obama shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping so happily, although China flexed its military muscle to seize this opportunity to demonstrate J-31 stealth fighter to Asia-Pacific leaders. If neither the world policeman nor the champion of democracy, what sort of America does Obama envision?