Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Soft Power?

Spencer Ackerman hits on something that's been bugging me about coverage of Obama's increased emphasis on diplomacy:

There is, though, something at work behind Jenkins' comment. Without getting too academic-left-y, part of the reason why diplomacy gets coded as feminine -- arrgg I wish I knew how to write this without academic jargon -- is because we basically operate in an unfortunate lexicographic paradigm of "hard" military power and "soft" everything-else power. From there it's easy to see how unfortunate gender stereotypes can get mixed up in all this lazy thinking -- if difficult to excuse.

The truth is there's nothing "soft" about diplomacy, wherein you try to get the other fellow to do what you want. Madeleine Albright had the courage to go to Pakistan and denounce the Pakistani-allied Taliban in 1998 for "their despicable treatment of women and children and their general lack of respect for human dignity." Try telling Richard "Bulldozer" Holbrooke that there's something soft about forcing an end to ethnic cleansing a civil war. Was one of these activities more masculine or feminine than the other? It's absurd to think in these terms.

Democrats should be lashed any time they give weight to the "soft power" frame for precisely this reason: a good diplomat can make a foreign power feel pain without ever having to pull out "the guns".


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