The 44th President of USA has been slammed for non-deliverance, but within the limits present he is delivering much, but his former disgruntled fans are mostly looking away.
Many people were die hard Obama fans the moment he set foot on the international stage. They cheered his Nobel Peace Prize and lauded the change he would do to America and the World as a whole. Yet they quickly dismissed him as yet another US President victimized by the bureaucracy of Washington. I was never really an Obama fan. He did create a hype that brought some hope but the Peace Prize blew it for me. Couple of months back it all changed when I started reading his book Audacity of Hope. The lesson I learnt was good things take time to happen so have patience. Many never had that patience and now Obama has begun to deliver in his last term in office. But many are looking away. To most Obama is just putting a show.
To a person bestowed with the Nobel Peace Prize at the very start of his tenure, pressure of expectations is massive. No wonder his hair went grey in no time. However what he is doing write now in changing the course of American foreign policy in the 21st century is not based on a Nobel award but his long term aspirations to right the wrongs of the post 9/11 policies. His foreign policy is shaped by the concept of smart power developed by Joseph Nye.
What is Smart Power?
Basically, it’s the balancing of hard and soft power. Still seems complex? Well, Hard Power is the shock and awe that Bush used in Iraq and Afghanistan to win wars in weeks. Soft Power is the ability of Hollywood to influence you into liking American values and lifestyle. A country cannot operate merely based upon one of them. The Bush administration’s wanton hard power use is enough evidence to prove that military and political might alone is meaningless. The Vatican City only has religious soft power and its lack of much influence to change global policies proves that soft power is limited on its own. It is on that notion that Nye formulated his Smart Power concept to balance both of them. Obama has balanced the use of military and diplomatic capabilities in handling international issues under it.
Where has it been used?
The talks with Iran and the recent consensus reached at Lausanne has exponentially increased US soft power capability to a new height compared to the lows of the 2007 Iraqi insurgency when Fallujah got covered in white phosphorous. The talks might seem merely a show of soft power but it has been achieved by balancing it with hard power. The hard power in this regard has been the continued sanctions regime that has been reinforced during the Obama administration and the massive display of military prowess in Iraq fighting Islamic State side by side with Iranian Generals. The fine balancing act of allies in the region from Saudi Arabia to Turkey further isolated and showed to Iran the need to take up the talks on the soft power arena.
So how will Iranian nuclear talks help?
Iran has been the main proponent of radical and revolutionary Islamism since the 1979 revolution. While Nasser of Egypt tried to unify the region on a Pan Arabic conception, Iran attempted it on an Islamic basis. Khomeni’s rhetoric spurred the actions of youthful Islamists throughout the region from Beirut to Cairo to Sana’a. Hezbollah and Hamas have been funded and supported by Iran. It is why USA listed it as a state sponsor of terrorism. Ahmedinijad’s rhetorical slurs during his terms was a zenith of US-Iran strained relations with many accusing Bush of encircling Iran with the intent of marching on Tehran to cement the ‘New American Empire’. But since the withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan the encircling is over and Rouhani has proved to be a reformer reflecting the modernist ideas of the majority of Iranians. The peaceful talks with Iran prove to radicalised Islamists that the much evilized West and the Islamic world can come together and compromise on necessary terms.
So what? USA is still the ‘infidel crusader’?
History is a bitter pill to swallow and the post 9/11 policies have left a huge void in the West-Islamic relations. The truth is Obama and his team has had to work with that history at hand. He is not an anti war President. He escalated drone strikes and bombed Syria. The 2009 visits of Hillary Clinton and Obama to various countries making apologetic statements on US mistakes of the past was the start of the ongoing process. They have understood that USA is no longer the indispensable power or the outright global hegemony. Nye’s 2015 article describing USA as a half hegemon reflects the Obama outlook.
Rubio and other Republicans have begun their slur of the need to reinstate American leadership. They want to lead from the front as Bush did with his unilateral action. Other countries were expected to follow. Mostly they never did and will not do so in the future. It is leading from the back and ensuring everyone is in the herd that Obama has adopted. The policy allows other countries needs and voice be heard and collective decisions be made. US soft power has allowed Obama to keep them in the herd and Iran talks only increase that ability. This is essential to reaching global consensus on climate change to combating violent extremism.
It is a gradual process that takes time. USA has to follow a consistent policy of leading from the back only taking the lead from the front in new frontiers like space. If it changes again as happened in 2001 with the Clinton to Bush transition, the world will lose hope in US leadership. Obama understands this and no wonder he has already thrown his support behind Hillary. Patience is quintessential and all we can hope for now is further success for Obama on Iranian and Cuban talks; and of course the 2016 US Presidential elections.