Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Power Rules, by Les Gelb

I just returned from a Council on Foreign Relations book release event for Leslie Gelb's new book Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy. I haven't read the book yet but from the talk the basic idea is a return to Machiavelli's principles of it being safer to be feared than loved, and that studying war is the only thing necessary. He discussed his belief that "soft power" isn't, that no country has changed its course because they liked America's beliefs or pop culture, and that power is the only thing that works in international relations. As a qualifier he stated that force is applied when power has failed, softening his statement somewhat.
He was asked directly about Pakistan and Afghanistan and, not surprisingly considering his recent op-ed in the New York Times, stated that he thought our efforts were a waste of time and that we should let Pakistan and Afghanistan settle their own affairs.
Gelb also compared Republicans' lack of discussion or criticism of President Bush's decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq to congressional Democrats' current lack of discussion of President Obama's foreign policy goals for Iraq and Afghanistan. Jim Arkedis over at All Our Might makes a similar point in a post today.
I most closely align myself with the realist school of international relations, but I strongly disagree with the idea that only "hard" military power works. Call it "soft power," "smart power," or, as Colin Powell and I prefer, "smart influence," long term engagement and interaction, the attractiveness of a culture, leaders, and values help avoid crises in the first place, make the first two D's of international relations, diplomacy and development, more likely to work and thus help avoid having to use the third, defense.

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