Hard Power Makes a Comeback

Barack Obama was a foreign policy contrarian (and neophyte!) who ignored historical lessons while implementing the Orwellian concept of “soft power,” which derived from theories developed by the academic Samantha Power, some of which was documented in her book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Appalled by genocide in Third World countries, she became one of the world’s leading advocates of “humanitarian intervention.” In 2007, as one of Obama’s presidential campaign advisers, she authored a memorandum that provided the earliest glimpse into what would become his foreign policy hallmark. Here are the salient points from that memo:


Vision: American foreign policy is broken. It has been broken by people who supported the Iraq War, opposed talking to our adversaries, failed to finish the job with al Qaeda, and alienated the world with our belligerence. Yet conventional wisdom holds that people whose experience includes taking these positions are held up as examples of what America needs in times of trouble.

Barack Obama says we have to turn the page. We cannot afford any more of this kind of bankrupt conventional wisdom. He has laid out a foreign policy that is bold, clear, principled, and tailored for the 21st century. End a war we should never have fought, concentrate our resources against terrorists who threaten America. End the counter-productive policy of lumping together our adversaries and avoiding talking to our foes. End the era of politics that is all sound-bites and no substance, and offer the American people the change that they need.

“Talk to our foes.” That was the big change the Obama brought to US foreign policy, and talk he did. Who could forget him kowtowing to foreign leaders of every stripe, including thugs like Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro? Here is an excerpt from Obama’s 2010 National Security Strategy that further defines his soft power strategy:

[W]e must focus American engagement on strengthening international institutions and galvanizing the collective action that can serve common interests such as combating violent extremism, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials, achieving balanced and sustainable economic growth, and forging cooperative solutions to the threat of climate change.


Soft power can be defined as using a combination of diplomacy and nonmilitary coercion – the use of dialogue, “respectful multilateralism,” and social media (!) in order to achieve proper influence and stability around the world. How did that all work out for Obama, America, and the world?

Egypt. Obama’s State Department promoted the so-called “Arab Spring,” a series of pro-democracy uprisings in Muslim countries across the Middle East. In Egypt, Obama’s State Dept provided moral support to Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who became president for a brief period. As noted by the Gatestone Institute, “The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is a pro-jihad, Islamist movement that has branches throughout the world and seeks to implement Islamic sharia under a global caliphate. Terrorism is only one of the methods the Brotherhood employs, and among its, goals, “democratization” has never been seen as one of them.” Morsi was later deposed, no thanks to Obama, who almost lost the largest Arab democracy in the Middle East to an international terrorist organization.

Libya. How did Obama’s soft power work out there? Four Americans, including a US ambassador, were killed during an assault on the US mission in Benghazi in 2012. Libya was supposed to be an exemplar of “soft power,” but the country has become a failed state and reverted to its slave-trading ways.


Syria. The Arab Spring came to Syria, and the Obama regime was neck-deep in the ensuing debacle there, too, providing arms seized from Libyan stockpiles to Islamic rebels in Syria. Sen. Rand Paul stated, “I do believe that the CIA annex in Benghazi was procuring weapons, some of them to get them away from the jihadists in Libya. But some of it to ferry those weapons through Turkey, into Syria.” Oh, and wasn’t it just a bit ironic that Samantha Power, Obama’s UN Ambassador and champion of “interceding to stop genocide,’ was totally silent when Obama allowed Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to use chemical weapons on children and ultimately slaughter nearly half a million people?

Iraq. The country was on the road to stabilization when Obama was inaugurated in 2009, but then he put Joe Biden in charge of Iraq policy, leading to a dramatic drawdown in US military personnel in the country, as well as the entrenchment of a Shia-majority government with ties to Iran. Into the vacuum of that US troop withdrawal in western Iraq marched ISIS, which Obama’s soft power allowed to grow and flourish for years. Remember Obama calling ISIS a “jayvee team”? Another Obama soft power disaster!

Venezuela. Obama gripped and grinned with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and Cuban dictator Raul Castro in 2013. Americans watched aghast as Chavez and his successor Maduro turned Venezuela into a socialist hell, despite Obama’s vaunted “soft power” diplomacy. Epic failure!


Russia. In 2012, Obama was caught on video promising Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he’d have “more flexibility” after the 2012 election. Yeah, Obama was “flexible” all right. When Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea in 2014, Obama’s soft power delivered another swing-and-a-miss. And then the Russians invaded eastern Ukraine, with intermittent incursions into Ukraine from 2014 to the present day. We all learned during the House Democrats’ impeachment star chamber that Obama only gave the Ukrainians non-lethal aid while President Trump provided Javelin anti-tank missiles (quite the contrast between soft power and hard power!). Obama was only interested in getting Vladimir Putin’s support for the future US-Iran nuclear agreement.

Iran. The ultimate failure of Obama’s soft power. Remember the “Green Movement” in 2009? The Obama regime was silent while the mullahs crushed the protests. And of course, everyone knows about the “pallets of cash/bribe money” for the flawed “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)” – that President Trump abruptly canceled in 2018.

Failure after failure after failure. That is the legacy of Obama’s “soft power” foreign policy: ignorant of human history, enamored of Marxist claptrap, willfully blind to the menaces of the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS, making enemies of friends and friends of enemies, undermining US national security at every juncture.


Fast forward to the events over the last few days as Iranian-backed militia groups attacked the US embassy in Iraq. Hurrah for the return of hard power! Precautionary measures taken well in advance of the attack based on solid intelligence, immediate reinforcement by 100 Marines who are part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response from US Central Command, air support from AH-64 Apache gunships, a surge force from the 82nd Airborne enroute for additional support. And let’s not forget a powerful and immediate warning to Iran from President Trump via social media. As colleague Streiff points out here, President Trump gave some school call on how to properly respond to an attack on a US embassy to Obama and Hillary Clinton.

This excerpt from a fine piece in National View sums it all up nicely:

Instead, hard power is making a comeback. Neither China nor the U.S. believes that cultural influence can substitute for economic or military strength. Soft power in various forms will never really go away, but has been proven not to be a decisive force in world politics. Under the circumstances, it seems fitting that a cartoon satire ultimately drove home the point.

Vive la puissance dure! (And a return to a sane US foreign policy.)

The end.


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