Elie Jacobs
Jacobs is a public affairs consultant based in NYC.

Soft Power Goes Limp

Let me get this straight, because a small minority of the members of the House of Representatives believe the United States shouldn’t join other first world countries in ensuring access to health care for it’s citizens, America is less safe.

This “Epic battle,” as these congressmen have described it, is costing $160 million per day and at least $1.6 billion in lost economic output just last week. President Obama could only watch from afar as China’s president glad-handed at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is taking his turn on the stage as well, continuing to take advantage of his country’s reemergence on the global stage. But yea, let’s continue to argue about why an unemployed father of three with a preexisting condition should go broke if his ten year old needs her tonsils taken out.

At the exact moment when American global strength was already being doubted (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan), and negotiations with one of the most dangerous countries on earth (Iran) are under way, the Tea Party has figured out a way to be more dangerous to the safety of the American people than the guys with guns and bombs trying to kill us.

Leaving aside the inexcusable cuts to the defense budget from the sequester and the fact that hundreds of thousands of Department of Defense employees are working without pay, the threat being posed is existential and one that will not be solved by simply reopening the government.

Joseph Nye Jr., former Dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard University, developed the concept of Soft Power in his 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. Briefly, Nye is referring to one’s ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion. In the late ‘90s America’s Soft Power was immense. It diminished greatly during the Bush years, but in the last 4+ years it has returned. This power is vital if you want to accomplish anything without having to shoot a gun. It’s a subtle concept and one clearly lost on a goodly number of Tea Party members who may never have actually looked at a globe (not that there aren’t democrats guilty of the same).

Skipping the Asia summit was a huge mistake, but an inevitable reality when you don’t have advance people or most of a White House staff. Xi Jinping took full advantage of Obama’s absence and while the Secretary of State may actually be able to pull off the clothes better than his boss, having the secretary is not an acceptable replacement for the commander in chief.

In the last month, President Obama has managed to keep American forces from engaging directly in the Syrian civil war, he’s taken down a few more of the world’s most wanted terrorists, continued the push for a negotiated settlement to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, and perhaps most importantly for the future of humanity, started the process of actually disarming the Iranians. But none of that is enough.

Don’t fret, no one is rushing to cut a deal with the Iranians, even if there seems to be more progress in those talks than the ones on Capitol Hill. There are more than enough reasons to be reluctant of any deal with the Iranians and even more to doubt Rouhani. Yet, there are three very simple reasons to believe that Obama views preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as vital to American national security:

1. Protecting Israel – any American president considers this a vital interest.

2. Iran getting a nuclear weapon will lead to them being the dominant power in the Middle East.

3. Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon will lead to other countries in the region trying to gain weapons and no one wants to turn the 1400 year old Sunni/Shia conflict into a nuclear one (just look how well the addition of nuclear weapons has worked out for the Hindu/Muslim conflict in Kashmir).

However, no deal will ever get signed if Iran (or Russia or China) believes America no longer has the strength to pose a military or diplomatic threat. The only way America regains it’s standing is by something big happening domestically.

Although the latest path to get to a “Grand Bargain” has been laughably ludicrous, the possibility of cutting a deal is now necessary. When it was discussed last year it would have just been “grand” now it needs to happen – not just for domestic reasons, but for America’s global standing. Only if America gets its house in order – something that will only happen if the Republican Party figures out it needs to elect responsible adults to federal office – will America’s global power reemerge.

While their popularity plunges lower than hemorrhoids, the T-Bags  bloviate and the country they claim to be strengthening, goes limp.

About the Author
Elie Jacobs is a NYC-based public affairs and public relations consultant and a political partner with the Truman National Security Project. He is a co-host of the podcast "Taking Ship". VIEWS EXPRESSED DO NOT REFLECT THE VIEWS OF ANY ORGANIZATION AND ARE SOLELY HIS OWN