Politics Magazine

A Smart Use of American Smart Power: Don’t Be Apologetic to the Iraq War

Posted on the 18 February 2011 by Shahalexander
I attended a US-Japanese policy dialogue, entitled “US-Japanese Relations in the Era of Smart Power” on February 14. This event was co-hosted by the Global Forum of Japan and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. As global issues are increasingly intertwined, consummate combination of hard power and soft power is more and more important. However, current East Asia is a Hobbesian world where China and North Korea challenge Western-led liberal order. Also, Russia joins the regional power game again. In a world like this, hard power is a key component. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the basic concept of smart power, and explore how to use it smartly.
At the beginning of the event, Michael Green, Japan Chair at the CSIS, told the basic notion of smart power that it was a reaction against the Iraq War. When I heard this, it sounded very apologetic to US foreign policy. In the early days, President Barack Obama sent messages of repent and regret in his speeches in Prague and Cairo. He even welcomed the “peaceful rise” of China at APEC Singapore summit. If the concept of smart power has come out as an apologetic reaction, this is a serious concern.
The Iraq War may have spurred anti-American sentiments, but we have to pay attention to a vital fact that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has triggered self rise democracy across the Middle East, the Green Movement in Iran, Facebook revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and moreover. Further impacts could spread eastward like Central Asia, including Uighur. The winds of change could penetrate into the area beyond the Islamic sphere such as Tibet and the Chinese mainland.
Therefore, I asked a question to Michael Green that if the concept of “smart power” is an apologetic reaction to the Iraq War. Particularly, in the early days, Obama was so preoccupied with the “Change” that his foreign policy appeared to be a Gladstonian Little Americanism. Bob Woodward says, “Obama is psychologically out of Afghanistan.” If “smart power” is a finesse word to express dis-involvement and unwillingness to maintain the public goods of our liberal world order, it is a critical concern. Also, as I mention above, despite bitter criticism, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein inactivated discussions on Middle East democracy among policymakers around the globe.
In reply to my question, Green said that the concept itself emerged in 2007 when US-led coalition faced terrorist attacks before the surge. But he said that apologetic aspects had been shed away since the Bush administration succeeded in defeating insurgents. As long as smart power is just a consummate combination of hard power and soft power to deal with new security challenges, I regard it as an innovative concept.
Talking of Iraq, nuclear nonproliferation is another cornerstone issue. A substantial number of critics point out that the Iraq War was illegitimate, as the allied forces could not find nuclear weapons when the Baathist regime was defeated. Some even say Iraq was not a threat. This is unfair. Iraq may not have developed nuclear bombs, but Saddam showed “never give up” attitudes against pressures and sanctions by the global community. It is such a long-lasting will of mass destruction that posed a grave threat to the global community. Saddam used chemical weapons against Kurdish minorities and the Iranian army. It is highly likely that he would have used nuclear weapons once he acquired.
Just a will of developing fatal arsenals poses a dreadful threat to us. Recent military build up of China is a good example. It is suspected that China made J20 stealth fighter through pirating American technology (“China's New Stealth Fighter May Use US Technology”; FOX News; January 23, 2011). Even though Chinese stealth fighter is less technologically advanced than American ones, China articulates its position to challenge the US air force. Furthermore, China is developing anti-aircraft carrier ballistic missile to strengthen access denial capability against US naval power as the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. Though technological problems must be resolved, China’s ambition to establish military dominance in East Asian sea lanes has become open to the public. Considering those threats, I do not think the war to topple Saddam Hussein was an overreaction.
Remember those who opposed the Iraq War were not altruistic peace lovers. China and Russia confront Islamic separatist in their territories. Apparently, the rise of Islamic democracy, which will embolden Uyghur and Chechnya uprising, is intolerable for them. Also, France had business relations with Saddam’s regime. During the Iran-Iraq War, Israel bombed French-built nuclear plant in Iraq. Considering Saddam’s nuclear ambition, Gaullist foreign policy is not an acceptable excuse.
Both in terms of democracy promotion and nuclear nonproliferation, the United States do not have to be apologetic to Iraq. This is very important use smart power smartly to maintain and advance our liberal world order. Japan should have said this to Obama in the early days. To the contrary, Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama worsened the relationship with the United States over Futenma, which led to Chinese attack to Japanese patrol ship off Senkaku Islands. There is no doubt that Japanese Democrat administration is responsible for allowing Chinese expansionism through straining US-Japanese relations. But Obama is also to be blamed for showing apologetic attitude just to impress the “Change” from Republican foreign policy. Quite ironically, Hatoyama acted against his aspiration for “equal relations” with the United States. If he really hoped it, he should have told Obama not to repent the Iraq War as dialogues toward Middle East democratization has begun to inactivate since then. This is the real smart use of smart power.
Remember! When Yukio Hatoyama talked about equal relations with the United States, he was scorned and hated among America policymakers, from liberals to conservatives. That is not the case with British Foreign Secretary William Hague. His inauguration speech for equal Anglo-American relations was respected by Americans. What makes the Double H so different? There are many lessons to be learnt for a smart use of smart power in Middle East reform and US-Japanese relations.

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