On the main blog, Patrick Ford notes the latest Krauthammer column, in which he uncontroversially lauds the Colombian rescue of hostages held by FARC, but Krauthammer then refers to Colombia’s (illegal) raid into Ecuador as “your standard hard-power operation duly denounced by that perfect repository of soft power, the Organization of American States.” If by “standard hard-power operation,” he means an illegal cross-border military action forbidden under the OAS Charter and denounced by most of the Western Hemisphere, then, yes, it was pretty standard. From there he goes on to rattle off many of the world’s most miserable lands, as if the reality of their misery makes it obvious what outsiders, and in particular Americans, should do about them. Throughout there is an opposition between “hard” and “soft” power, as if any state uses only one kind. In certain circumstances, “hard” power is necessary and unavoidable. “Soft” power may often be ineffective, at least when exercised only through the passing of resolutions and the making of speeches, but then “soft” power includes everything from both public and official diplomacy to economic relations to cultural exchanges to humanitarian aid.
For that matter, “hard” power is not always defined by unnecessary land invasions that throw a country into chaos or ineffectual air strikes that destroy a country’s infrastructure. Those just happen to be Krauthammer’s preferred forms of “hard” power, or so one would gather from reading his columns over the last few years. “Hard” power can sometimes be used intelligently in a limited fashion to much greater effect, and this is probably even more true in an era of guerrilla wars and nonstate actors. The relevant questions to be asked when deciding whether or not a state should employ “hard” power are these: does the state have interests at stake that compel it to use force, and have all other less costly, less dangerous, reasonable alternatives been exhausted? Pretty clearly, in each of the cases Krauthammer mentions (i.e., Darfur, Burma, and Zimbabwe), America has no interests at stake, so talk of armed intervention is absurd. Such calls for intervention are in their way as worthy of mockery as passing powerless resolutions, since they represent their own kind of unrealistic moral preening.
Speaking of Colombia, I see via Raimondo that Michael Moynihan recently wrote what one might almost call an apology for Alvaro Uribe, which makes me wonder why certain democratically-elected allied leaders who engage in heavy-handed–but effective–tactics in attempts to impose order on a fairly lawless country receive his praise and other foreign elected leaders receive withering scorn as harbingers of “Sovietization.” Uribe’s 80% approval rating is taken as proof of solid public support, while Putin’s old 70% approval ratings were either irrelevant or proof of dictatorship. Apparently in Latin America, we must judge local political leaders on a “steep curve,” unless their name is Chavez, for whom the usual condemnations are appropriate, but on other continents different standards are applied.