Nye Says U.S. Misused Power in Iraq

Iraq in certain instances, such as when military officials tried to bribe Iraqi newspapers to print stories that painted the U.S. in a favorable light, the former dean of the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) and a former marine explained to an audience of about 30 yesterday.

In a panel discussion entitled “The Role of the Military in Exercising Soft Power,” Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations Joseph S. Nye and former captain and current KSG student Nathaniel Fick argued that the military has to uphold its image as a positive force by using soft power in constructive ways.

Nye, who has worked for the State Department, defined soft power for the U.S. military as an aim to persuade others to want the goals it advocates.

“Power is the ability to influence others to get outcomes,” he said.

For example, Nye pointed to how the U.S. Navy’s assistance in tsunami relief efforts led to a measured increase in Indonesian support for U.S. government.

He said that soft power is not a normative concept and thus it is not always good to employ it. Similarly, hard power, which he described as the use of force, isn’t necessarily worse than soft power, he said.

“Osama bin Laden has soft power in the eyes of his following,” he said.

Nye criticized the military for trying to create soft power when personnel tried to bribe the Iraqi press to print stories praising Americans.

“This squandered one of the greatest resources for soft power—durability,” he said. “The role of the military should be to do what it does well.”

Fick, who served as a marine before starting at the KSG in 2003, said soft power is important when dealing with counterterrorism.

“To paraphrase Napoleon, ‘moral is to physical as three is to one,’” Fick said. “In counterinsurgency, soft power is to hard power and 10 is to one.”

Fick discussed the pros and cons of soft power in the Iraq war. For positives, he cited psychological operations—such as sending messages to the opposing troops to dissuade them from fighting—which caused many Iraqi troops to surrender at the beginning, as well as the check that embedded reporters put on the troops, who are less likely to commit moral atrocities when they know they are being documented.

For failures, he reiterated Nye’s point about the loss of integrity from bribing the press. He also explained that the use of torture diminishes the U.S.’s soft power because citizens are less likely to support the U.S. when they witness it employing torture. Soft power is also misused because there is a lack of Arabic translators for the troops that leads to miscommunication when attempting to rebuild cities and patch up relationships.

Fick has written an autobiography, entitled “One Bullet Away,” about his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is on a book tour and has visited 23 cities thus far.

Nye and Fick also talked about other problems facing the military, such as blunders by the current administration—including the attorney general’s stance on torture and the Geneva Convention—and the lack of support for the military from the general population.

“The military needs to be embraced by every segment of society if we want our military on the ground to reflect society,” Fick said.