With the tumult going on in places like Egypt and Tunisia and Jordan right now, it caused me to look at how the United States’ power is manifesting itself throughout these demonstrations and governmental changes. And I must say, I’m pretty upbeat about it.
First, from all appearances, we don’t look like we’re doing anything hugely stupid. In some of these countries, that’s almost a first. What I mean is, we’re not flying our own hand-picked leader into the country and setting him (it’s always a him, it seems) up to lead. Which, inevitably, means that person will become dictatorial and either get deposed later, cause the country’s populous to hate us more, or — in a bonus move — both.
The fact that we’re being fairly hands-off overtly (while certainly doing what we can on a diplomatic front) is heartening. But how are we shaping the events on a more subtle basis?
An analyst for al-Arabiya was interviewed this morning on the Today show about Egypt, and despite spouting some opinions that I don’t quite agree with, he made an interesting observation. He noted that Egypt will do whatever it can to avoid a “Tianenmen Square moment” in large part because the media coverage of it would damage its reputation with the US, Egypt’s supplier of weapons (and money, in some cases).
That kind of soft power through commerce (indeed, through the export of hard power) hasn’t flagged, despite the hand-wringing over the country’s economic station in the world. In fact, it seems like one thing that our lets-spend-like-its-WWIII military budgets have done is made us the worldwide go-to weapons shop. So, assuming our weapons sales negotiations aren’t completely divorced from our other foreign policies, countries will do what they need to do to keep that flow coming.
That’s not entirely an inspirational outcome, since it relies on us arming other nations to the teeth — including those who would be even MORE despotic if they could get away with it. But it does speak to the notion that we still have some “super” in our “superpower” tank. And that’s not too shabby.