Leslie Gelb Critiques Soft Power and Military Force

Question: How did the Left and the Right misunderstand power?

 

Leslie Gelb: At the end of the Cold War, there we were, United States, alone on top of the mountain and we thought we could do anything. There wasn't another power in effect to balance this. Cold War was over. The other superpower was gone. And the left thought that meant, finally, we could deal with the world the way they also wanted to, through love. And so, you had this idea of soft power being conceived. And soft power was understanding and leadership and morals and the like, all good things. But these are, to me, foreplay and not the real thing.

But frankly, as I've ask all the soft power advocates over the years, show me one example where leaders of a country change their position on a major interest to them because we persuaded them that we understood their interest better than they did. It just doesn't happen. That's what happened on the liberal side, or the left side.

On the other side, on the right side, were the neoconservatives who said, hey, we're on the top of the mountain, we're now the sole superpower. We can threaten military force to get our way. Or if they don't observe our threats, we can actually use military force. They thought that this would solve all the problems. But what they failed to understand was that in the modern age, in the 21st century, in fact for a good deal of the end of the 20th century, our superior military force would be sufficient to conquer capitals, to get rid of dictators, but not to conquer countries. So here was the situation. On the left, they confused power with a rational act, with reason, with persuasion. And on the right, they confused it with force, which is the kind of thing you do when your power fails. And I wanted to restore the meaning of power because, as I said, that's the key way to get things done in the world.

 

Recorded on 5/1/09.

 

The author compares the failures of liberals and neoconservatives to understand power and use it effectively.

The 4 types of thinking talents: Analytic, procedural, relational and innovative

Understanding thinking talents in yourself and others can build strong teams and help avoid burnout.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
  • Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Do you have a self-actualized personality? Maslow revisited

Rediscovering the principles of self-actualisation might be just the tonic that the modern world is crying out for.

Personal Growth

Abraham Maslow was the 20th-century American psychologist best-known for explaining motivation through his hierarchy of needs, which he represented in a pyramid. At the base, our physiological needs include food, water, warmth and rest.

Keep reading Show less