Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Venezuelan Soft Power

In the international relations literature, you hear alot about soft power. Many people think, "Soft power? What is that?" Well according to Joseph S. Nye, Jr. who coined the term, soft power is "getting others to want the outcomes that you want...and rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others." This is what President Bush tries to do when he talks of liberty as a birthright. Yet, the Iraq War specifically and the Administration's unilateralism more broadly has decreased the attractivenss of American values. The Bush Administration reigns over a spectacular decline in America's soft power resources since coming to power because he has relied extensively on hard or military power or the coercive threat of it.

If you want to see soft power operating today, check out what Venezuela's doing in New York City's Bronx neighborhood. According to the BBC:
The firm, Citgo, is supplying fuel to thousands of people in deprived areas in co-operation with charities.

The initiative started last month with the delivery of heating oil to Boston.

It was announced in August by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez - a vocal critic of President George Bush.

Under the deal, Citgo said it would provide heating oil at a 40% discount to fill in tanks at properties owned by three non-profit housing corporations in the Bronx.

About 8,000 tenants from 75 buildings will benefit from the project, according to the company and the corporations.

Deliveries will continue through the winter months until 1 April.
Is this a cynical ploy to revamp the U.S. image of Chavez, where he's described as another Latin American strongman? Probably,but no more than the U.S. Marshall Plan was to help rebuild Europe after WWII and ensure it was a market for surplus American goods. The more Chavez can increase the attractiveness of Venezuela, the more he can carve out enough influence throughout the hemisphere, the more Venezuela will become an attractive alternative to the militaristic neo-liberal policies of Washington. That was the point of the Marshall Plan. Increase the attractiveness of the United States and its policies over those of the Soviet Union. Chavez is a good student of history it seems.

And you're probably saying that the degree of difference between these two examples is well, north and south, and I'd say you were correct. Nevertheless, they operate on the same assumption, sometimes it's better to be loved than feared.

That's the essence of soft power and its a concept those walking in the White House and Pentagon corridors don't get or just don't care to understand.