Joseph Nye reports correctly that Bin Laden skewed the last election in favor of Bush against Kerry by six points due to a strategically released tape right before the election. It is in Bin Laden’s interest to keep a war of civilizations going, which means keeping a Neo-Conservative in the White House. This serves the Civil War he is conducting within Islam. My trouble with this is, what does this say about the American electorate? Why can people be so easily persuaded to become paranoid because one extremist releases a tape? It says that too many of us are manipulated by fear rather than reasoned thinking. We need an electorate in the United States, the most powerful nation on earth, that is up to the challenge of wielding all that global power more wisely.

The Obama campaign should consider apportioning some of those millions of dollars in advertising right now to an advertisement that could undermine any foreign attempt to skew the American elections with an act or threat of terrorism. There is no way that we should be manipulated this way as a people, but we need not be if this kind of manipulation is anticipated ahead of time.  A strong advertisement about confronting global extremists in a measured way, embracing the rule of law globally, would be wise.

In the long run we have a lot of work to do on the education of America about confronting the conflicts and violence of the world with wisdom, not fear or paranoia. Most of all, the new President must lead us far away from the old President’s fixation on dividing everyone and everything in the world into absolute categories of good and evil. Bush’s approach and its accompanying self-righteousness, has a long pedigree in human history. And, quite paradoxically, it has done more to spark the ‘evil’ of mass violence.

Nye continues:

Some voters worry that even though Mr. Obama might be good for US soft power, he might not understand hard power. Mr. Obama’s statements in the two presidential debates suggest that he gets it. He has promised to give priority to finding and killing Mr bin Laden but there is more to the story. Niccolò Machiavelli said that it is more important for a prince to be feared than to be loved but we sometimes forget that the opposite of love is not fear, but hatred. Machiavelli made it clear hatred is something a prince should avoid at all costs. Smart power is the ability to combine hard and soft power into an effective strategy.

Both Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have impressive hard power political and organizational skills, or they would not be where they are today. After all, Mr McCain has a military background and Mr. Obama came up through the rough and tumble of Chicago politics. More­over, Mr. Obama’s campaign has set a new standard for political organization. But on the crucial soft power skills of emotional intelligence, vision and communication, Mr. Obama has the edge as reflected in the global polls and that must be giving Mr bin Laden a headache. In the next few weeks, as the remaining undecided voters have to make up their minds, Mr bin Laden may again be tempted to enter the fray. Given the scale of the financial crisis, it might take more than a video tape to refocus the attention of the American electorate this year but we should be alert to Mr bin Laden’s temptation and the danger it presents.

Clash of Civilizations?
Clash of Civilizations?
© Marc Gopin