The term “soft power” is anything but “soft”; it can be argued that it is one of the United States’ greatest achievements. Evidence of American culture can be seen in every corner of the globe, from bustling metropolises to remote villages. Placing politics aside and whether foreign governments welcome this permeation of American culture, the fact that one nation’s culture has the ability to touch the majority of the world’s inhabitants, even in the smallest of ways, is arguably the United States’ greatest foreign policy achievement.
Effectively beginning in the post-World War II era, the U.S. was able to implement a record number of foreign policy objectives, using its soft power as a spring board. Fast forward to the Obama administration and American soft power has all but been extinguished. The erosion of America’s soft power primarily began during the Bush administration; Obama’s presidential campaign preached a reversal to this downward slope of American influence abroad but seven years into his presidency, U.S. foreign policy under Obama has actually been aiding, not reversing, this decline of the U.S.’ most important weapon.
The role the United States has been playing in the international community is one in which it is largely using intimidation rather than inspiration. The bipartisan split in Congress is also not helping the situation with the passage of almost any budget related to foreign policy being hotly contested. Since the end of the Cold War, the State Department has lost approximately 20 percent of its overseas staff, which is in line with the shift of foreign policy towards “boots on the ground” and military involvement rather than long term country stabilization and humanitarian involvement. The extension of The Patriot Act, which was initially presented as temporary and necessary during the “war on terror”, is still being utilized and further highlights this shift. The acknowledgement that there will most likely be no peacetime as traditionally defined is also crucial in ending this foreign policy view. There are more conflicts and more refugees in the world today than ever before; therefore, the prevention of these conflicts should be the primary focus of American foreign policy. Reinvestment in agencies such as USAID and the State Department is essential in preventing these conflicts, but has currently taken a backseat to more militarized tactics. The root causes of the majority of current conflicts all have commonalities that can be addressed by using soft power approaches rather than using a “catch the terrorist” approach.
The political divide within the United States is also an impediment to cohesive and effective foreign policy. The Iran nuclear talks with P5+1 have thus far been successful, at least in coming to an initial agreement. Weighing upon American negotiators now is not only hatching out the finer details of the agreement, but how, if anyhow, they will sell this idea back home to win the support of Congress or at least persuade them to hold off sanctions legislation. The enormous gap on foreign policy views within one country is a uniquely American problem that it must solve. The United States cannot keep approaching foreign policy issues without a unified consensus as it is currently doing.
The moral authority of the United States abroad is dwindling at such a rate that many question whether any remains. It is in the interest of all Americans, regardless of political divide, that the United States acts upon the values it holds and preaches.