The United States cannot confrontthe new threat of terrorism without thecooperation of other countries. Of course,other governments will often cooperateout of self-interest. But the extent of theircooperation often depends on the attrac-tiveness of the United States.Soft power, therefore, is not just a mat-ter of ephemeral popularity; it is a meansof obtaining outcomes the United States wants. When Washington discounts theimportance of its attractiveness abroad,it pays a steep price. When the UnitedStates becomes so unpopular that beingpro-American is a kiss of death in othercountries’ domestic politics, foreign polit-ical leaders are unlikely to make helpfulconcessions (witness the deﬁance of Chile,Mexico, and Turkey in March 2003). And when U.S. policies lose their legitimacy inthe eyes of others, distrust grows, reduc-ing U.S. leverage in international aªairs.Some hard-line skeptics might counterthat, whatever its merits, soft power haslittle importance in the current waragainst terrorism; after all, Osama binLaden and his followers are repelled, notattracted, by American culture and val-ues. But this claim ignores the real metricof success in the current war, articulatedin Rumsfeld’s now-famous memo that was leaked in February 2003: “Are wecapturing, killing or deterring and dis-suading more terrorists every day thanthe madrassas and the radical clerics arerecruiting, training and deployingagainst us?” The current struggle against Islamistterrorism is not a clash of civilizations; itis a contest closely tied to the civil warraging within Islamic civilization betweenmoderates and extremists. The UnitedStates and its allies will win only if they adopt policies that appeal to those mod-erates and use public diplomacy eªectively to communicate that appeal. Yet the world’s only superpower, and the leaderin the information revolution, spends aslittle on public diplomacy as does Franceor the United Kingdom—and is all toooften outgunned in the propaganda warby fundamentalists hiding in caves.
With the end of the Cold War, soft powerseemed expendable, and Americansbecame more interested in saving money than in investing in soft power. Between1989 and 1999, the budget of the UnitedStates Information Agency (
) de-creased ten percent; resources for itsmission in Indonesia, the world’s largestMuslim nation, were cut in half. By thetime it was taken over by the State De-partment at the end of the decade,
had only 6,715 employees (compared to12,000 at its peak in the mid-1960s).During the Cold War, radio broadcastsfunded by Washington reached half theSoviet population and 70 to 80 percentof the population in Eastern Europeevery week; on the eve of the September11 attacks, a mere two percent of Arabslistened to the Voice of America (
). The annual number of academic andcultural exchanges, meanwhile, droppedfrom 45,000 in 1995 to 29,000 in 2001.Soft power had become so identiﬁed withﬁghting the Cold War that few Americansnoticed that, with the advent of the in-formation revolution, soft power wasbecoming more important, not less.It took the September 11 attacks toremind the United States of this fact.But although Washington has rediscov-ered the need for public diplomacy, it
May / June 2004
The Decline of America’s Soft Power