Serendipitous events do not a strategy make.
Watching events surrounding Syria unfold the last few weeks, and the Obama administration and media's cheers of victory these last few days, is proof that our current leadership does not understand the difference between happenstance and strategy. A quick review of events: the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on civilians; tough talk by President Barack Obama; an administration push for a congressional vote for use of force; Secretary of State John Kerry's off-the-cuff remark regarding Syria giving weapons up to an international group; Russian President Vladimir Putin leveraging the remark into action; the Obama administration claiming a great solution to the Syrian chemical weapons problem.
Contrast this happenstance of events to smart power. Christian Whiton, former diplomat and presidential campaign adviser, clearly details in his book, "Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War" the vast area of government relations between cocktail parties for diplomats and airstrikes that is missing in our national security implementation. The goal of smart power is to accomplish an "important foreign political objective without firing a shot."
In today's environment, there is little space between making nice and doing harm. In reality, there is much more that could and should be done between routine diplomacy and sending in troops.
For anyone with more than a passing interest in national security, this book is a must-read. Whiton is clear and honest in assessing the state of our national security apparatus and defines where we have deluded ourselves, to our detriment. We are reminded that the "U.S. government should work unapologetically toward foreign objectives that favor freedom and American Security."
Harsh words, indeed, for those who were under the impression that our job was to be liked by other nations.
Smart power includes "diverse diplomatic, political, cultural, military, technological, financial, economic, rhetorical, legal and espionage-related tools and practices." Where we most often focus on the ends of the spectrum, diplomacy and war, we often overlook the middle ground that can be used to shape the future. Statecraft, the juncture of diplomacy and government, can strategically maneuver and influence international relations. But it is being vastly underused.
Whiton argues that there exists a "false choice between being on a war footing or maintaining pleasant relations."