Tuesday, June 5, 2012

RT debates "Skeptical Power"

Russia Today's Peter Lavelle hosted an interesting discussion on CrossTalk yesterday: the program fucused on soft power, its various meanings and implications, the weaknesses of the concept, and some of the misunderstandings about it. I was very happy to see my very own professor, Dr. Craig Hayden, among the guests, too.

Although I was excited about the program, especially after seeing the animated intro - where a can of coke in a cowboy hat and a matryoshka doll are overpowered by a dragon - I soon realized that it was going to be just another show put on by RT (and yet another CrossTalk episode, should I say?). The host's very limited tolerance of depth and his frequent distortion of the guests' points (to fit the desired narrative), were apparent throughout the program. Then, it wasn't clear as to what "skeptical power" was referring to - was that the US, China, or some other state? There was no discussion of that...

More importantly, however, I was disappointed not to see a little more comparative perspective in there: the discussion seemed to mostly center around the US; while, it would have been much more interesting to bring in other states (and non-state actors) too, be it China (which merits a longer discussion, usually) or RT's very own Russia. But that wouldn't be on RT's agenda, would it?

Despite that, I do recognize that the program was intended for a very broad audience. As such, there were some interesting points to be noted:

- Hayden clarified that "soft power is not necessarily a popularity contest" and that it should not be seen as something with short-term or immediate objectives. More importantly, it is not about propaganda, but rather credibility and legitimacy. (Thank you! I wish Lavelle got the point...)

- McClory noted that soft power is useful not for unilateral objectives or specific goals, bur rather general multilateral ends, where the use of networks has become indispensable.

- Eland, on the other hand, expressed an interesting misconception, whereby soft power - since it is a "power" - should not be seen as being about the attractiveness of the society, but rather about the specific appeal of a government. (Really? I wonder if he has read anything by Nye before actually showing up for the discussion. No wonder he treats the subject as "propaganda"...)

In short, it's an amusing CrossTalk episode. I highly suggest you take a look. As for RT, I would suggest Mr. Lavelle holds more discussions like this one, keeping in mind that, after all, (perceived) legitimacy is what lies at the core of soft power and successful public diplomacy.

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