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Analysis: The Soft Power Surge

Council on Foreign Relations

July 21, 2008
Author: Greg Bruno

In the final months of the Bush administration, a top State Department official is calling for a new emphasis on public diplomacy, promoting what he calls "powerful and lasting diversion"—such as sports, culture, even video games—as alternatives to violent extremism. James K. Glassman, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, says the strategy is not so much to promote the American "brand," but to provide " a full range of productive alternatives to violent extremism" to Muslim countries and the developing world. "Think of it this way," Glassman says, "We're Coke; they're Pepsi. Our job is not to get people to drink Coke in this instance, but to get people not to drink Pepsi."

In parts of Africa and Asia, the effort to promote U.S. values and influence foreign publics—either via broadcasts, cultural exchanges, or government-sponsored programs—may already be paying off. According to a recent global attitudes survey by the Pew Research Center, positive views of the United States (PDF) in the last twelve months inched up in Tanzania, South Korea, India, China, and elsewhere. But in a number of Muslim states, the study found very low favorability ratings for the United States. There are indications these publics are already looking past the Bush administration to its successor. The U.S. presidential campaign between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is generating enormous interest outside the country, though experts say either one faces major challenges to burnishing the U.S. image abroad.

President Bush's national terrorism strategy of 2006 noted that "winning the war on terror means winning the battle of ideas." Two years later, "soft power" diplomacy is gaining steam.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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