Another event that could turn the tables would be an “October surprise” associated with terrorism, which could switch the agenda from the financial crisis back to security, the Republicans’ stronger suit. In 2004, shortly before the election, Osama bin Laden released a videotape that may have helped Bush defeat Senator John Kerry. From bin Laden’s point of view, Bush’s policies were more useful for his efforts to recruit supporters than Kerry’s might have been. One would assume that Obama would prove even more unsettling to bin Laden.
A recent BBC poll of 22 countries found that if the world could vote, Obama would win in a landslide. The pro-Obama margin varied from 82 percent in Kenya (where Obama’s father was born) to 9 percent in India. But Americans do not like outside interference in their elections. When Obama attracted a crowd of 200,000 to a speech in Berlin last summer, Republicans criticized him as an elitist who appeals to crowds overseas but not to blue-collar workers at home.
On the other hand, in a poll last month that asked Americans to rate a series of foreign-policy goals for the next president, 83 percent ranked “improving America’s standing in the world” as most important. And certainly the election of the first African-American as president would do wonders to restore the soft power that the Bush administration squandered over the past eight years.
Some people worry that Obama might be good for US soft power, but not for its hard power. Machiavelli famously said that it is more important for a prince to be feared than to be loved. Machiavelli may be correct, but we sometimes forget that the opposite of love is not fear, but hatred. And Machiavelli made it clear that hatred is something a prince should carefully avoid.
When the exercise of hard power undercuts soft power, it makes leadership more difficult — as Bush found out after the invasion of Iraq. Both McCain and Obama possess impressive hard-power political and organizational skills; otherwise, they would not be where they are today. But when it comes to the soft power skills of emotional intelligence, vision and communication, Obama outranks McCain. Whether that will sway US voters wary of financial turmoil on Nov. 4 remains to be seen.
Joseph Nye is an author and professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
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