Live Update

The Future of War and the Promise of ‘Smart Power’

What have we learned after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan? That guns and drones will never be enough to save a country. Ideas from the Hero Summit for rebuilding the world.

How do you wage war in a foreign country, and leave it a peaceful place where the kids have a future and they don’t hate America?

That was among the questions posed at the Hero Summit on Thursday during a panel discussion on how the U.S. can embrace a more humanitarian approach to warfare.

Jane Harman, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said the key is reaching the “young kid in the boonies and convincing him to not put on a suicide vest.”

Philip Mudd, a former CIA analyst and now a global advisor at Oxford Analytica, said that “when we speak, we ought to act the same way we speak. If we support democracy, that’s not Hosni Mubarak.”

Jim Hake, founder of Spirt of America, said “word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing you can get.”

The three sounded the same call: that ground wars cannot be won by the military alone, but only through “smart power”—leveraging private enterprise when possible, helping with disaster relief, building infrastructure, and leaving behind a place that is better off than it was when you got there. “You cannot leave a society broken because it will rise up again and bite you.”

Harman lamented that we spent billions on advertising—most of it negative—during the presidential election, but we remain ignorant about what’s going on outside our borders. “There’s a rise in isolationism,” she said, citing the time she spent in Congress where she was amazed at how little her colleagues knew about the Muslim world. “I think five members of Congress knew the difference between Shia and Sunni while we were at war.”

“Our problem is our deep ignorance of our world and our role in the world,” she said.

Or, as Mudd put it, “We have a self-perception that we’re people who bring justice and the American way. But if you look at the facts…in a place like Egypt, 20 percent have positive perspective on America. They think we’re anti-Muslim. When we intervene we speak out for values, but we don’t hold them ourselves.”

The panel wasn’t all pessimism, though. Hake cited Spirit of America’s work bringing in private money to humanitarian aid in places like Afghanistan and Mauritania, where our troops are the real on-the-ground ambassadors of the American spirit.

“To my mind, the way you build international coalitions is having people say: 'America is someone we want to follow,’” concluded Mudd.