HKS Authors

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Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus


Obama inherited a fraught foreign policy agenda: a global economic crisis, two difficult wars, erosion of the nuclear non-proliferation regime by North Korea and Iran, and deterioration of the Middle East peace process. Obama’s dilemma was how to manage this difficult legacy while creating a new vision of how Americans should deal with the world. Through a series of symbolic gestures and speeches (in Prague, Cairo, Accra, the United Nations, and elsewhere), Obama helped to restore American soft power. It is a mistake to discount the role that transformative leaders can play in changing the context of difficult issues. Power involves setting agendas and creating others’ preferences as well as pushing and shoving. That is why Obama’s administration speaks of “smart power” that successfully combines hard and soft power resources in different contexts.


Nye, Jr., Joseph S. "Testing Obama’s Foreign Policy." Business Daily (Africa), December 15, 2009.