Soft Power verses Hard Power
I think one thing that the world doesn’t understand about the United States is that we are the first world superpower who really doesn’t want to be a world superpower.
By that I mean that our culture envisions a world where everyone can live in peace and where everyone gets along–and we’re more than happy to pick up the baton and the sword and the shield (and aircraft carrier and B-1 bomber and nuclear weapons) in order to assure the peace. But we cannot envision ourselves installing our own governors and bureaucrats and overlords in far-flung and remote places in the world; we’d rather the people living there elect their own governors, build shopping malls or bazaars and factories and farms and start home businesses and eventually set up tourism information booths and waterfront galleries so we can go there and visit and buy locally produced nick-nacks we can’t find at home.
In such a world, you can have all the soft power you want: Iran is free to run the entire Middle East for all we care–so long as they do it through the soft power of financial and legal and regional entanglements.
But you can’t have any hard power until you join the United States in our world view of making the world a safer place for merchants and tourists, while allowing local people to govern themselves and influence others via soft power.