Powell: Yes to 'Smart Influence'

    Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized the concept of "smart power," arguing that the government needs to use influence as opposed to force to implement its foreign agenda.

    "I think the term smart power is a significant improvement over the terms we've been using in the past, but I'm not entirely comfortable with smart power," Powell said. "What we ought to talk about is smart influence; how can the United States do a better job of helping the rest of the world."

    Powell was at the unveiling of a new report by the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, which offered thoughts on how to implement a smart power agenda. Former Rep. Jim Leach, Sen. Robert Menendez and Ambassador Wendy Sherman, a principal at The Albright Group, joined Powell for a panel discussion following the report's release.

    Powell said that even with good intentions, the hands of the development bureaucracy are tied without adequate funding from Congress.

    "We all know what's right. We know we ought to be doubling development assistance … increasing the size and capabilities of USAID, but at the end of the day, you got to go get the resources," said Powell, who also stressed that the government has to do a better job of using private resources for development purposes.

    Menendez added that the key to smart power was keeping development work separate from the U.S. military establishment.

    "You can have the most highly sophisticated military in the world … but they cannot necessarily alleviate poverty," he said, "The smart power that we talk about is all of the other tools of diplomacy" beyond the military.

    The report recommended these seven actions to Obama and Congress to implement a smart power foreign agenda:

    • Create a national security strategy that "elevates the role of development and diplomacy alongside defense."

    • Up funding for USAID and the State Department.

    • Improve the U.S. development bureaucracy to increase coherence and coordination between agencies.

    • Revamp the Foreign Assistance Act.

    • Integrate military and civilian resources to deal with failing or fragile states.

    • Shift State Department development priorities back to civilian agencies.

    • Renew support for international development agencies.

    About the author

    • David Francis

      David is a Washington-based journalist and former Devex staffer who spearheaded Devex's "Obama's Foreign Aid Reform" blog. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, SportsIllustrated.com, San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Washington Monthly. David holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a graduate degree from Georgetown University.