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Play by the rules
"A nation, by establishing a character of liberality and magnanimity, gains in the friendship and respect of others more than the worth of mere money." --Thomas Jefferson, Special Message, January 13, 1806.
Jefferson's words deal with a current debate among scholars of international politics -- namely, the relative merits of "hard" and "soft" power. For realists, all that really matters is military economic strength. Jefferson, and many analysts who have seen the limits of America's current unilateralist efforts to transform the Middle East by force, would argue that reputation matters as well as power. If nations feel that they can trust one another, if they discover mutual interests and a willingness to play by the rules, as modern Europe has done in recent decades, they can build security communities that do not depend on the law of the jungle. This is the important insight that Jefferson's quote embodies, and it is one that President Barack Obama seems to share. Diplomacy will be given more weight in the incoming administration, and Jefferson, who served for years as a diplomat in France, would doubtless approve.
WILLIAM QUANDT is Edward R. Stettinius, Jr. Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.