A recurrent buzz phrase of the Washington mandarinate in the last two decades has been “soft power.” The term was coined by Joseph Nye, a Harvard academic, in his 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. What he meant by the term is that “when one country gets other countries to want what it wants [it] might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.”
Soft power he defined as the putatively attractive political, social and cultural traits of a country that induce admiration in a target people, and, presumably, a desire both to emulate those traits and to willingly comply with the wishes of the country projecting the soft power.
The term has gotten a workout by American politicians and national security bureaucrats, particularly since the manifest failure of military power to make Iraqis love us. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has used the term, saying he would like to augment U.S. soft power by “a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security – diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development.”