Charles Powell: ‘That the West Has Gone Soft Is No Longer Arguable’

by Charles C. W. Cooke

At The Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, Mrs. Thatcher’s former foreign policy advisor answered the question “Has the West gone soft?” with a resounding “Yes.” Powell said that he saw the Anglosphere presiding over a “wholly avoidable decline in willpower, backbone . . . and willingness to give a lead.” Sitting in the House of Lords watching “80 percent” of his peers opposing arming the moderate opposition in Syria, Powell said, he felt as if he were in the Oxford Union in 1933, in which year that House agreed that they would not fight for King and Country.

Times have changed, Powell argued, and while the “values, leadership,” and. “principles” of the Thatcher and a Reagan governments would be welcome, the “stage on which they had to perform” was “a very different one.” He suggested, for example, that Mrs. Thatcher would probably have intervened in Iraq but in a more limited sense. She was “interested in victories, not nation building,” he ventured. Nevertheless, Powell contended that “the accusation that the West has gone soft is no longer arguable.” Syria, he proposed, was a “test case” and a “mistake.” Taking aim at President Obama, Powell argued that “setting a red line” and allowing it to “melt away was a “calamitous misstep” that would have “consequences far into the future.” The West was “risk-averse after Iraq” and Britain now “lacks a foreign policy strategy.” With America, it engages in “fits and starts,” with “no passion,” and “no moral sense.” “We aren’t driven by a desire to see freedom triumph” any longer, he argued.

Instead, he suggested, the West has been seduced by the “false doctrine of soft power.” “It doesn’t work like that. Soft power cannot work without hard power to back it up.”