Suzanne Nossel believes in personal freedom. She considers its universal adoption critical for global stability. Ms. Nossel does not pay lip service to freedom in the self-interested way of so many public figures. Instead, she works to see this sophisticated concept–for protected personal freedoms broadly applied is a complex and difficult idea–manifested intrinsically in the lives of people all over the globe. Ms. Nossel also believes in American Exceptionalism, at least as far as this describes the US’s unparalleled power to bring about global change in favor of freedom. Nossel couples this perceived ability with an axiomatic responsibility to exercise it. However, whether the US actually has the ability (or the responsibility) to bring about a global international liberalism is a subject of much debate. Its efforts on this front are being continually rebuffed by power-seeking forces using terrorism, torture, mass violence and other resistance strategies. But the early legacy of the Arab Spring would seem to indicate a contagious move–however rocky–in the direction of the international liberalism Ms. Nossel champions.
Nossel has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs in the Obama administration. She has run Amnesty International and was COO of Human Rights Watch. The Harvard-trained lawyer has also worked in publishing, where she may have picked up some of her ideas on the use of force. Nossel is credited with coining the term “Smart Power”–a kitchen sink approach to power exertion that advocates using whatever you’ve got, from pop culture propaganda to financial incentives to military pressure, to move the needle. “Smart Power” was the name of an article she wrote nearly a decade ago for Foreign Affairs. (One would have hoped that by 2004 smart power would not only have long ago been coined, but also known as a desirable and agreed upon way of going about things. Ah, better late than never.) This week Ms. Nossel was named Executive Director of the PEN American Center, where she’ll continue the fight. PEN is the oldest human rights organization in the world.