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Foad Izadi and Hakimeh Saghaye-Biria

Analysing the reliance of the United States on soft power in its public and cultural diplomacy, the chapter argues that American exceptionalism and Orientalism serve as two Americanizing soft power discourses for the promotion of a liberal world order, first organized around the idea of modernization and later around the discourse of human rights. The United States used both modernization theory and the discourse of human rights to legitimize its hegemony around the world through their rationalization, universalization and institutionalization. Despite the claim of leadership in terms of universal human rights, the United States has sought to structurally exempt itself from universal human rights norms, while using all hard power tools to pressure adversaries on human rights including through ‘humanitarian’ interventions and sanctions among others. In this case, soft power approaches hard power, as its success rests on coercion rather than the mere attraction of shared values and ideals. The chapter also identifies counter-hegemonic currents challenging the Americanizing soft power discourses of American exceptionalism and Orientalism, both as they related to modernization theory in the Cold War and as they relate to human rights today.