SMART POWER…. About a month ago, Michael Chertoff, the outgoing DHS secretary, took a surprisingly progressive line on counter-terrorism investments, arguing that the U.S. “should spend more on foreign-aid programs, scholarships for foreign students and other tools of so-called soft power.”

Soft power is, of course, the phrase Joseph Nye coined to describe foreign policy tools that nations can use to “achieve desired outcomes through attraction rather than coercion.” Most progressives approve of the concept, but hate the name — “soft power” just sounds so … weak.

Hillary Clinton, our next Secretary of State, seems to have embraced an alternative.

Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton pledged to use American “smart power” to renew the nation’s international leadership, wielding diplomacy as the main tool in dealing with trouble spots from Iran to Russia.

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering her nomination, Clinton promised to link diplomacy with military and economic power in a “marriage of principles and pragmatism.”

Clinton added, “Today’s security threats cannot be addressed in isolation. Smart power requires reaching out to both friends and adversaries, to bolster old alliances and to forge new ones. That means strengthening the alliances that have stood the test of time — especially with our NATO partners and our allies in Asia.”

Plenty of good people have been kicking around the rhetorical aspect of this for a while. I remember a sharp Ilan Goldenberg piece from May in which he argued the phrase “soft power” is “horribly named. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a term that more effectively plays into all the negative stereotypes that the American public has about Democrats and national security.”

Agreed. When we last talked about this, some of you — Yellow Dog., koreyel, golack — endorsed “smart power” as an alternative to “soft power,” and it’s obviously gaining some high-profile traction.

I think we have a winner.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.