The Forever War

by |
10/12/2005 12:00 AM |

The Pentagon’s New Map
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Putnam Adult, 2004
448 pages

Blueprint for Action
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Putnam Adult, Oct. 20
448 pages

“Bin Laden was history’s gift to American grand strategy,” saith Thomas P.M. Barnett, grand strategist and, if you believe all the hullabaloo, the Pentagon’s chosen prophet. A former professor at the U.S. Naval War College and senior advisor to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Barnett first articulated America’s newfound purpose in his last book, The Pentagon’s New Map. “Red-hot among the nation’s admirals and generals” (according to the Washington Post), the book became a best-seller, and so Barnett has added detail to his vision with another one. His Blueprint for Action is just that — a preliminary sketch of, as his slogan goes, “a future worth creating.”

Sloganeering is at the heart of Barnett’s appeal, and it doesn’t surprise to learn that The Pentagon’s New Map grew out of a PowerPoint presentation that Barnett had presented hundreds of times at the Pentagon and wherever else he could find a projector. Like Thomas Friedman (who, if he could, would present his columns in PowerPoint slides), Barnett’s got a snappy, rat-a-tat style that sums up the world’s complexities with a catchy heading and its explanatory bullets.

So we’ll just dim the lights and get started here:

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has lacked an operating theory of the world [graphic: a world map obscured by a large question mark; next slide]. But our post-Cold War entanglements have taught us all we need to know: disconnectedness defines danger. Countries that are thick with network connectivity (i.e. integrated into globalization) do not produce threats. Countries that are not so integrated, typically repressive regimes or failed states, do produce threats (e.g. terrorism, regional aggression, drug trafficking, etc.).
[Next slide] The world can thus be divided in two: The Functioning Core and the Non-Integrating Gap. Our national security imperative should be to Shrink the Gap.

[Next slide] The Core contains North America, most of South America, the EU, Russia, Israel, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and Asia’s emerging economies. The Gap encompasses most everyone else, but most pressingly the Middle East and North Korea.

[Next slide] What does it mean to “shrink the Gap?” We want to Make Globalization Truly Global. How? Kiss those dictators goodbye! Through overwhelming international pressure or, if we must, through invasion, we will oust troublesome Gap regimes.

[Next slide] We must never again win the war and lose the peace. Iraq has demonstrated that we need a massive reorganization of our armed forces.

[Next slide] Our war machine should be composed of two parts: The Leviathan and The System Administrators (or SysAdmin). The Leviathan (planes and smart bombs) will shock and awe, just as it did in Afghanistan and Iraq; the SysAdmin force (military police, humanitarian aid, etc.) will follow, doing what we failed to do in Iraq. We need to build up our SysAdmin capabilities.

Barnett’s “Theory of Benevolently Warring America” is obviously seductive to the nation’s leaders. To the administration, it offers the adventurism they crave; to the military, it offers relevance and a string of weak, conquerable enemies (i.e. not China); to the corporations, it offers the boon of new global markets as America, “Globalization’s Bodyguard,” forcibly opens them. Barnett urges diplomacy, but a testicular variety; there is no doubt that this will be an American-led cabal. If Bush and Rumsfeld are listening to Barnett (and there is ample evidence that they are), then it’s no wonder they don’t seem chastened by Iraq. Perhaps the process needs some fine tuning (less chaos, more allies), but the experience will surely prove valuable in the future, since Iraq is merely the first of many “away games” as America crusades to “shrink the Gap.”

It’s hard to imagine Bush (“as big a gift from history as 9/11’s wake-up call turned out to be”) laboring through Barnett’s slogans in a State of the Union address. More likely, you might see hints of Barnett’s clear-eyed influence here and there. The thornier aspects of his strategy — such as cultivating multilateralism, use of the International Criminal Court, ditching Taiwan to appease China, leniency with Iran — are sure to fall by the wayside. But Barnett’s plan for reshaping the military seems to be underway, and his counsel on Iraq and other Gap targets (North Korea, Venezuela, Colombia, Syria, etc.), that a goal of greater economic “connectivity” is more important than democratization, is too seductive to ignore. In Barnett’s calculus, the only requirement for such interventions is that a regime friendlier to international investment is installed — the less tangible goals (democracy, human rights) come later. The administration can thus tout the same high-minded aims, and the blot of failure is removed from their record.

In Barnett’s telling, Iraq is no quagmire — America is just where it wants to be, like a pig in filth. Bush “laid a Big Bang” on the Middle East by invading Iraq, sending “a very clear signal throughout the region: we’re not leaving the Middle East until the Middle East rejoins the world.” We’re already reaping the benefits of Bush’s courageous act: elections in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon and local elections in Saudi Arabia; increased international investment in the region; and, most importantly, the violence of international terrorism has been “redirected back to its source,” thus “speeding the killing to its logical conclusion.” All of this anxiety about the course of the adventure has been misspent: “In the end, it’s almost impossible for the Iraq occupation to go too badly, because the worse it became, the more it transformed the region.”

If you don’t remember hearing anything in the spring of 2003 about transforming the Middle East or “shrinking the Gap” (it was something about weapons, I think), that’s because “our government [didn’t] yet have the words to explain this vision to the world,” as Barnett risibly argued in an Esquire article last year. Presumably Blueprint for Action provides those words. The President’s Wilsonian bombast about an end to tyranny and so forth hasn’t stuck — the American people simply aren’t willing to sacrifice their soldiers for the warm fuzzies — and it’s time to try another tack. Barnett’s argument has the virtue of being more immediate: there is no such thing as a foreign danger, and rogue states are problems better resolved sooner on our terms than later on theirs.

Because any rogue state is necessarily a threat in Barnett’s view, the administration is saved from having to make ridiculous assertions about a direct threat. The language of ‘imminent threat’ is “outmoded” — we waited for too long with Afghanistan, it bit us on the nose, so: never again. Imagine the rallying cry: “Our boys are over there preventing another (possible) 9/11!” Barnett blessedly removes the complexity from our foreign policy. Behind America’s broad-shouldered leadership, 9/11 could be the standing justification for any number of inevitable, pre-emptive wars far into the future.