Receive "The World According to Tom Barnett" Brief
Where I Work
Search the Site
Buy Tom's Books
  • Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Emily V. Barnett
Monthly Archives
Powered by Squarespace
« Director's commentary on Chapter 2 of Blueprint for Action | Main | "After Words" upon first viewing »

Director's Commentary: Chapter One: What the World Needs Now

With all due apologies to Burt Bacharach, I think I was just a bit too influenced by the "Austin Powers" trilogy.

But frankly, the goal of this opening chapter was to be almost cinematic in attempted grandeur. Pentagon's New Map was our "Star Wars," in which the main characters were established and the whole "shrink the Gap" story arc was begun, and since we left you there with such a rousing finish ("ten steps to a global future worth creating"), our argument (mine and Mark Warren's) was that we should feel emboldened to start very strong in Blueprint for Action.

And thus this chapter became our "battle on the ice planet Hoth" for our "Empire Strikes Back" sequel: it would be big, loud, incredibly ambitious and come off as almost too much too fast as the reader dove into the book.

It's a bottom-up chapter that begins with changes within the military (ending the Net-Centric Warfare and Fourth Generation Warfare dichotomy), then moves up to changes required within the U.S. Government (the Department of Everything Else), and then finally to the system-level argument of the A-to-Z rule set on processing politically bankrupt states.

I obsessed about the chapter's ballooning size as I wrote it, until I compared it with PNM's monster-in-the-middle (chapter 3, which was slightly larger, in the end), and then I stopped worrying about such a long, opening chapter. From the beginning, it was designed to be the minimum opus within the maximum opus, so as Yoda would say, "Size matters not."

Of all the chapters that would follow, this one was to look and feel pretty much like a continuation of PNM, like a missing chapter that could have been tacked on to the original.

But it was also designed as the first and last chapter in the book where the Pentagon would have the starring role (along with myself, of course), so if you were expecting the war mongering part, this was it.

I knew, by structuring the book in this way, with the three big, more purely military arguments up front, many readers and reviewers would have a hard time remembering much of what followed, so swept up they might be (either positively or negatively) by the dense matter that appeared in these opening 70 pages. I was comfortable having the book defined so, because I didn't want the sequel to seem like a padded tease, plus there was simply so much other material (GWOT, New Core, Gap and Seam, big counter-arguments of other authors, plus the back matter) that I wanted to get to and which, I honestly think, elevate the book as a whole so far beyond the Pentagon and war as to justify the title in both senses (dropping PNM from the beginning, and promising a "future worth creating" at the end").

In short, I wanted to move all the war and peace stuff transitioning from the first book out of the way in this first chapter, so dense it would be, providing the bulk of the structural prescriptives for BFA as a whole (new doctrine of war and peace, new department that links the two functionally, new international rule set on war and peace).

chapter intro

As always, chapter intro written after the book was finished in terms of its substantive sections, or during the big first edit of the individual chapters. Mark, having made his first big edit that tasked me with a number of call-outs to address, would likewise give me input on what he thought the chapter introduction should cover.

From my perspective, the chapter openings provide either the great space for the story you've always wanted to tell and couldn't work in elsewhere or it becomes the space in which you locate some material, that upon first full reading of the compiled chapter, you realize isn't there and desperately needs to be covered.

On this one, I pretty much planned to address the question of PNM's (and my) support for the Iraq war from the get-go. Knowing that the stance was a far more controversial one now that the occupation had dragged on so miserably for so long, I figured I needed to be clear and bold in my words: why I supported Saddam's takedown, what I liked about the war, what I didn't like about the peace, and how this chapter was going to rectify all that with some clear prescriptions for change.

I knew this was a tough sell, almost an impossible one for the implacable Bush foes, for whom now Iraq represents the sum of all Bush-Cheney evil in the universe. Yet I felt it essential to note that the birth of the SysAdmin force was always destined to come about under dire circumstances. If the U.S. had stuck to the Powell Doctrine's strategy of limited responsibility equals limited regret, we'd have won a false victory in Iraq that would just as surely come back to haunt us as the first one had.

Then again, to truly embrace that responsibility for the second half effort of waging the peace meant that all those years of Powell Doctrine bias for the "overwhelming power" of the Leviathan would naturally put the embryonic SysAdmin force in the position of logically getting its ass kicked pretty badly in Iraq. But ass-kickings, as hard as they come, are what bring about rapid-fire revolutionary change within organizations as hide-bound by doctrine and trapped in their history as the U.S. military services. I mean, you're just not going to get the Army moving in the direction of reversing a century of division structure over anything less than a perceived defeat. The Iraq War wasn't going to provide that impetus, but the Iraq Peace would.

So that opening page was a whopper for me, one in which I immediately laid down my claim that I could make a silk purse (SysAdmin's emergence) out of the sow's ear that was the Iraq occupation.

I end the Intro with a pointed jab in the direction of the "realists," noting their typical dismissal of PNM as not fitting their world view and promising to piss them off far more with BFA.

This sort of opening was exactly as plotted by Mark and I when we originally decided to write the sequel: we promised each other that everything everyone loved about PNM we'd be sure to jack up to new heights in BFA, and ditto for everything everyone hated.

And Chapter One really goes for both brass rings from page one right on through to the end.

Understanding the Seam Between War and Peace

I felt from the start that this would be a powerful beginning for the book, and in my typical style I told it in the form of my own personal discovery and growth on this subject. Plus, when you've got something as cool as a front-page profile in the Wall Street Journal, you might as well use it.

More seriously, Jaffe's description to me about my brief being the "great brief of its time" in the Pentagon seemed like a neat opportunity to contextualize PNM within the work of those well-known "rebels" (yes, even Marshall in his time) who went before me.

And yes, I must note the worst typo in the entire book on page 6 (the Office of New(!) Assessment). That one really jumps out at you, and I am acutely embarrassed that I did not catch that boner in any of my reads (it's in the Uncorrected Proof too!). I am going to move heaven and earth to get that one corrected in any paperback edition (knock on wood).

Then I launch into the content by making my argument about the Pentagon being mostly concerned with future war and lay out, as I did originally in the one of the first newsletters we (New Rule Sets Project LLC) put out back in early 2005. At that point, I structured this argument as "Understanding the debate over Iraq" and we repurposed the piece as an article for the website "Military Strategy," which had been angling for a piece from me. When I wrote it originally for them, I knew I was, in effect, trying out the material for the first time in order to get it ready for the book.

That was a way, then, for me to sort of ease into starting the book writing process. I knew I'd have a lot of writer's angst as I started this marathon period of high-intensity production, so I felt that it would make that start-up less intimidating if I could adapt some previously written material in my first days of writing. It was always my intent that I would start with Chapter One, Section One, as Mark and I called this section. In the end, though, I penned the purported Chapter Zero first (what eventually got moved to the back of the text and relabeled as the Afterword) and then adapted the original article for this section. Since the "Blogging the Future" bit consisted of a host of small entries, I still felt like this was my first significant narrative writing in the book, so, for all practical purposes, my writing began with this section.

Another reason why I wanted to pre-write this section as a stand-alone article was to give me a chance to vet the material with knowledgeable readers, so I could get some feedback on whether or not my description of the doctrinal standoff between Net-Centric Operations and Fourth Generation Warfare made sense. Naturally, I got criticism (and still do) from purists on both sides who claimed that I didn't recognize the universality of each position's approach (something I note in the text), but that didn't worry me. I just wanted to make sure that average readers could follow the points I was making here (was I being clear enough in my explanation?) and that it didn't come off as too esoteric (i.e., the number of angels dancing on the head of the pin).

After I wrote the first draft of the piece, I ended up breaking from the writing in early February for my week-long sojourn in Bergen Norway for a lengthy seminar where I shared the stage with both Chet Richards (John Boyd flame-keeper) and Col. Tom Hammes of the USMC (author of The Sling and the Stone). I was a bit worried about interacting with Chet, because of his love/hate review of PNM, and I figured Hammes might be too automatically rejectionist of the SysAdmin concept, but as it turned out, once Chet made the argument that, in effect, the Marines would serve as 4GW-smart "mini" Leviathan within the SysAdmin force, both he and Hammes warmed to the idea considerably. I felt this was a great vindication of the sell-ability of the concept (making my "peace" with the 4GW crowd and the Boyd apostles to boot) and so I stuck the description of my time in Norway and these debates in a later iteration of the text (the first big edit back from Mark, something we pursued in March).

In sum, I ended up being very happy with this section, especially in its role as the first substantive section in the book. As a child low in the birth order, and as a natural synthesizer, I love to make peace between opposing viewpoints. And it felt very essential to do so early on in BFA, if for no other reason than to show how the SysAdmin-Leviathan split could be accommodated by the dominant doctrinal packages of this era.

A Department For What Lies Between War and Peace

Here I'm shifting up from an individual-level argument (how soldiers will fight) to a nation-state-level argument (how the government should be reorganized to deal with this task).

When I first imagined this section, I didn't intend to go so far as argue for a dedicated department. In some ways, I guess, I just expected to do an expansion of the SysAdmin concept, providing far more detail. I had collected a host of studies that proposed various things in this direction, but the detail provided in this great works struck me as not what I should be talking about in this book. I mean, it's not what I do best, and I felt that many readers (especially of the non-professional sort) would get quickly bored by this material (Does the SysAdmin include the Seabees? If so, then how many? How about mortuary teams? If you have them, do you include forensic specialists regarding war crimes? Etc.), and frankly, I'd just be an another asshole with an opinion on all these questions, not sticking to what I know best: big-picture visionary arguments for the way ahead (without getting down to whether or not you turn left on 63rd Street or simply wait til 64th).

Mark really pushed this sensibility on me by constantly reminding me to write what I thought readers wanted from me, as opposed to what they could get, if they so desired, from other authors far better equipped to argue this or that detail. Again, write the book that only I can write. So I asked myself, every day in fact, the same question: Is there anyone out there who's really waiting to hear my take on this subject? If not, I'd leave it alone (typically the details), instead sticking to arguments and subjects that I felt were natural for me to cover.

Once I made the decision not to get down in the weeds on the SysAdmin, and remembering that I gave a lot of detail in PNM (so I didn't want to be accused of simply repeating the material), I asked myself, What is the really visionary thing I want to say here?

And at that point, I felt the strongest visionary marker I could lay down was the inevitability of needing to create a bureaucratic center of gravity within the U.S. Government for the SysAdmin function. The knee-jerk, Vietnam-like reaction is to back off once the going gets tough and to resort to naturally selfish principles of me-firstism (reflecting the reach for the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11) and I wanted to fight that impulse most of all. So I felt the real challenge in this section would be to make the counter-intuitive argument following the difficulties of the Iraq occupation: don't just go home and lick your wounds but instead make a truly vigorous counter-response of showing the world just how serious you are about this complex subject of nation-building and shrinking the Gap.

I wanted, therefore, for this section to make an argument for the long-term, to keep it truly grand strategic, and not just make the argument most Americans want to hear in 2005: that this effort is beyond us so we might as well pull out and abandon all talk of ever doing this again.

I knew I might lose a certain amount of readers early on with this argument, but frankly, no loss there, because we're only talking about the unserious thinkers who recognize neither the inescapable long-term challenge or our need to reorganize ourselves to meet it effectively. In short, you can't lose people you never really had in the first place.

Finally, I wanted to write this section as boldly as possible simply to remind myself that I wasn't writing for the fall of 2005, or the Bush Administration, or the Quadrennial Defense Review, or the Dems versus the Republicans. No, instead I'm writing for the truly long haul. I don't want to be right, right now. I want to be right for the 21st century.

I start the section with a recap of my last-minute decision to stick in the Leviathan-SysAdmin split in PNM, because I felt that was being brutally honest with the reader. Yes, I had thought about such a split for years and even published a version of that argument a couple of years before 9/11, but, truth be told in BFA, most people found the argument awfully queer right on through the summer of 2003, so when the book came out in the spring of 2004, I had not only covered my vision's rear-end on the subject of Iraq, I made the solution set for all the Iraqs yet to come a centerpiece of that vision.

If I believed in that choice then I needed to take it a step further in BFA, which I did, and I just wanted to be very explicit about that evolution with the readers, pulling the curtain back on that man seemingly pulling all the levers on this Wizard-of-Oz-like geo-strategist from whom all these huge ideas seemingly flowed effortlessly. In reality, there's always a lot of uncertainty about when to put ideas out, because timing is everything if you want to be more than just right eventually, and instead want to influence policy debates in the here and now.

After that bit I do my thing about the "magic cloud" phenom in strategic planning, just because that was something I wanted to work into the book at some point and this place seemed the most logical. Ditto on the bit about "data-free research" from Art Cebrowski.

Later, in the May-June final edit, I stuck in the bit about John Kerry and my discussion of the Department of Everything Else I had with him. His notion of using DHS as the future home of this capability struck me as truly visionary, and reflecting the man's great intelligence on such things (I still think he was the right choice in 2004 and suspect he'll be a strong candidate in 2008).

Then the section shifts for data-based arguments for the inevitability of a DoEE, pulling in great stuff from the National Defense University, RAND, and the Defense Science Board, from which, collectively, I extrapolate the series of new rules that I propose for the yin-yang relationship between the Leviathan and the SysAdmin forces, or between war and peace.

Next come the natural counter-arguments from Congress, the defense industrial complex, the Army, and all the usual "all-in-one" types which say the UN can do it all, or the Marines can do it all, or Special Operations forces can do it all, or State can do it all, and so on.

Then I do my bit about the Freaky Friday-like switch between the Army and Navy on the question of crisis response and who's more expeditionary (a really important point, as it works out, in the BFA brief), and drop my favorite SysAdmin line in the book ("pistol-packin' Peace Corps").

Then there's the bit about comparing SysAdmin's emergence within the Defense Department to the rise of Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) within Halliburton. When I first wrote this bit into the section, I had just read a story about how Halliburton was this close to deciding to spin KBR off into it's own company and/or sell it off to somebody big in the defense community (Lockheed Martin gets mentioned a lot). So it was a bit tricky on the tense used in the sentences: do I describe it in future or present or past? Thinking ahead to when the book would come out in the fall, I figured KBR would have been sold off by then, so I wrote it in the past tense, and that's the way it appears in the Uncorrected Proof. Well, in the final edit I rendered all the relevant sentences into a sort of benign, vaguely future tense that can work from a variety of angles. Still, the whole thing reminds one of the dangers of working with current events.

I wrap up the section by linking it to PNM's argument for thinking about war within the context of everything else, thus making a final argument against partial solution sets (who likes a wishy-washy visionary, I ask you?).

Yes, as I look back on this section, it would have been tempting to provide a lot more detail on this proposed department (How many assistant secretaries? What are their titles and responsibilities?), but I didn't want to go any farther in this volume, leaving that sort of detail (possibly) to Vol III. I just figured these details would come to me from people smarter on the subject than myself as I gave the brief around the planet, so why preempt the useful discussion and intellectual give-and-take?

That's one thing Art Cebrowski taught me: keep it high and let others fight over the details. If you offer too much detail, then you'll lose a lot of people right off the bat who go crazy over this or that small item ("You had me right up to the moment when you said X and then I knew your whole idea was crap!").

Barnett's A-to-Z Rule Set on Processing Politically Bankrupt States

First off, the book gets dated a tad bit by the immediate reference to the Intelligence Community having only 15 members (a sixteenth was just added).

I really enjoyed the opportunity to say something about the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which has always been very good to me and supportive of my work. I ripped the intell community in general in PNM, mustering only an endnote reference to my admiration for the NIC, so I wanted to highlight it in BFA.

The whole section about deconstructing the NIC's latest global projection was fun to write, the sort of insiderish analytical stuff that I think really makes my books more interesting than the academic tomes.

The whole bit about the NIC's 2020 projection suffering the usual fate of all intell projections (keeping the U.S. essentially static) is one that came to me first when I was working a European look-ahead for the head of U.S. naval forces in the region (CINCUSNAVEUR). In that study (in which I participated as an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses back in the mid-1990s) I made an impassioned plea for a Royal Dutch/Shell-like alternative futures approach in which you project globally, then regionally, and finally on a state-by-state basis. Instead, the CNA approach, generated by a particularly stuck-in-the-mud project director named Dave Dittmer, was to hire a host of consultants to pen good-bad-ugly scenarios for all the countries in Europe, and then to bundle them up by categories (all the goods, all the bads, etc.) and thus gin up regional scenarios. I thought this approach was just plain bone-headed, because there's just no chance that everyone in Europe follows the same scenario (too simplistic). Also, by keeping the U.S. interests static (mandated by CINCUSNAVEUR lest they be accused of advocating a policy change on their own), we basically held constant the biggest single independent variable to the region's development. My impassioned plea for a global analysis took the shape of a massive PPT brief that I put together to explain my own philosophy of alternative global futures analysis. I presented the work to Dittmer and the rest of the study team. My fellow analysts loved it, but Dittmer hated it, and saw it as an attempt to usurp his authority as project director. So I buried the work, expanded it under long-time CNA mentor Hank Gaffney, and eventually used it to win my job at the Naval War College (it was the work I showed off) and to start my consultancy (a great project for CNA as a consultant on a Marine Corps study on the future applicability of non-lethal technologies). That brief ends up being the basis for my one-time-only, award-winning course at the Naval War College. It is also, in spirit if not in content, the genesis of The Brief that becomes PNM and ultimately generates this book. To that end, Dave Dittmer unwittingly launched my entire career as a grand strategist, and for that, I thank him for being such an unimaginative cuss!

Yes, I do repurpose the basic scenarios of Gap shrinkage (no, not shoplifting at Gap clothing stores, but the progressive integration of these regions to the Functioning Core of globalization). The paper I did for the NIC via my old mentor Hank Gaffney at CNA (as a consultant) was immensely useful in that sense.

My deconstruction of the NIC 2020 paper is something I'm genuinely proud of. Small bit of analysis, perhaps, but quite telling, I believe. I just love deconstructing official stuff like that in such a way as to de-fang some of its fear factor. I consider it God's work.

The bit about my career/industry downshift from strategic nuclear planner to regional war scenarioist to somebody who thinks about catching individual bad guys was something I had long assumed I had put in PNM because I'd been using it for years in the brief on the mega-Waltzian slide that described the changing ordering principle of the Pentagon over the eras of the Cold War, post-Cold War and post-9/11 environments. But a careful reread of the book as I got ready to write BFA revealed that I hade neglected to get it in, so I wanted to do so here.

Writing this section helped me flesh out the A-to-Z slide delivery dramatically by forcing me to come up with simple definitions, like what I mean by a politically bankrupt state. I always had the definition clear in my head, I just never bothered to use it in presentations until I felt compelled to write it down here.

My decision to do a number of swings of the bat on the subject of explaining the A-to-Z rule set was inspired, as I note in the text, by Akira Kurosawa's film Roshomon. Like that film that offered multiple retellings of a single event from a variety of participants' perspectives, I felt that multiple explanations of the A-to-Z rule set would be better than one big-ass run-through where I might lose the reader.

Why was that decision crucial, in my mind? I knew the material would come off as programmatic and dry. No escaping that, as most important processes tend to be rather boring because of the detail.

Mark Warren ratified the decision, agreeing with the logic, but directed me to apologize, up-front, for my "graduate-paper earnestness." Mark didn't mind the serious, almost academic tone in this section, because he saw no other useful way to deliver the content. He just wanted me to alert the reader that the book wouldn't dissolve into "Professor Turgid" style from there on out.

To me, that sort of aside to the reader is one of the great benefits of writing in the personal, conversational style that I do. Yes, I know it brands me as "unserious" in the minds of many academics and experts, but since nobody outside their narrow circles read their stuff any way, why the hell should I care?

The review goes as such: give them the ideal description, then show them how it's already been done, then give them the bad Iraq version, and then--and only then--do I do the detailed analysis of the individual pieces, because by then the reader's got the package down in their mind and won't get lost in the details. Most of the analysis here is about dispelling the notion that any one of the legs can do it all by itself, especially the UN.

When I get to the International Reconstruction Fund concept, I do something I've not done before: excerpt somebody else's writing, but it only made sense since I've always credited Sebastian Mallaby for the concept and his writing on the subject is just so amazingly concise.

I follow that up with a great quote from Francis Fukuyama on America's lack of people with nation-building expertise in our government.

Once that's all done, I give my sense of the logical pathway for this rule set's emergence over the coming years. I first tried out these ten steps in the blog.

I close the chapter with the bit about getting agreement on needing an agreement being half the battle in bringing it to fruition. I credit a senior official in the intelligence community with educating me on that concept.

* * *

Of the 12 substantive chapters spread over PNM and BFA, this one ranks as the second-most important, in my mind, surpassed only by Chapter 3 in PNM, where I introduced the whole Core-Gap divide. Like that one, this chapter ran close to 30k, or roughly ten times the size of my articles in Esquire.

All in all, a killer start, in my humble opinion. The trick from here on out was not to let up on the pace or content crunch.

References (4)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Thomas P.M. Barnett - Blueprint Journal - Director's Commentary: Chapter One: What the World Needs Now
  • Response
    Thomas P.M. Barnett - Blueprint Journal - Director's Commentary: Chapter One: What the World Needs Now
  • Response
    Thomas P.M. Barnett - Blueprint Journal - Director's Commentary: Chapter One: What the World Needs Now
  • Response
    Thomas P.M. Barnett - Blueprint Journal - Director's Commentary: Chapter One: What the World Needs

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>