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6:15PM

Reviewing the Reviews (Bay Area Political Review)

Here's the review, with my commentary to follow.

 

The Pentagon's New Map

In the words of Pentagon futurist Thomas Barnett, "we don't want to export American rule, we want to export American rules." More than any other sentiment in his first book The Pentagon's New Map, this highlights the drive behind the liberal wing of U.S. imperialism.

First, you might ask, who is this Barnett character. And while this is a book review, and not a biography, a brief synopsis may help. After all, I am embarking on my own bit of futurism in placing such importance on him. There is a plethora of people in the world of geo-political strategy, all with their own ideas and predictions. Why focus on Thomas Barnett?

Thomas Barnett is a strategic planner whose educational foundation was developed in the final years of the cold war. Understanding that the role of America's military has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union, Barnett has developed new ideas for military strategy in the post cold-war world. He has worked for the Naval War College, and his idea for the Pentagon's New Map was formulated there and popularized in a series of Esquire articles. He was the Director of the New Rules Set Project, "an ambitious effort to draw new 'maps' of power and influence in the world economy so as to expand the U.S. Military's--and specifically, the U.S. Navy's--vision of where and how it can wield maximum influence across the international security environment of the Era of Globalization."

It is the ideas of this project that form the core of The Pentagon's New Map. Barnett's map consists of two distinct entities in the global community: the Core and the Gap. To understand this thesis one must first recognize the four distinct phases of globalization outlined in the book. Globalization I is characterized as the era between industrialization and the First World War. Globalization II lasted from 1945-1980, and was characterized by a massive flow of resources facilitated by programs such as the Marshal Plan, developing a global economy dominated by the G-8. Globalization III is where we find ourselves today: Barnett would argue, in an era of uncertainty, where the international rules that allowed for Western dominance (Barnett would frown upon my choice of words) following WWII, are incompatible with the global realities of today. What Barnett is developing is a strategy to bring the world toward his dream; Globalization IV an era recognized by the elimination of the Gap.

The Gap is defined as those countries that have not accepted the economic, social, political, or cultural rules necessary for functioning globalization. The Gap is most easily recognized by what it does not include; the Core: North America, Western Europe, East Asia, Russia, the Subcontinent, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and notably, Israel and South Africa. The key to the future that Barnett envisions is "exporting America's rules" to the gap, so that these countries may be globalized both economically and culturally.

The majority of forces opposed to this globalization come from countries in the gap, Barnett refers to this opposition as an effort to maintain "disconnectedness" and he does little to differentiate between the various agents of "disconnectedness." In his analysis, a Hugo Chavez is equal to a Bin-Laden, in that they both stand opposed to American Globalization. It is this clear and undisguised presentation that informs us of what anti-imperialists face, even from the mind of a self-professed Gore supporter.

Barnett though, is not a cultural strategist, but a military one. This book aims to define the role of the military in eliminating the Gap. The United States military is to act as a ìleviathanî in this global relationship: providing the security necessary for international capital to flow into these regions. In order to allow the financial agents of globalization to succeed in the third world, Barnett suggests that someone needs to enforce a certain set of rules.

That someone is the United States, and he calls on Americans to develop the will to play this role. It is why he is comfortable stating that, "our loved one's won't be coming home anytime soon." The American military's role would be to respond to threats within the gap, which pose security problems for globalizations key agents, international corporations and financial firms. There is a strong emphasis put on military operations in seam-states (those Core countries that border on the Gap). As we have seen America's increasing interest in Eastern Europe, as well as the dismantling of large WWII era European military bases, we must recognize some of the accurate foresight of Barnett.

It is important to note the contradiction between this analysis of military and economic stability, with what we know about the profits to be made in regions that are unstable and in the midst of war. Secondly, to accept Barnett's principles we must avoid discussing the role America continues to play in promoting instability in the world.

Nonetheless, Barnett's vision is extremely palpable to liberals, and even some people who would call themselves progressive. His book continually espouses the great advantages of expanding globalization. Anyone familiar with the rhetoric of the World Bank will not be surprised to hear how this future, in which the military faces off with anyone promoting disconnectedness and financial firms flood economies with investment, will alleviate poverty around the world. Barnett's book states clearly that America must pay for its colonial past, and talks in detail about the fundamental importance of cultural equality for women. He has polished the messages that allowed liberals to sit idly while Clinton bombed Serbia and Iraq relentlessly. Furthermore, his stance on China is particularly attractive to large sectors of the financial world. Barnett clashes with figures in the Pentagon who view China as the next big threat. China, while not following all of the rules, is certainly following the economic ones, and therefore is not a threat, but an emerging member of the Core.

While Barnett is certainly a talented futurist, his analysis suffers from much of the shortcomings of capitalist economic theory. Most prominent, is an underlying belief in limitless resources. In fact, Barnett spends a brief portion of his book attempting to debunk current theories regarding the imminent crisis surrounding fossil fuels, particularly oil. He assures his readers that the point in which oil will run out is in fact significantly further away than many environmentalists would claim. He engages in what I would argue is a futile debate, as the important question is not when oil will run out, but rather what will happen when it does. It is inevitable that our dependence on oil as an energy resource is unhealthy both environmentally and politically.

The future that Barnett is so indebted to relies on a belief that the world can thrive, and poverty can be weakened, utilizing the principles that have facilitated America's rise to prominence. I would argue that this theory is flawed at its core. America's political relationships, as well as its relationship to the natural world, are unsustainable. Using America's success as a litmus test, one must ask whether the economic success experienced by America could have ever been realized absent the subjugation of the people and resources of the third world.

This speaks to a larger theoretical problem with Barnett's analysis. There is very little insight into causation as it relates to the current state of the world. In the picture Barnett paints, portions of the world are disconnected. Poverty and war exist, America, Western Europe, Japan, and other members of the "functioning core" do not experience those realities, and that is merely the way it is. If we can for a moment accept Barnett's language of "disconnectedness" (which I admit is asking quite a bit), is it only because despots and terrorist organizations wall these societies off? Or, can more sophisticated discussions of imperialism provide us with answers as to why the world looks like it does today? Using today as the starting point, it is easy to portray Iran in a negative light. However, taking three steps back, and understanding the relationship Iran has had with Britain and the United States, the Islamic Revolution in Iran begins to become more than religious clerics attempting to shun modernity. This is in fact why The Pentagon's New Map neglects, at least in detail, the political happenings of Central and South America. Because societies in that region have explored anti-American--a term I use positively--solutions that do not fit Barnett's mold of disconnectedness. Barnett's book, while intellectually difficult, is still in many ways written for a popular audience. Therefore, his model of disconnectedness in many ways mirrors popular misconceptions of Islamic anti-imperialism as being anti-modern and inherently oppressive. Anti-imperialist struggles in the America's, while not culturally, are still politically shaped by western political canon. How does Barnett reconcile this potential conflict? Throughout much of the book; by avoiding it, and periodically slipping Castro or Chavez into a list of disconnected despots.

The most rewarding theme within Barnett's book is his discussion of ìhorizontalî and ìverticalî thinking, as it relates to geo-political strategy. Barnett claims that many of the problems associated with cold-war era military thinking is centered on the premise that all strategy leads to a definitive flash point. Interestingly, Barnett's model, much in the tradition of anti-soviet planning, remains bilateral. Only it has expanded beyond America and Russia, and now includes the "Core" and the "Gap." Cold-war era theorists essentially plan for distinct macro-level outcomes. Barnett argues that in fact planning for the numerous effects to macro-level events can be more helpful in planning for the future. Major events, Barnett would call system perturbations; have limitless shockwaves that are felt throughout society.

Barnett juxtaposes the potential Y2K crisis with 9/11 as an example for how this process works. Barnett was involved in a project that brought leading Pentagon analysts together with strategists from Cantor Fitzgerald, in order to study the likely financial and military scenarios resulting from a global Y2K crisis. While the Y2K crisis never materialized, Barnett points out how by accepting the assumption that global chaos would ensue the group was able to plan for the outcomes. In fact, much of what they predicted and planned for materialized in the aftermath of 9/11.

The "vertical scenario" was in many ways insignificant, and could not be planned for. However, the various "horizontal scenarios" could be applied to various situations.

Leftists can benefit in many ways from studying this approach to futurist strategy. By downsizing this method of thinking into an arrangement that accurately compliments the political spheres we work in, we can successfully move away from attempts at predicting what socio-economic reality will usher in a radical/revolutionary era. This approach instead encourages us to accept our ignorance of macro-level "vertical scenarios," and therefore focus on likely reactions, both by our people and our adversaries, to major socio-economic events. I can't possibly conclude this paragraph without noting how important it was to hear first-hand accounts of a partnership between Wall Street and the Pentagon, particularly Barnett's assertion that Cantor Fitzgerald's intelligence was vastly superior to the Pentagon's.

The Pentagon's New Map is groundbreaking for a variety of reasons. First, it is unprecedented in its brute honesty. The role of the American military as described by Barnett, deviates very little from what one may read in a book by Noam Chomsky on the same subject. However, Barnett views this role as positive, in fact coveted. Secondly, Barnett has crafted this vision in a way that is extremely palpable, even attractive (to an un-tuned ear). Thirdly, Barnett is at odds with established Pentagon thinkers, and may offer us a glimpse into the future of war planning. Lastly, Barnett offers undeniably important insight into successful approaches towards futurist planning. His philosophy of thinking reinforces my thoughts on what strengths the Left must hone, and what weaknesses we must compensate for.

Makis Antzoulatos

COMMENTARY: Hmmm. I guess this line says it all: "one must ask whether the economic success experienced by America could have ever been realized absent the subjugation of the people and resources of the third world." Yes, yes, America has only been successful because we've exploited others. Other than that stunning bias, and his "positive" use of the phrase "anti-American," the review is interesting enough, if only for spotting me as a very dangerous liberal who's apparently addicted to global capitalism, the record of which-quite naturally-cannot possible compare with all the achievements that socialism has wrought over the 20th century.

Find the original at: bayareapoliticalreview.org

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