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Excerpts from Great Powers, part 2


A Selection
of Excerpts from




America and the World After Bush



Thomas P. M. Barnett


Why our grand strategy needs to be realigned with the world

"When 9/11 struck, America, feeling proprietary about the international liberal trade order we created and nurtured into global dominance, naturally felt the need to propose all manner of new rules. But in our haste to demonstrate their effectiveness to the world, we not only botched their initial employment in many instances (Afghanistan and Iraq being preeminent), we scared off many old allies and alienated much of the rest of the world in the process. Meanwhile, globalization's nosebleed trajectory continued unabated, even as America routinely blew its whistle to interrupt game play after every post-9/11 international crisis to announce our latest new rule set for global order. Sometimes our new rules were ignored and other times they met opting-out responses--such as "We'll take our business/tourism/IPOs elsewhere!" Other times, rising great powers simply proposed their own, competing rule sets. For example, while America got fixated on "transforming" the Middle East, the EU focused on eastward expansion, Russia concentrated on extending pipelines in all directions (save north), and China cast its nets pretty much over the rest of the developing world, with India in hot pursuit. Inevitably, America's new definition of post-9/11 "normal" put us increasingly at odds with significant global trends, many of which seemed to accelerate just as we Americans, whose trade-liberalization schemes sent this whole world spinning, began plaintively asking globalization to slow down so that we might regain our strategic balance, feeling--as we were--both subpar and "subprime."

Not surprisingly, much of the world has stopped listening to America over the past few years. Bush-Cheney's push for primacy achieved its desired effect but on an unintentional scale: Most of the world's nations neither fear nor respect America as they once did. As such, we face a series of difficult realignments across all major elements of our grand strategy." (pp. 162-163)   


Thank God for the Whiz Kids of Wall Street

"Not surprisingly, given Wall Street's latest meltdown, Americans are polling glum, even if the rest of the world isn't. Global opinion trends over the past half-decade portray a rising tide of human happiness among nations that have opened up to globalization and thus enjoyed increasing per capita income. Across the Islamic world, we also see a broad decline in popular support for terrorism and, in particular, al Qaeda's brutality. We're losing old allies over Iraq, but Osama bin Laden is losing the future.

As for recent fears that China will soon rule the world, go slow on that one. The World Bank recently recalculated the purchasing power of China's economy and found it to be about 40 percent smaller than we imagined. China won't be overtaking the U.S. economy anytime soon, if ever. Moreover, while we may fret over Beijing's dollar reserves, you have to remember that China's rapid industrialization has been built on a very shaky environmental and demographic foundation, meaning most of the economy's vast liabilities have been pushed into the future on a scale that makes our Social Security overhang look modest by comparison. China will grow old before it gets rich, and it'll become increasingly unhealthy before it superfunds its environmental cleanup.

Rather than complain about rising multipolarity in our global financial order, like the rise of the euro as an alternative reserve currency, why not be grateful that the enterprise no longer depends solely on the spend-thrift American consumer? Frankly, we all knew we were living beyond our collective means these past few years, and deep down, we were hoping somebody would apply some discipline to this unsustainable dynamic.

Given that our political system didn't seem up to the task, I say thank God for those whiz kids on Wall Street--you know, the ones who seem to come up with some new, dazzlingly complex risk-management scheme every ten years or so, like junk bonds in the 1980s or the rise of financial derivatives in the 1990s. I'm not being facetious. It's that type of edgy innovation that keeps the United States the most competitive economy in the world, triggering not just our booms but also the necessary corrections--to wit, our pressing need for a global Securities & Exchange Commission. If Wall Street's recent series of financial crises proved one thing, it's that globalization's interdependency has reached the point where the forces of both contagion and correction have gone global, meaning there is no such thing as significant "decoupling," nor the unique discrediting of any economic model.

We all feel one another's pain now because we all seek to mitigate collective risks--globalization as one giant credit-default-swapping network. So for all of you who've long dreamed of the day when America wouldn't have to run the world by itself, the good news is, that dayhas come."  (pp. 183-184)  


The different world America sees

"Today, America sees a very different world from that seen by the rest of the planet: We want it instantly tidied up with no terrorists and no autocrats and no environmental damage--a grand strategy predicated on some notion of perfection. Meanwhile, that young, ambitious non-Western chunk of humanity focuses on an entirely different agenda--a grand strategy that entails getting ahead at all costs. As a result, when our leaders speak to the world, they are not heard. That's a big problem, not so much because America is the only nation capable of leading as because the world is a more uncertain and less secure place when we are perceived as having lost our way. Our "go-go" economic philosophy has long been countered, as well it should have been, by Europe's "go-slow" focus on successfully integrating its poorer neighbors. The world is a better place for having that debate as long as both sides admit there's something to learn from the other.

But today, too much of the world seems to view our "go-go" as having gotten up and gone off the deep end in the service of extreme, self-serving goals, and unsustainable consumption.

That's not to condemn emerging markets for wanting all the same things we enjoy. Heck, we talked them into going down this path in the first place! Rather, it's just pointing out how much all that non-Western economic activity is reshaping our world, because that's where we find the truly inescapable challenges--and opportunities--of our age. But instead of looking those challenges--especially the cumulative environmental ones--straight in the face, we obsess over (1) global terror, the vast majority of which never comes close to touching American lives; (2) democracy in the shallowest form of free elections and little else; and (3) worst of all, nuclear weapons--a bogeyman without parallel in our minds." (pp. 211-212)  


A world eager to herald America's return

The good news, of course, is that America's new president will face a world eager to herald our return. Our new commander in chief is looking at 50 percent being taken off the top in terms of other leaders' price tags for renewed friendship and alliance. No surprise there, as the world greatly fears for its future whenever America is perceived to have gone off on an ideological bender. Nonetheless, President Obama is looking at a serious task: getting other powers to recognize that we now realize the limits of our power. If that realization cannot be demonstrated, or if the Obama administration somehow fails at signaling such awareness (the temptation to circle the West's wagons here is great), then America will most definitely be looking at (1) a continuing effort by many of our true allies to dissuade us from further overextension, and (2) increasingly open displays by rising powers of their willingness to seek one another's solidarity on security issues while pointedly excluding the United States.

If we remain on this ill-advised course, then the most likely great-power flash point for the United States in coming years will be either China or Russia, with the latter vaulting now into the lead thanks to its invasion of Georgia. Neither represents a systemic threat, because each supports globalization's advance, and so regards the world's dangers much as we do. But it's also clear that while the rest of the world fears globalization primarily in terms of a perceived extension of U.S. soft power, in America we now essentially view globalization in terms of a perceived extension of Chinese soft power, much as Europe fears Russia's growing domination of its energy markets. But since China's soft sell will only grow more oblique in its application over time (i.e., they continue to "hit 'em where we ain't"), Russia, under Putin's continued stewardship, is more likely to become the East's de facto standard-bearer in any future attempts to contain a United States that refuses to mend its ways, much the way Brazil and India, with great diplomatic skill, manage to represent the Gap's economic interests in global forums.

If the Obama administration does not seek a more discreet and less martial tack with the world, then engaging Russia negatively on this score will be a big mistake--the ultimate diversion in this long war." 
(pp. 227-228) 


What comes next in the"long war"

"Two realities inform our thinking about what comes next in this long war: (1) Paul Collier's "bottom billion" is clustered mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia; and (2) today's radical Salafi jihadist movement is centered in Southwest Asia (from Egypt to Pakistan), a region that effectively links those two impoverished areas. To the extent that we're successful in dislodging al Qaeda from Southwest Asia, the center of gravity is likely to shift to either Central Asia or Africa. If the Shanghai Cooperation Organization truly represents the will of great powers surrounding Central Asia to keep that region relatively clean of violent extremism, and I think it does, then the radical Salafist movement, to the degree it either must flee Southwest Asia or attempt to expand its influence from that base, is more likely than not to move into Africa over time. The recent rise of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in North Africa would seem to confirm that judgment. The grand strategic response to that scenario is therefore clear: accelerate Africa's integration into the global economy in a strategic flanking maneuver designed to deny radical Islam's successful penetration there.

Thus, after being ignored since the beginning of time (save for its slaves and its treasure), Africa just got strategically important enough for America to care about. The Bush administration's decision to set up Africa Command is historic, but not for the reasons given or assumed. There aren't enough Islamic terrorists in Africa to stand up a full combatant command. If all we wanted were flies on eyeballs, a small number of special operations trigger-pullers would have sufficed for the foreseeable future. There's oil there, but the United States would get its share whether Africa burns or not, and it's actually fairly quiet right now. The Chinese are arriving en masse, typically embedded with regimes we can't stand or can't stand us, like Sudan and Zimbabwe. But the Chinese aren't particularly liked in Africa and seem to have no designs for empire there. Beijing just wants its energy and minerals, and that penetration, such as it is, doesn't warrant Africa Command, either. So, in my mind, America sets up an Africa Command for the same reason people buy real estate--it's a good investment. As the Middle East "middle ages" over the next three decades and Asia's infrastructural build-out is completed, only Africa will remain as a source for both youth-driven revolution and cheap labor and commodities. Toss in global warming and you've got a recipe for the most deprived becoming the most depraved."  (pp. 25-286)  


Connectivity and the global middle-class

"What's so scary about globalization today is that it's triggering a global consciousness regarding the possibilities of individual liberty, and in doing so, it places a lot of elites in nondemocratic societies in a tough place. In tandem, they must justify their rule by exploiting globalization's connectivity to raise individual incomes while resisting globalization's cultural "pollution" (i.e., all those dangerous ideas of individual freedom), which only raises individual expectations. In other words, their sell on regime legitimacy becomes, "I'm making this connectivity happen in a way that enriches our nation while protecting all of you from content that will threaten our collective identity." I'm not saying the same isn't true for leaders in democratic nations, just that it's a whole lot easier for them, because, by and large, popular expectations are easier to meet in our type of democracy.

Why? American-style democracies tend to come with a substantial middle class, whose ideology is one of self-improvement through self-empowerment, meaning these people look to the government primarily for its role in keeping the playing field reasonably level. The rich, in contrast, look to the government primarily to protect them (and their wealth) from the demands of the poor, while the poor look to the government for protection from their very circumstances. What we're missing right now in globalization is that sense of a worldwide middle-class ideology that says, "We're the hardworking members of this global community and this is what we think would be a fair deal." Invariably, too many experts today describe the world as a superelite sitting high above the bottom billion, reducing everything to the extremes of haves versus have-nots. We have no global leaders of note speaking to the global middle right now, just narrow-minded populist leaders echoing the hopes and fears of their own "middle" back home, typically promising them refuge from the storm when they should be linking those hopes and fears to what Jeffrey Sachs dubs globalization's emerging "common wealth" overwhelmingly found in the global middle class." (pp. 296-297)  


The practical challenge America faces

"So here's the practical challenge as I see it: America has gone so long since the last period when we had to rethink the world and how it works that we've basically lost the grand-strategy skill set. Worse, this is the first time in our nation's history when our trajectory of success has led to such a clustering of rising great powers that our instinct for continued leadership could easily be overwhelmed by fears of competitive disadvantage--that is, we're left holding the bag on global security while all our competitors catch up. The realist school would tell us to cut back on our leadership in global security to get our own economic and social house in order for the inevitable great-power conflicts to come, when, of course, doing so will most assuredly trigger a lot of fear-threat reaction on the part of those same rising great powers, thus making the outcome as "inevitable" as the realists claim--a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one. So here's where our faith in this world system of our creation comes most into play. We
need enough confi dence in our model of economic-development-forcing-political-pluralism that we don't abandon our bodyguard role in protecting globalization's continued advance and sub-sequent network consolidation. If we can't muster that confidence, we'll be unable to lead the shift from defense to security that must occur amid all this worldwide infrastructure/network construction, the result being a world afraid of the inevitable "chaos" that ensues. At that point, we'd be looking at an end-of-the-repeating-cycle, Matrix-like collapse and globalization reboot, an outcome that answers the prayers of only the survivalists among us, who've long preacheda return to such primitive, localized communitarianism." (pp. 419-420)



From GREAT POWERS, to be published by G. P. Putnam's on February 5, 2009.

Reader Comments (2)

This posting got me thinking (why I like coming to this blog). Maybe I will buy GP even though I missed out on BFA.

The Wall-Street Whiz Kids develop new ways to manage financial risk. Diversification among markets (not just across financial instrument classes) is a major strategy. What happens to diversification among markets when the Global SEC becomes reality? When the entire planet is pulsing together and there are no more emerging markets? When all personal care products are made by either Henkel or Proctor&Gamble and all computer chips are made by Intel (darn close to this now). The current world-down turn shows that the planet is very highly linked and pulsing in near unity already. I just have this mental image of a balloon with the imprint of the world on it, expanding and contracting in all parts equally (possible deflating or exploding in all parts equally as well).I know my argument assumes some sort of leveling off of the Core Countries with the Gap countries catching up. Will there always be a lead dog to which others will give chase?
January 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatt R.
Hi Tom,Saw your interview show up in the Sunday Chronicle newspaper in the world section. This is the special inauguration edition. Your new book is mentioned too...way to go!Very good article, you are there along with Friedman.
January 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersue

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