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Great Powers press release



By Thomas P.M. Barnett


G.P. Putnam's Sons


Pub Date: February 5, 2009 


GREAT POWERS:  America and the World After Bush




Thomas P.M. Barnett 


"The Pentagon's New Map is easily the most influential book of our time.  I never dreamed that a single book would change my outlook on the United States' role in world affairs, but one has."  

- Thomas Roeser,
Chicago Sun-Times


"Thomas Barnett is one of the most thoughtful and original thinkers that this generation of national security analysts has produced."

            - John Petersen, President, The Arlington Institute 


"[Great Powers] stands out for its in-depth analysis, historical acuity and delightfully witty prose."

- Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review


Lately, we are being told this is no longer our world. America is in decline. Wars may be won, but the peace belongs to others and we have no choice but to get used to it.  Others suggest it is not so much that America is in decline as that the rest of the world has caught up to us and, once again, the only thing we can do is get used to it.  Taken for granted in each case is that the trends unleashed in the world today are unmanageable and chaotic and constitute a threat to our future.  New York Times bestselling author and national security strategist Thomas P. M. Barnett sees things differently.  "Globalization as it exists today was built by America; we're still  its leader," says Barnett.  "Further, the trends unleashed in this world of our making--a world modeled on our system of networks spreading, economies integrating, and states uniting--should be viewed not with foreboding but with a sense of possibilities for the future providing we have the will and strategic imagination to act in the present."


In GREAT POWERS:  America and the World After Bush (G.P. Putnam's Sons; February 5, 2009; $29.95), Barnett--who has been described as "the most influential defense intellectual writing these days (The Washington Post)" and "one of the most important strategic thinkers of our time (U.S."--presents a remarkable analysis of America and the world in the post-Bush era.  He also offers a visionary grand strategy for how to proceed as we stand poised on the verge of what is arguably the greatest achievement of all time:  the peaceful knitting together of a truly integrated global economy and the establishment of a truly centering middle class.  Barnett believes it's up to America to shape and redefine what comes next. 

Now he offers a roadmap to exactly what that is and how we do it.   

As our globalized system continues processing its worst financial crisis ever, Barnett sees the next few years as being the first true test of globalization.  He writes, "President Barack Obama encounters an international order suffering more deep-seated strain than at any time since the Great Depression.  If there was any remaining doubt that the world's great powers either all swim or sink together in this interconnected global economy, then this recent contagion has erased it. Globalization is no longer a national choice but a global condition, and at this seminal moment in history it demands from its creator renewed--and renewing--leadership. President Obama's opportunity to--as he often put it--'turn the page' could not be greater, for history rarely offers such made-to-order turning points."  However Barnett also points out that the choices we've made over the past eight years have shifted the global landscape in ways that simply cannot be reversed with a new American president or even new American policies.  It's not a matter simply of a course correction, but of a fundamental recalibration, and the opportunities it presents are far greater than the perils. 

GREAT POWERS gives us a clear understanding of both, and shows us not only how the world is now--but how it will be.  

Barnett's theories and arguments are non-partisan.  His supporters are both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.  Simply, he provides a way to frame the debate on how to make globalization truly global, retain great-power peace, and defeat whatever antiglobalization insurgencies may appear in the decades ahead.  Above all he shows us that although there are many great powers at work in this complex world, it is America that has the greatest opportunity to extend or to sabotage globalization's stunning advances around the planet.   

Highlights of GREAT POWERS include: 

  • A look at how America went off the rails during the eight years of the Bush administration.  "The Seven Deadly Sins of Bush-Cheney" cited by Barnett are Lust, leading to the quest for primacy; Anger, leading to the demonization of enemies; Greed, leading to the concentration of war powers; Pride, leading to avoidable postwar failures; Envy, leading to the misguided redirect on Iran; Sloth, leading to the U.S. military finally asserting command; and Gluttony, leading to strategic overhang cynically foisted on the next president. ("Strategic Overhang" is the time it will take successive administrations to "burn off" the "weight" of long-pursued interventions with deeply sunk costs.)  Barnett shows that facing up to these sins and the problems they have caused is essential to America's successful reengagement with a world left more unnerved by our government's counterterrorism strategy than it was ever perturbed by actual terrorists.

  • Barnett also looks at what the Bush-Cheney administration did right including its handling of a provocatively nationalistic government in Taipei; China's rise in general; Vladimir Putin's consolidation of power in Russia and that country's reemergence as a player to be reckoned with in international affairs; steering the U.S. through rough waters in global trade without succumbing to congressional or popular pressure for trade protectionism; and displaying a real strategic imagination regarding key development issues (outside its failed reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq).

  • A "Twelve-Step Recovery Program For American Grand Strategy."  Barnett argues that our recovery doesn't stop with looking at what we did wrong.  Fences need mending and relationships require repair.  Drawing on the best traditions of self-help programs he describes the basic steps America needs to take to break out of the angry isolation in which it has remained somewhat trapped for the past eight years, regain some control over its destiny, and realign its as yet unstated grand strategy to a world transforming at an incredible speed.


  • A journey through America's two great historical arcs: the creation, transformation, and taming of the United States from 1776 to the start of the twentieth century; and the subsequent projection of that "states uniting" model upon the global landscape, beginning with the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.  In no uncertain terms Barnett shows that globalization as it exists today is an environment of our creating--the result of a conscious grand strategy pursued from the earliest days of our republic right through Bush's decision to invade Iraq.  "What we've done is spread the same competitive spirit that drove our rise to other great powers now seeking to replicate that rise," says Barnett.  "The trick will be in having the patience to steer the emergence of this global middle class while allowing the political freedoms of the rising great powers time to catch up with the economic freedoms they're beginning to attain."

The core of GREAT POWERS consists of a chapter devoted to each of the five major elements of U.S. grand strategy.  In each domain Barnett looks at the most important long-term trend for making globalization truly global in a post-9/11 world.  He then explores a serious recent disruption that prompted new thinking on our part or a retrenchment from our grand strategic vision; offers a sense of the new rules that seemed to emerge as a result of the disruption; and outlines the "new normal" into which we slowly settled as the Bush years wound down.  Jumping back outside the U.S. he then shows what happened to the long-term trend as America headed off on its own toward its "new normal." Finally, he identifies the major realignment we need to make to bring us back in line with the world of our creating and then lays out the global development we should be crafting over the next five years. 


The five major elements explored in this core section are:  

  • Economic - Barnett starts with what he considers the most profound economic dynamic of the last half-century: China's historic reemergence as a worldwide market force.  He looks at the impact on the American system of 3 billion new capitalists (in China, Brazil, Russia, India, and all the smaller emerging markets); unfounded fears in the West that China's stunning rise challenges the notion that economic growth triggers democracy; and the extent to which China's economy increasingly mirrors our own.  He delves into the implications of Wall Street's latest meltdown and what it says about globalization's interdependency.  And he shows how rising Asia could become America's primary strategic asset in making globalization truly global.  Says Barnett, "You want to 'drain the swamp' preemptively and foreclose opportunities for terrorists in the backwaters of the earth?  If you really want to win this long war then do whatever it takes to make globalization go faster because jobs are the only exit strategy."

  • Diplomatic - Barnett explores the two main problems in current American grand strategy: our unreasonable expectation for immediate success (democracy), and our obsession with terrorists.  He looks at the impact of America's big bang in the Persian Gulf (the toppling of Saddam); how we dropped the ball with Iran by fixating on its peril rather than its promise; and the need to "socialize" the Middle East problem by attracting Eastern military powers into the mix there as quickly as possible.  He reflects on the extent to which a universe of players have succeeded in containing America's use of power internationally over the past several years (as well as the challenges the Obama administration will face in reversing that trend); and the implications of China's "soft-power" approach on the world stage.  Finally, he explains why we need to build a team of rivals made up of the world's emerging powers who are better suited to the nation building/economy-connecting role than we are.


  • Security - Barnett begins by looking at the U.S. military's post-Vietnam "overwhelming force" mindset and how it was largely unprepared for what came next--the rough-and-tumble politics of wars fought within the context of everything else.  (In Iraq "everything else" included the economic forces at work as globalization crept into the region as well as the social blowback that penetration was creating.)  He examines the impact of the so-called "lost year" in Iraq (defined by most observers as the period running from early May 2003, following President Bush's declaration of "mission accomplished," through the explosion of insurgency violence in Fallujah the following April); and he reflects on the extraordinary paradigm shifts that have occurred within the military since then.  Barnett goes on to explore the impact of the privatization of American foreign policy, and the inescapable realignment we now face: the reblending of diplomacy, defense and development in the long war against violent extremism.  He wraps up this chapter by looking at what comes next in the long war: a shift in the center of gravity to Central Asia or Africa.


  • Networks - Here the author begins by looking at globalization's ability to create superempowered individuals and a shallower but wider pool of enemies.  Barnett writes, "While emerging powers are increasingly integrated economically and great power war remains off the table thanks to nuclear weapons, every pirate and smuggler and druggie and transnational terrorist/criminal now registers on our radar."  He looks at how our rules in the marketplace are shifting from "know your customer" to "know your supply chain," examines the particularly worrisome vulnerabilities of the global food trade, and explores the search for strategic deterrence in the age of globalization.  Barnett also delves into the extraordinary changes that have occurred in infrastructure development in emerging and developing economies, and the opportunities these changes present for Western companies.  He concludes by looking at our approach to post-conflict/post-disaster situations in areas of the world largely disconnected from the global economy, and argues for the need to create a "SysAdmin-industrial complex" that is just as hungry for these types of situations as our long-standing military-industrial complex is for "big war."


  • Strategic Social Issues - Barnett begins by looking at our social response to 9/11; the response of traditional, off-the-grid, patriarchal cultures (in this case the Arab world) to the incursions of the global economy; and what each of these can teach us about managing the loss of identity.  He reflects on the disruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina and the ways in which the fight against "global warming" became the counternarrative to President Bush's "global war on terror."  (Barnett also explores the dangers of the former becoming as overhyped as the latter.)  Other issues raised in this final realignment chapter include the need to link our middle-class ideology to globalization's emerging middle-class (rather than thinking in terms of erecting walls to shut out "unfair" competition); why we should consider a global economy no longer so dominated by America our greatest achievement rather than a signal of a "post-American age"; the challenges of continued economic growth in an environment of dwindling resources; the emerging competition of world religions; and the need to resurrect a progressive agenda focused on "cleaning up" globalization's many dark corners.


Barnett concludes GREAT POWERS by reminding us that although the future does have a way of happening--that it is inexorable--many of the twenty-first century's most important outcomes will be determined by the choices we make over the next dozen years.  He writes, "The American System blossomed into an international liberal trade order, which in turn gave birth to the globalization we enjoy today.  These are the United States' most powerful acts of creation.  This world-transforming legacy created the twenty-first century environment, one marked by more pervasive poverty reduction, wealth creation, technological advance and--most important--stabilizing peace than any previous era in human history.  That legacy is worth preserving, defending, and expanding to its ultimate height--a globalization made truly global." 


About the Author:

Thomas P. M. Barnett
is a strategic planner who has worked in national security affairs since the end of the Cold War.  He is the Senior Managing Director of Enterra Solutions, LLC, which advises governments on economic development, and currently serves as a Distinguished Strategist at the Oak Ridge Center for Advanced Studies at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and as a Visiting Scholar at the Howard W. Baker Center at the University of Tennessee.  Named as "the strategist" in Esquire's first-ever "Best and Brightest" issue in December of 2002, he has been a Contributing Editor for the magazine, as well as a weekly opinion columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service since 2005.


Reader Comments (1)

I have long thought of this era of globalization and transformation of national economies and relationships is like taking a sailing ship into the wind to transit a narrow, difficult strait. We had to accelerate in one direction to gain momentum, but turn at the right time, and smoothly to exploit that momentum for the other course. The real goal is moving forward. Cooperation of all players on the ship is needed to avoid stalling at the critical point, even if most could not steer the ship effectively themselves. Dr. Barnett's work will be a great educational resource for my grandson's generation to understand this coming era, and how it came about.

January 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLouis Heberlein

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