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
« Great Powers comes out tomorrow! | Main | Cherry-picking is smart »

Director's Commentary On Chapter Five: The Diplomatic Realignment: Rebranding the Team of Rivals

Obviously, the chapter's theme is inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on Lincoln, elevating the "team of rivals" concept up to the level of nation-states. I like the concept plenty, but just as clearly, the notion of resetting our alliances from Old Core to more New Core isn't a new idea for me.

Nothing else overarching to say about this chapter, so let's start the page tripping.


The opening repurposes a good chunk from the deleted first chapter on what grand strategy means to me. Although we ultimately decided that we didn't want a stand-alone chapter on that subject, it did provide plenty of material for realignment chapter introductions. In fact, it was tailor-made for that.


The bit about every citizen should get their own foreign policy is something I penned in the blog a while back. A reader really liked the notion, so I kept it in mind for the book and it just popped out here.



It is already amazing how past tense that phrase sounds. I don't think we'll hear it ever from the Obama people. It will be interesting, however, to see what they call things.

The quick tie-back to our own history on democracy.


Another mini-thesis paragraph: "... we begin to realize that our myopic fixation on terrorism and democracy risks short-circuiting those carefully laid plans, as well as possibly negating the decades of effort--in both blood and treasure--that the United States has expended to bring our American System-cum-globalization to these world-spanning heights. And we risk it all just because we can't have it all right now.


Talking about the EU's "go slow" philosophy versus our "go fast": on a per-capita basis the EU actually outgrows us by a whisker over the 1998-2008 timeframe. We just have higher highs and lower lows, so a real turtle v. rabbit race here. Still, the global economy wouldn't be what it is today if we weren't so innovative and risk-tolerant, so the EU lives off that somewhat.

Here I repurpose a chunk of the column I wrote after the Davos regional meeting in Australia. As with most columns, you get a decent paragraph out of the wordage but not much more. It's just a really well-polished para where you've already crunched down a lot of material and analysis, so it's useful for keeping the pace brisk. Plus, quite frankly, almost everything I wrote starting in mid-2007 was very much designed for use in the book--a proving ground, as it were. I have a gorgeous slide from Bradd based on this column and some other blogging I've done on the subject of proliferation.


I really liked it when Obama's camp floated that bit about extending our nuke umbrella protection over Israel--and presumably, friendly Arab states--vis-à-vis Iran. To me, that's the way to go versus missile defense in eastern Europe.

Obviously, you don't typically see anybody mention Israel's already significant nuclear arsenal very often, much less describe it as constituting a regional monopoly on WMD. But that's exactly what it is.



This was a fairly easy choice: in effect, making the decision on the invasion of Iraq the seminal thrust of the Bush-Cheney grand strategy, which it ended up being whether they wanted it or not.


Leveraging here the excellent Esquire story on Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann, especially the bit about the whacked-out Hadley "rules." When you write like I do, you live to have pieces like this come across your desk, confirming your "out there" thinking.


We forget how--in retrospect--brilliantly we handled the Sovs with détente, essentially setting in motion the peaceful collapse of their system. Now, with Iran, it's like we have no memory of our past competence and thus freak-out unduly over their reach for nukes. I mean, the Sovs sponsored terror groups on a far grander scale and were just as committed to our demise, but somehow we didn't lose our marbles there like we constantly threaten to do with Iran, largely because of Ahmadinejad's mouth. Let me be even more explicit: the world does not end with a nuclear strike from Iran--Iran does. You know we can and would decimate that country. We've done it before and got away with it just fine and we could do it all over again. That's why our threats have weight. When we forget that, we neglect our own history.

Vali Nasr's my favorite on Iran. Very sharp and no over-the-top emotionalism that you get from so many Western analysts who are so happy to go on TV and freak out.


I do like to compare Beijing 1970-71 to Tehran today. We forget how scary and freakish China was in those days with the Cultural Revolution, plus a good supply of nukes. In comparison, Iran is far less impressive and thus easier to manage if we remember its weaknesses along with its strengths.


To me, missile defense is the ultimate 21st century Maginot Line--a perfect monument to the past. The 21st century will be about biology. Find your real threats there.


The "burned very brightly across his eight years" line is one I draw from "Blade Runner" the movie, when Tyrell says to Roy Batty: "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy." Just an explanation, because the image there (Africa) is decidedly disturbing. Then again, I always found that scene very disturbing.


"Tip of the iceberg" is a good way to describe my disdain for the soda-straw view of both the realists and neocons: too much fixation on the above-water pol-mil reality and too little appreciation on the below-water economic reality--far more substantial.


A consistent theme through all three of my Putnam books: We don't leave the Middle East militarily until the Middle East joins globalization. As opposed to some notion of globalization-at-the-barrel-of-the-gun, the far more inescapable reality is that the region will simply feature too much instability until that connectivity is achieved in a deep fashion. As always, where globalization is impinging most rapidly, there you will find instability.


The decline of the Leviathan's big-war scenarios (Taiwan, North Korea, Iran): this constitutes a proposed piece I now have sitting with WAPO. Hopefully it comes out in the desired timeframe in terms of book promotion.


The inescapable stats para on oil and the Middle East. Key to remember: of Persian Gulf exports, we take about 10% and Asia takes 50-going-to-60%. In terms of our imports, the PG represents about 20%. We import about 60% of our needs, so about 10-15 percent of our total oil use comes from Gulf. Oil use is about 40% of our total energy, so then you're talking about the PG supply in the 5% range of our total energy needs via oil. Meanwhile, about 60% of Asia's imports come from the Gulf.


It is fascinating to me that we have that annual Pentagon report on the PLA and Beijing is our biggest creditor. Not so easy to start wars with your banker.



I note the general bureaucratic rebellion within the U.S. Government on the possibility of going to war with Iran in the second Bush term. Here I likewise briefly note Fallon's firing, stating that "this time 'Truman' removed 'MacArthur' because the latter resisted adding a third country to the war.


Example of para where, after Nov, you suddenly found yourself replacing the phrase "our next president" with just "President Obama." It's weird, but until that happens, everything seemed so much more theoretical.


"Hit 'em where they ain't" is my ode to Wee Willie Keeler--his batting philosophy.

Middle para here was a Russia-Georgia insert after the August events.


Dmitri Trenin is my favorite analyst on Russia today. He gets how absolutely lacking in ideology these guys are: all business, nothing personal.


Putinism as a glorious mix of Marx's "bureaucratic capitalism" and TR's fears about a "stationary state."


None of our allies ever seems to want to go anywhere and kill anybody. Then Russia does and we get all jacked. Definitely you slap them on the nose and say, "bad boy." But you also note the willingness to defend economic interests with force.



There is the system danger posed by less-than-bright leaders who approach the global economy and the resource question with this own-in-the-ground mentality. They don't realize the risk isn't supply, but merely price. Plus, when push comes to shove, nobody respects those I-own-your-resources-deal-and-here's-my-piece-of-paper. They simply shut you out.


A very realistic appreciation of rising great powers: EU has no will for big military ops, China has no history nor confidence, Russia sucks on the demographics and upkeep, and India--being a democracy--likewise has little long-term will, plus it continues to suffer its Pakistan problem. So, looking long-term, who do we expect to step up and replace our Leviathan? Nobody. That's why we see so much soft-power balancing.


Nice to cite Stan Lee for the Spider-Man uncle quote. Like Obama (we are roughly the same age), Spider-Man is my favorite superhero


Basic point to remember: China can't play good cop unless somebody else plays bad. Minute we stop we that, China will get incredibly uncomfortable with the global landscape. Bitch all they want in China, everybody wants the garbage taken out now and then.



Note I'm writing this a solid year before Obama starts up with his version, so I will claim that great minds think alike--or at least like the same authors.


An essential quote from Kearns Godwin that I knew I would use the minute I saw it: Lincoln's great gift for empathy is what America lacks most now vis-à-vis the rest of the world. We see only demands and criticisms instead of the needs and desires.


Literary allusion: "waiting on those Godots forever." I'm not a big fan of Samuel Beckett, but I do like that one.

The notion of inviting rising great powers to be "co-drivers" of globalization is very Lee Kwan Yew.


Five reasons why we need to think about allying more with New Core powers. To me, this is a powerful section, but it'll get glossed over in interviews, where I will constantly run into this notion that I'm saying only America can lead. We often confuse leadership with control in this country.


"Before long, we'll have them all punching at their natural weight"--referring to New Core powers/militaries that we need in our "team of rivals." Again, does this sound like only America can/should lead?


Don't assume the Chinese to be anything other than Chinese, etc. This is a basic life philosophy of mine. My wife is always asking, "Do you trust So-and-so?" and I typically reply, "I trust them to be exactly who they are."


Crucial bit about difference between wars of survival and wars of discipline that I picked up in Shelby Steele op-ed about Obama being right on Iran. This is a huge problem for us in the war on terror: it is not existential--the threat--and it never will be. But we act like it is.



Basic point here: We're now watching the first global generation grow up totally inside globalization instead of migrating there from some lesser past. So like AOL was good enough for most nervous transplants from the world of broadcast to the world of the web, the general "walled garden" mentality will rise and fall with generational speed once the totally globalized generation appears and isn't interested in such a filtered experience.


The shift from crustaceans to vertebrates in architecture: I love that bit.

I felt it was great to explain (to the best of my limited ability) the promise of service-oriented architecture here in the diplomacy chapter because it would give the non-expert reader a chance to absorb it and then be better prepared for the later network realignment chapter, where the arguments get more complex. Call it intellectual foreshadowing.


The bit about America as a political SOA to me is crucial: anybody can be an American.


The United States Leviathan as a "big firm" that needs to buy up smaller, more innovative firms--a good analogy of how we adapt ourselves to rising great powers by valuing them for the differentiated assets and capabilities they bring to bear instead of automatically sensing a symmetrical threat (so unimaginative).


More examples of how I'm arguing for spreading the responsibility in terms of global leadership. Again, more interviewers will ask me questions about "do we need to lead so much?"


Per Zakaria, the bit about post-caucasian not equally post-American: if anybody highlights that reality, it's Obama as president.


The fifth-generation warfare realization of why a team of rivals works for us:

Of his cabinet filled with past political rivals, President Lincoln was warned, "They will eat you up."

To this Lincoln replied, "They will be just as likely to east each other up."

Reader Comments (2)

"Hit 'em where they ain't" was Wee Willie Keeler, not Shoeless Joe Jackson.
February 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstuart abrams
thanks, Stuart. fixed above
February 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSean Meade

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>