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Interview with Radio Free Russia on Wikistrat's projections for 2013 (surprises)

Did the interview Thursday morning and it ran Friday morning.  I didn't write this one up, so it was good to see a sim run within the community and resulting in a solid product by a senior analyst (Wikistrat is maturing as a start-up in good order).

From the page:

WASHINGTON -- Wikistrat runs simulations on future events by crowdsourcing hundreds of online analysts, and hopes to be the next big thing in prediction.

Kim Brown interviews Managing Editor Chrisella Sagers Herzog, ofDiplomatic Courier Magazine, and Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, chief analyst of Wikistrat: 


Wikistrat bills itself as "the world’s first Massively Multiplayer Online Consultancy (MMOC)". It is made up of hundreds of analysts, connected globally through the internet, who run simulations on possible future events.

Large companies and even the federal government have expressed interest in using Wikistrat, who runs simulations for a consulting fee. Right now, they're working on predicting the future of Syria and Assad's regime.

Find the page here.


Old radio/podcast interview (Vantage Point) from February 2012

Just forgot to post this.  Was starting two new lines of business at the time, so it was hectic back then.

Runs about 55 mins.  Holds up fairly well over time.

Spoke a lot about Iran.  The WPR column that I referenced is found here.

Also spoke about Wikistrat.

Find the podcast interview here at


Q&A Session at Wikistrat's Blog

Ask Wikistrat’s Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett


Editor’s Note: Every week, Wikistrat’s Facebook followers engage in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A drill with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts via Facebook. This week we featured Wikistrat’s Chief Analyst Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett.

Q: Timothy Kelly-  Dr. Barnett, how do you think nuclear proliferation will play out in the Middle East?

A: I think the Obama Administration’s oil-focused sanctions will put immense pressure on the Iranian regime to cave in on the nuke question, possibly to the point of striking out in some manner that Israel – and perhaps the U.S. – can use as a pretext for launching substantial strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  But if I had to bet, I would lay money on Israel striking first for its own reasons versus Tehran providing the excuse.  Iran has always struck me as incredibly aware of which line-crossing activities will elicit direct military responses, and, much in the vein of WS’s recent simulation on this subject, I think Tehran knows well that it needs to avoid any genuine threat to global oil markets – lest it trigger an “all-in” military response from the United States . . . 

Read the entire post at Wikistrat's Blog.


Go here for audio of my segment on NPR's Weekend Edition

This be the place.

A Case For Military Intervention In Syria

June 2, 2012

Host Scott Simon talks with former Pentagon analyst Thomas P.M. Barnett about the pros and cons of a military intervention in Syria. Barnett has written in support of military intervention in Syria on Time Magazine's Battleland blog.


On NPR's Weekend Edition with Scott Simon tomorrow

Just taped via my iPhone and NPR's funky IT-Report Enterprise Edition app, where my end of the interview is taped on my iPhone and then uploaded to their site so I sound like I'm in the studio. 

I love that app.  Alternative in the past was to drive all the way into Indy to tape at the local PBS.  Usually ended up being about two-hour affair. 

This way I took boys for annual check-ups, got home about five minutes before taping and will have the whole file uploaded by 30 mins past when they called me (they actually don't call me; I log-in via wi-fi to their site via the app).

Subject is Syria and my recents posts at the Battleland blog (see below for links).

I was my usual intervention-mongering self.

Go here for details on tomorrow's show or to listen:

I'm told:  "It’s set to air tomorrow (Sat, 6/2) around 8:06am, after an interview with spokesman for the UN peacekeeping department."

That would be EDT, I am assuming.


Interview about Wikistrat in Rod Beckstrom's Starfish Report

Rod Beckstrom is a friend I first met at the TED conference in 2005, just after I spoke.  He came up to me in the hallways outside and we struck up a conversation. It led to me giving him my speaking agent, Jennifer Gates, for he and Ori Branfman to get their Starfish and Spider book published.  Rod later went on to be the CIO of the Department of Homeland Security and then president of ICANN.

His monthly Starfish Report is worth signing up for.

The full interview:

Thomas Barnett on Wikistrat

Thomas Barnett, the Chief Analyst of Wikistrat shares this story about how his company applies starfish principles to strategic thinking and planning. Tom answered the following questions to explain what they do at Wikistrat:

Q: As Chief Analyst, can you provide a brief overview for our Starfish Report readers of what Wikistrat is, and how it works?

A: Wikistrat is the world’s first crowd-sourced consultancy. We leverage a global community of several hundred strategic thinkers to tackle simulations of likely international events and unfolding global trends, the war-gaming of future conflict or crisis scenarios, and strategic planning exercises – all for private- and public-sector clients. To make such an offering possible, Wikistrat has put in the time and effort to not only create and nurture our global community that welcomes talent from all regions and a diverse range of subject domains, we’ve built – and continue to expand with each simulation – an online model of globalization itself in a wiki-based, scenario-driven format. So we’re basically three things at once:

1) Facebook for strategists from around the world who are looking for a place to improve their skills, run with others of their own kind in a 21st-century guild environment, and come together for paying consulting engagements;

2) Wikipedia-like global intelligence exchange (our globalization model, or GLOMOD); and

3) Massively multiplayer online consultancy (MMOC) that offers clients a crowdsourcing alternative to the usual “butts-in-seats” consulting firms that can’t possibly match our price points when it comes to massed brainpower because our overhead costs are so minimal.

We’re convinced that this is the future of consulting in the globalization era because our approach allows clients a far more interactive engagement (e.g., they can participate in our simulations on a real-time basis), combined with a wisdom-of-the-crowd dynamic that effectively addresses today’s complexity and constantly morphing international landscape. Our simulations can run for hours, days or weeks – even months. They can be mounted at very short notice and generate actionable insights for clients from the minute we turn them on.

Q:  To what degree does Wikistrat embrace a decentralized “starfish” style of leadership? Is there a centralized leadership system that oversees and directs Wikistrat’s network of analysts?

A: Wikistrat is starfish-like on a number of levels. 

First, we assemble temporary teams for client engagements, just like a production company that is formed to make a movie and is then disbanded. So there’s no set pattern of who gets pulled into any one engagement. 

Once we establish the core group of senior experts needed for the task, we send out invitations across the community to fill out the remainder of the participant pool, aiming for the highest diversity possible by subject domain, region, and experience level, and then we see who takes up the offer and runs with that opportunity.

I can’t tell you what a typical Wikistrat team looks like, because we don’t know until it comes together in response to the client’s request. Our job is simply to keep the global “bench” deep and wide and accessible in a real-time fashion, understanding – of course – that we vet everybody before letting him or her into the community. We aim for a very particular “crowd.”

Second, our guild-like community self-organizes itself to an unusual degree. We’ve set up subject-matter and regional desks and assign analysts to those based on the interests they express in their applications and intake interviews.  But once inside the community, they’re pretty much free to pick and choose the bulk of their activities, which leads to a lot of pleasant surprises as people develop talents and display skills you wouldn’t expect, based on reading their resumes.

Over time, that’ll lead to new desks being formed in response to the self-initiated clustering of minds. We’ve also “gamified” the community for the younger, less-experienced analysts, which means we offer them a variety of pathways to earn points that elevate their network standing and consulting opportunities over time, while “sharpening the blade” – as it were.

So far, these younger analysts have gobbled up those activities and constantly push us to generate more (like the world’s first crowd-sourced strategy book), which is an awesome responsibility for Wikistrat, because we’re filling a gap in their professional training and thus empowering the next generation of grand strategists that this world desperately needs.

Third, the GLOMOD itself is self-organizing.  We like to say at Wikistrat that, “analysts don’t compete, they collaborate by making scenarios compete.” When analysts work on client engagements, or in one of our internal training simulations, or even just when they working the GLOMOD on their own – for their professional gratification, if they disagree with or can’t bear the analysis on some scenario page, they’re free to “take their fight outside,” as I like to say, by creating an alternative scenario page on the wiki.

That means the GLOMOD grows from the inside out, but in directions no one can predict. Ideas cluster on their own, creating new centers of analytic gravity within the GLOMOD.  My job as de facto chief architect is to make sure no branch grows so long that it’s unsustainable or unduly isolated in its reasoning, meaning we want other portions of the GLOMOD to reach out and establish analytic linkages – in both a figurative and literal (i.e., HTML) sense. Thus the GLOMOD is really a collective-but-distributed “brain” that grows according to the dictates of the community working in response to client requests.

Fourth, we have no set sales staff. Our analysts themselves are our primary sales force. Wherever they go and whatever they encounter in their various other professional endeavors, they’re empowered to market Wikistrat’s services – that crowd-sourced alternative they can’t deliver themselves. That means they can propose new offerings and solicit new clients on their own, which, once we accommodate them, lead to Wikistrat’s growth as a consultancy and company.

The same is true on recruiting, as our analysts are our primary recruiters. 

With offices in New York, Tel Aviv and Sidney, Wikistrat is effectively headquartered in the “cloud.” To date, our central staff remains quite small – as in, single digits. We’re going to try and keep it as small as possible going forward, but we’re facing a significant challenge in that regard, due to the growing demand for our services and the sheer fact that analysts are signing themselves into the community from around the world every day.  But these are good problems.

Q:  What happens during live multi-player simulations?

Typically analysts will spend about half of a simulation working out – meaning populating with rich detail – alternate scenario pathways, exploring them across what we call a Scenario Dynamics Grid, or a generic multi-stage breakdown of a scenario’s lifespan, however long that may be (i.e., anywhere from hours to decades, depending on the client’s time focus).

Then the analysts will vote on the most plausible and/or revealing – to the client, that is – master narratives, which are the sequencing of individual scenarios at various stages in however many combinations make the most sense. Once we have those in hand, participants will often analyze how these various master narratives impact the interests of the most relevant real-world actors – in effect assuming their personas. At that point, our crowd will start brainstorming and then competing various policy options for those same actors.

That’s a fairly generic client engagement that involves simulating some possible future event. But we can vary the structure of simulations by any number of variables, and clients can always follow up with requests for additional modules (e.g., inserting a “shock” into an unfolding scenario to test some policy option).

In this regard, one of our favorite schemes is having multiple groups of analysts play the same real-world actor – say a nation-state government (in truth, analysts often spontaneously organize themselves along these lines in simulations whether we tell them to or not). Another is to have actual citizens (analysts) play their own countries. Too many American exercises simply have Americans playing everybody, when what you really want is Chinese playing Chinese, Indians playing Indians, etc. That’s where our global community comes into play. That’s how you obtain truly new sets of eyes.

And that’s really the underlying principle we follow in all design – “collaborative competition” of descriptions, concepts, options, etc.  So we like to compare the work dynamic to additive manufacturing – aka, 3-D printing.  We’re not aiming for the destructive, subtractive dynamics of the blogosphere, where everyone spends way too much time tearing down each other’s ideas.  We want our analysis to be built, layer by layer, with as many hands shaping the intellectual product as possible but with everyone getting credit for every single keystroke – all of which is instantly archived for the client’s access. Wikistrat is completely transparent in that way, which we think is hugely important in terms of making the client smarter – not just the analysts working inside traditional consulting’s “black box.”

One final thing to note from the analysts’ perspective: the “crowd” we source on any simulation works – on an individual basis – according to their own schedules. Our simulations have to go 24-7 because we’re global from day one. So we don’t ask our crowd to assemble in one room somewhere on the planet, thus allowing us to tap their wisdom in whatever natural context they currently reside – wherever they reside.

That means we get analysts’ best work because they offer their time at their greatest convenience. That’s why we prefer longer-run simulations for maximum flexibility, but if the client wants things faster, we accommodate that desire simply by increasing the size of the “crowd” to ensure a critical mass is achieved in a tighter time space.

Q: The Wikistrat site states that, “Wikistrat uses its patent-pending, digitalized, war-gaming methodology for engaging clients…” Can you explain how war-gaming methodology is used to provide geopolitical strategic analysis?

A:  Besides the description I’ve already offered above, the key thing that differentiates Wikistrat is our simulations/war-games/etc. aren’t pre-scripted affairs that force analysts into either “fighting the scenario” (i.e., disputing its plausibility or fidelity to real life) or chaffing within its artificial confines. Because our whole methodology revolves around the wiki, our motto is, “Don’t fight the scenario, fracture it.”

Here’s what I mean: Wikipedia has one entry for me, and it’s so conflicted that the organization labels it “not up to standards.” The simple truth is, my thinking is controversial enough in several realms so that there’s no one set worldwide opinion as to its validity – go figure! In Wikipedia, that leads to a sub-optimal or less-informing outcome.

But in a Wikistrat simulation, we don’t try to contain analysts and their ideas within a single scenario. Again, if there’s a fight, we instruct the aggressor to “take it out” . . . on a new wiki page that thereupon competes with the “low fidelity” page that he or she cannot abide. So long as analysts are willing to put their money where their mouths are, and stand by the alternative scenarios they generate by providing accompanying policy options, then all we’ve done with that conflict is exploit it to the client’s benefit.

We can do all this because our exercises never commit themselves to paper or the responsibility – and cost – of massing several dozen experts in some resort hotel for X days, all of which creates massive organizational pressures on the game convener to go as scripted as possible so as to avoid wasting already sunken costs. Since we’re in the “cloud” from start to finish, the costs involved with accommodating out-of-the-box thinking is virtually zero. To me, that’s “starfish” because circumstances and creativity dictate form and function – not the other way around.

As for the “patent-pending” part, that’s our using the wiki in “competitive collaboration.”  Wikipedia doesn’t compete its entries but Wikistrat competes everything. Throughout our war-games, analysts will vote on darn near everything. Clients can too. So our sims are intellectually invasive (i.e., “engaging”), but tremendously cost- effective due to digitalization.

Great example: L ast June we held an International Grand Strategy Competition with three-dozen teams of grad students from top universities from all over the world.  We gamified it with a prize and had various teams assume the personas of various great powers.  But to make it truly competitive and collaborative at the same time, in most instances we were able to get three different schools playing the same country. What that meant was that the three teams playing Pakistan competed fiercely with each other to be the best Pakistan, but they also fed off each other’s creativity. So the harder they competed, the more they collaborated. And you know what? This collection of teams truly turned my head around on Pakistan, taking me places strategically that I hadn’t considered.

Frankly, that’s why we use next-generation strategists in every sim we run. They simply don’t know what questions they’re not supposed to ask, and that makes them dangerously creative in everything they do – again, to the client’s benefit. If you fear “black swans,” nobody hunts them down better than those fresh minds that haven’t already been “made up.”  Put some “young Turks” on a wiki burdened by too much conventional wisdom, and they’re like bulls in a china shop.

Q: As the author of three books based on your background as an analyst for the US military, you advocate for a new direction the military can take towards the globalization of peace. Do you think this can be accomplished within the military’s current top-down hierarchical leadership style? Do you think the military could/should engage civilian peace-oriented networks to achieve the goal of global peace?

My System Administrator “force,” or one focused on everything but big wars, was always based on the notion that it’s essentially a military-civilian interface function that tilts decidedly to the latter over the course of its operations. In effect, my SysAdmin force is a way for the military to transition – as quickly and as comprehensively as possible – the low-end policing, nation-building, frontier integrating, etc., to non-military actors (NGOs, PVOs, international bodies, private sector enterprises, local governmental entities, and so on).

It was designed to be “starfish” from the get-go; I just didn’t have that particular vernacular in my tool-kit at the time. Now, of course, thanks to Rod and Ori’s book, plus those various insurgencies since encountered, it all seems so obvious.

My SysAdmin concept is definitely about the multiplication or franchising of authority centers within on-the-ground operations (post-conflict, post-war, counter-insurgency) that the military historically prefers to run in a highly hierarchical manner.  But as we know, that can infantilize local capacity – destroy it, actually.

So, absolutely, the military has to embrace a certain “starfish” mentality for the hand-off dynamics to unfold successfully. That doesn’t mean I want the entire US military to go down that route, but the skill set must be developed among those particular forces that get stuck with these ops time and again, and that’s why I originally advocated a certain splitting of the force, between warriors who focus on big wars and those who manage the small conflicts, so the latter would develop and – more important – never discard those skills, which is what we did after Vietnam and are threatening to do again with this new obsession on China and the AirSea Battle Concept.

We’re living through an age of globalization’s globalization – if you will. For decades, the global economy was just the West, but now it’s north, south, east and west – truly global, meaning frontiers are being integrating all over the planet simultaneously. That’s a lot of political-military churn to go along with all that socio-economic change.

So if you want to continue exploiting globalization’s ultimate pacifying effect, you need to aggressively process these many frontiers, settling them down. That’s a huge international project where the US military can only succeed if it enlists as many new allies as possible, and that means going as “starfish” as possible across its relevant organizational edge. To me, that’s the Army, Marines and Special Forces – the core elements of my SysAdmin concept.

To learn more visit


My interview in Mindy Audlin's "peace movement" book

Excerpt from the book, Let it Begin with Me: 21 Voices of the New Peace Movement, by Mindy Audlin (Unity MO: Unity Books, 2011), pp. 153-66.

Note: This interview was conducted over the radio and later transcribed. In this excerpt, I correct a few mistakes in the text, something I didn’t get a chance to pursue prior to publication. The two majhor mistakes were my use of “sustenance” when I meant “subsistence,” and my mixing up of the terms “premillennialist” with “postmillennialist.” Both were just weird mistakes I kept making in that timeframe, reflecting my near-dyslexic relationship with certain words. I also corrected certain flow issues, meaning punctuation style. It's always scary to have an interview transcribed, because how you speak in an interview doesn't always look good on the page, but I'm pretty happy with this one. And so I enter it into the record here.




Thomas P.M. Barnett


Thomas Barnett is a former assistant for strategic futures in the Office of Force Transformation (OFT) and a professor at the Naval War College. He is author of The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the 21st Century and Great Powers: America and the World After Bush. Here he discusses political and military strategies for creating peace among nations.

“Never bet against a people’s desire for freedom, connectivity or pursuit of individual opportunity and liberty, because it is strong.”

—Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map

Q: Tom, on the very first page of your book, The Pentagon’s New Map, you write: “When the Cold War ended, our real challenge began. The United States had put out so much energy during those years trying to prevent the horror of global war, that it forgot the dream of global peace.” Why is it so important for that shift in perspective to occur?

It is actually crucial now, experiencing, as we are, the first global economic crisis of the globalized age.

You have to go all the way back to 1982 to find a global recession, but back then, we did not really talk about global economy. We really only talked about the West—about 25 percent of humanity at the time, even though it controlled about 70 percent of the global productive power and wealth in the system.

Now we are really talking about a global economy that encompasses, by a lot of measures, upwards of 85 percent of the world’s population. Our resource-intensive industrialist model obviously has to change fairly dramatically when you are talking upwards of 85 to 90 percent of the world’s population engaged in pursuing that standard of living.

The reason why it is important for America to shift is that still, very much so, we see a world of nuclear weapons. We see a world of terrorists. We see a world only of bad things. After years of the post-9/11 mindset, America really became disengaged from the way the rest of the world was viewing this time period. It was one of great economic advance, one of incredible integration, networks proliferating, and empowerment to a level that is stunning.

Fifteen to 20 years ago, you could talk about half the world never having used the phone. Now we are talking about Twittering revolutions and cell phone coverage of events almost in any neck of the woods you can name, globally. We really have to understand the way we have conducted ourselves with the world.

Focusing on the prevent of bad things needs to shift into a create of what has been called “the future worth creating,” the recognition that we are coming upon the emergence of a global middle class, which is huge.

This is not an alien world. This is not a Frankenstein that we have unleashed. What we have created here is something we very much sought to do. It went all the way back to the end of the Second World War when Franklin Roosevelt promised a new deal for the rest of the world much as he had created for America, and really made explicit something that had been dreamt of, going all the way back to his cousin Theodore Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century: this notion of remaking the planet in our image, not so much immediately in a political sense, but very much immediately in the economic sense.

When America had that kind of flowering of integration, what arose in our environment was, for the first time in our history, a broad middle class. We went through a very angry period in our 1870s and 1880s, a populist phase. Even though we were growing very dramatically in terms of wealth, there was great income inequality, raping the environment, child labor abuse, a rough lot for women. It was an angry, divided, unequal society that led to the progressive movement very much led by religious groups.

Today we are seeing on a global scale many of the same things we went through as a multinational union—from 1865 to 1917—once we got past our Civil War and the question of slavery in America.

The role that religious groups played in creating that progressive movement, I believe, is already being replicated on a global scale. That is why we should admit or accept that the 21st century is going to be the most religious century we have ever seen.

Do not put that all in terms of radical fundamentalists. Think more in terms of the evangelicals, who, as a group, are expanding dramatically as fundamentalists are shrinking in their influence. Come to realize that we need to harness that kind of religious awakening much as we did in America at various points. We had a number of religious awakenings in our past. Understand it as a tremendous force for creating a progressive agenda and taming this global version of capitalism that needs to be tamed much as our national version did 150 years ago.

When people exist in a subsistence mode, just barely getting by, the rules, structure and social codes that come with that mode tend to be really strict: Everybody gets married. Everybody cranks out babies. No homosexuals allowed. We plant these crops. These crops work here. We no not mess around. We do not experiment. This is how we survive the off-season.

That is the Malthusian trap that says population is strictly limited because organic growth, how your can grow by using resources from the world, is strictly limited. There is no such thing in that mindset as inorganic growth or escaping the limits of material growth into true wealth like we have done with the Industrial Revolution in the West since the 1800s. Understand that most religions in the world were formed during that tough Malthusian phase. When you allow societies to go from subsistence to abundance, that is a massive social revolution.


Q: And that is what is happening worldwide right now.

That is what is happening worldwide. What happens is what happened in America in the 1870s and the 1880s. We had the rise of the middle class, the rise of leisure activities. That was when all our social and civic institutions really came about, the vast bulk of them. Major league baseball started. All sorts of things happened in that time frame and you are seeing a replication of that model now globally.

These are people who have lived in subsistence for thousands of years, with strict religious codes attached to that survival. All of a sudden, a young woman does not have to marry whom dad says. All of a sudden, a young woman does not have to stay in the village. All of a sudden, a young woman can get an education. All of a sudden, she can marry outside her faith, her religion, her race, her social caste—whatever. The controls that existed and had been enshrined in a lot of tough religious stricture for centuries come under assault and you’ve got social revolution.

You’ve got two responses to that social revolution.

One says: Hey, this is out of control. We have not allowed women to do that in our neck of the woods for centuries upon centuries, thousands of years. One answer is the fundamentalist answer: That is an evil world. I am going to cut myself off from it. I cannot live with you bad people. I am going to force isolation and drive you out.

Or you say: I need to adapt my religious code to this and my adaptation is going to be the new better version. Then I need to evangelize and spread the word to the rest of the world. If I cannot defeat your integration efforts, I will remake you in my social-religious image.

You see both of these answers coming out of Islam, which is a very rapidly growing religion with a strong evangelical strain to it. But it also has a core fundamentalist-gone-violent strain that really constitutes what most people call this long, persistent struggle against radical extremism. Many people look at that little package and say, “This is our future. Everything is going to hell in a hand basket. More religion is bad.”

When you take people from subsistence to abundance, my God, that is a bizarre, perverse journey by their standards. That journey is inescapable because people want better lives. They are going to search for and grab onto self-help guides, religious codes, anything that will give them a moral compass, a handhold definition of what a good life is.

You are seeing this in these places like China, which arguably features the most unchurched generation in human history, and a vast one at that. You are seeing China explode in terms of its religiosity, and really go back to what it was, a highly spiritual nation.


Q: I first saw you speak at a spiritual conference and everyone who heard you was abuzz. We are not used to hearing political strategists at conferences of this nature and yet the message really resonated. What is going on with that?

It taps into the bulk of religious sentiment in the world, which tends to be more postmillennialist, more optimistic, more like, “How can we make this world more heaven-like over time?”

But we do not expect that premillennialist, fatalistic, rejection-of-the-modern-evil-world mindset to go away immediately. Globalization is definitely still in a very high frontier-integrating mode, much like it was in the American West as we expanded westward across the 19th century.

People are going from subsistence to possibilities of abundance very rapidly. Things are being created out of thin air—networks, governments, opportunities—and there is a huge demand for religion in that kind of landscape, because amidst all that change it supplies a sense of some permanence. It supplies a sense of some code of behavior against which to measure the progress of economics, politics and social change.

If we are in a frontier-integrating mode on a global scale, which I believe we are, it is no surprise that the evangelicals are taking the day, and religions are expanding dramatically. The versions of religion that you find in these frontier areas tend to be more intense that the kind that we have migrated toward in our last abundance in the advanced West.

We tend to look at them and say, “Wow, they are scary. They are hardcore. They are old school. What is up with that?” My Catholic church is certainly getting a taste of that with a lot of these priest shortages. We get these priests from Africa, Latin America, and we expect these laid-back types, but what we get are these firebrands.

Religion, by and large, finds my message unusual in its optimism, and feels empowered with the message that we are in that frontier-integrating age.

I think they like the message that says, “Hey, you are not part of the problem. You are very much part of the solution. Do not let the religious movements of the world be tagged with the radical sins of a very small minority who are on the wane in the historical sense.” And yet, as globalization comes to their frontier, off-grid locations, you have got to expect them to put up a fight.


Q: As you were saying, the shift is happening so rapidly that is seems like everybody is trying to catch their footing. It’s easy for that Armageddon type of fear to take hold. So here is an alternative to that. It is very refreshing.

Economic networks tend to race ahead of political networks and/or rules. The economic rules race ahead. The political rules lag behind. The networks race ahead, but the security lags behind. You get kind of a Wild West mentality. We are so removed from our frontier-integrating days; we like things very calm, very certain, very conformed, very controlled.

When we get a package like 9/11, our tendency is to say, “This is either a conspiracy or Armageddon. Either God is in charge or the U.S. government actually pulled this off.” The notion that 19 or 20 guys with half a million dollars pulled this off is too scary to contemplate.

So we look for very simple answers, and that is where you get the conspiracy theories. We would prefer to have the stern father administer all the justice in the world, whether it is God or the U.S. government.

You want to fix this world? Then engage this world. Don’t put up a firewall.


Q: Thomas, we have talked a lot about peace in a strategic perspective. What does peace mean to you, personally?

It is all about creating certainty. You ask yourself, “What are those various components that people want from their government?” The poor arguably want protection from their circumstances. The rich, you can cynically argue, want protection from the poor.

What the middle class wants is really hard to deliver. That is the challenge of the 21st century, when you have a rise of the global middle class. The middle class wants protection from uncertainty. They want protection from the future, which is why they are so drawn to religion.

Religion gives you ideas about the future, a way to contextualize it and say, “If you do this, good things will happen; if you do that, bad things will happen.” That’s what the middle class wants, because it has achieved a certain standard of living. Its ambitions are modest. They are middle class, and there is nothing wrong with that.

They want to keep what they have achieved. They want a better life than their parents had, and they want to pass on the possibility of better lives to their children. Security has become the dominant aspect of peace in the last 20 years, and it’s a huge revolution.

One day, back when I first got into this business, I had just come from listening to my first child’s heartbeat and seeing the ultrasound when she was a fetus. Then I walked into a room and we had a discussion about a limited nuclear war.

We had this sassy, rhetorical discussion about how many tens or hundreds of millions could go in various scenarios and what would be acceptable.

In the time frame when I started my career 20 years ago, the paradigm was to light up the planet in seven minutes. Now the goal is to find, recognize, target and kill one or two bad actors, try to limit the collateral damage involved, and you try to do that in about a seven- to eight-minute kill chain, as they call it. What is stunning about that to me is that, in 20 years—this is human history—we have gone from a paradigm that said, “blow up the planet in seven minutes” to “kill a bad guy in seven minutes.”

So was has shifted from a system-level fear, which was profound when I was a child. We all feared nuclear war. Now it is down to “get the bad guys.” If you look at U.S. military interventions in the last 20 years, all the way back to when we toppled Noriega in Panama, we have not fought wars against militaries much. We have not really engaged wars against countries or nations or peoples. Every instance since then, either right from the start or very soon into it, we realized we were basically there to get the bad guys.


Q: Can we really get the bad guys or, if we get the bad guys, will there just be another bad guy that pops up?

This is a good point. The notion that it is not enough to go in and take out the crack dealer, if you leave behind the wife, the six kids and all the associates and all the demand function that guy has created, because two weeks later there will be a new crack dealer.

The same thing you can extrapolate to the level of nations. You take out the bad Saddam, and you can very well end up with another Saddam unless you empower the people.

My argument is, if you do an intervention militarily, you’re going to leave that place more connected than you found it. Not just elite connected through the exporting of resources like energy, but mass connected. People realize there is an outside world. They realize they should not have to be treated like this. They realize there are other opportunities, and it makes them more demanding of their government, which is a good thing for us. 

I grew up in the shadow of the Second World War and everybody I knew who was a man fought in that war. That was a war in which 70 million people were killed. Wars today kill in the hundreds or thousands.

Genocide used to be 7 million or 8 million dead. It is now a couple of hundred thousand dead. It is great that we have ratcheted definitions down, but do not leg those ratcheted-down definitions convince you that we live in a world of more war today because we do not. We live in the most peaceful planet we have ever had. We have fewer wars. To qualify for a war nowadays, you need three dead a day to you a thousand dead for a year and they call that a war.

Along those lines you can declare war on everything, can’t you? Smoking, choking on toys—whatever. When you get big enough numbers, all sorts of things will give you a war—hence our tendency to declare war on things all the time.

The world lost 28,000 people a day for six years in the Second World War. Now the average war today, in a year, takes about 28,000 lives. So everything has come down from having to defend all the time, and much more to the point of security, watching the economic development, which the middle class wants.


Q: So what about the typical American middle-class person? What can we do to cultivate peace and harmony here in our planet?

You push things like better educational opportunities. Push stricter child labor laws. Push for the improvement of health. You go very green. You tackle global smoking if you want to talk about a global killer. After we drove out all the tobacco companies here in America, they went abroad. They have been enormously successful in hooking a lot of people on smoking.

Anything that promotes the rights of women is crucial because anything that keeps girls in school delays early pregnancy, delays first sex, delays first pregnancy, delays marriage, reduces population pressures, educates them, empowers them, and makes them more uppity and demanding. As we saw in Iran, you really risk your authoritarian regime when you anger the women.


Q: Well, that makes sense!

Most authoritarianism usually comes with a very strong, patriarchal bent. Yet we know from history, if you want to develop your economy, make your women available to the labor force and deal with all the social changes that come as a result.


Q: If history has one lesson for us in terms of how to create peace, what is the lesson that you would want to pass on to future generations?


If I would take one perspective from history, I would go with that advice: you should always focus on connection. Never bet against connection. Humans are ultimately highly social animals and whenever they seek connection, so long as it is not harmful to themselves, it should be allowed in each and every instance because with connection typically comes rules.

The freest person on the planet was the Unabomber, living in a shack in the woods, living by his own code, committing murder at will. Why? He had to connections with the outside world.

Every time you take on connection, whether it is a mortgage, a marriage, children, home ownership, career, education, or anything that connects you to the rest of the world, it usually comes with rules, and with those rules comes pacification.

Compared to a history of humanity, what we’ve got going now is incredibly pacifying. You go back every hundred years in human history, and you will find a much greater percentage of humanity engaged in, or preparing for, mass slaughter.

It is a tremendous thing to realize how much we have ratcheted down violence in the system, and now that has come with all this tremendous wealth. The challenges we face today are fantastically better challenges than we had before.

The answer is still, “connect.”


Q: There is a beautiful quote in your book, Great Powers, where you write, “I believe life consistently improves for humanity over time, but it does so only because individuals, communities and nations take it upon themselves not only to image a future worth creating, but actually try to build it.”

It is the unleashing of the individual ambition on a planetary scale. There has been a massive empowerment and enrichment of hundreds of millions of people around the planet, thanks to globalization’s spread. Yes, you will find friction with that process, and if you only focus on the friction with that process, you will ignore the tremendous force that is being unleashed in terms of individual ambition and opportunity.

Yes, there will be violence involved in that. Yes, there will be death and all sorts of tumultuous results. But look at the Balkans 10 years after we bothered to go in and stop the genocide there. The Balkans are a much better place now, connected in all manner of ways—political, economic and social.

Never bet against a people’s desire for freedom, connectivity or pursuit of individual opportunity and liberty, because it is strong. I admire America for making the effort, even when it does not always do it well. Try to tap into that and unleash it as much as is possible, because when you look at history, there is no other country that has ever tried to do that.


Blast from my past: "What next?" Rolling Stone (2004)

What Next?

ROLLING STONE convenes a panel of experts to discuss what went wrong in Iraq--and where we can go from here



Rolling Stone, 8-22 July 2004.

At the end of 2002, as the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq, Rolling Stone convened a panel of experts to assess the march to war. Things have since gone far worse than most imagined. There is no evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction -- the rationale used to justify the invasion. The fighting continues to escalate long after Bush declared "mission accomplished," and the White House tried to ignore the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. As the U.S. prepares to hand over control to an interim Iraqi government, we reconvened key members of our panel, along with some new experts, to examine the current situation in Iraq. What went wrong -- and what should we do now?

Before we look forward, let's look back. What have been our biggest strategic blunders since we invaded Iraq?

Gen. Anthony Zinni: We've had a year of disasters. The strategy going into Iraq was patently ridiculous -- this idea that we'd generate Jeffersonian democracy and plant the seed of freedom in the Middle East. The rationale was even worse: We grossly overstated the threat and cooked the books on the intelligence. Then we put on the ground a half-baked pickup team that has alienated the people and can't connect to viable leadership.

Gen. Wesley Clark: We went in with far too few troops and seat-of-the-pants planning. We've been there for more than a year, and the borders still aren't being controlled -- jihadis and extremists are coming in from Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Fuel convoys are getting routinely attacked; oil facilities and police stations are regularly targeted.

Rand Beers: The precondition to freedom is security. You can't succeed in beating the insurgents unless you can convince the people that they can be protected.

Thomas P.M. Barnett: It was a major mistake for the Bush administration to say to potential allies, "If you're too big a pussy to show up for the war, we're not going to let you in on the peace or rehab process -- and don't expect any contracts." We had such a macho view of war that we completely miscalculated the dangers of peacekeeping.

Fouad Ajami: Now we're a Johnny-come-lately for a U.N. resolution to internationalize the political process. You might call it deathbed multilateralism.


What about the blunders behind the scenes at the White House?

Sen. Joseph Biden: I've been a senator through seven administrations, and this is by far the most divided one I've ever served with. The internal discord is rampant. It's not just Colin Powell, who has differed with Vice President Cheney at every turn. It isn't just Richard Clarke and the others on the intelligence team who have angrily defected. It's General Eric Shinseki, who was fired for telling the truth. It's Lawrence Lindsay, Bush's economic adviser, who was fired for saying the war was going to cost $200 billion. The price tag is even higher now, and still they submit a budget for 2005 without a single penny for Iraq. What in the hell is going on?

Bob Kerrey: Karl Rove's hair is on fire -- he's worrying about what the polls are saying about America's attitude toward Iraq. Voters want out. The greatest risk is that we'll make decisions for political reasons -- that Rove will say we've got to call it quits or we're not going to win in November.

What would happen if we did pull out in a hurry?

Zinni: To pull out now would be a tremendous defeat. It would accelerate the path to civil war and make us and the region extremely vulnerable. The boys aren't coming home anytime soon.

Youssef Ibrahim: We've got to cut our losses -- the sooner the better. Our presence is only aggravating the chances for civil war. The best-case scenario at this point is for the U.S. to declare victory and get the hell out. Iraqi resistance is rising by the day, and the United Nations, NATO and the Europeans are refusing to come in. There is no fig leaf to put on this.

Biden: It would be strategic suicide if America withdrew anytime soon. I meet regularly with a group of seven four-star generals about Iraq; each one says we don't have enough force protection to even withdraw in an orderly fashion. It could be a bloodbath on the way out, and hasten civil war.


Would civil war spill over the borders to create a regional conflict?

Biden: Very likely. If civil war breaks out in Iraq, the Sunni Triangle will become a snake pit and violence will spiral throughout the region. Within five years you'll see the emergence of another strongman in Iraq. Afghanistan will fall and become a new hotbed of terror. Radical Islamists will seize control in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and the same thing could occur in Iran, which will become the major power in the region.

Beers: It could spill over the borders -- no question about it -- but would it drag the other states in? More likely, the border states would do everything to contain the conflict to Iraq. Let's be cautious about dreaming up extreme scenarios. The situation in Iraq is still salvageable.


So let's assume we're in it for the long haul. How do we even begin to regain control?

Zinni: Security is the most important issue short-term. I'm talking probably at least a year and twice the number of boots. People won't help build a new Iraq unless they can walk to a police station -- much less a voting booth -- without fear of getting killed.

Barnett: The Bush team needs to eat crow and make the tough deals necessary to internationalize this. They need to call a summit meeting of the major powers, including Russia, China and India, and say, "We have a problem in Iraq. Our loss would be as big a loss for you -- economically and otherwise -- as for us. What will it take to get 10,000 Chinese troops, 10,000 Indian troops, 10,000 Russian troops? What do you want in return?" We know what the deals are. India would probably demand, for example, that we don't declare Pakistan a major ally. Russia wants full membership in NATO. China might ask us to stop planning a missile defense in northeast Asia.

Zinni: The international soldiers have to be there. You have to see the bar scene from Star Wars, where there's a lot of different uniforms, not just all American desert cammies.

Biden: We need to rapidly train an Iraqi army and police force. They need to feel they are fighting for themselves. If I'm president of the United States, my orders to our generals and ambassador are, "If I see you once on Iraqi television, you're fired. I want Iraqi faces on Iraqi television." It should take two to three years to get 35,000 Iraqi troops out there.


Should we even be talking about a June 30th hand-over? Are we prepared?

Clark: That date was picked as a political gambit before there was a real plan for what to do. We're not prepared, but we're not going to be able to renege on that commitment.

Ibrahim: June 30th is the biggest joke around. There will still be 135,000 American soldiers in Iraq. We will pick a new governing council -- a whole bunch of new lackeys. A superambassador -- John Negroponte -- will command an embassy of 3,000 Americans. Every controversial thing that the new government does will look like Negroponte's fault.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock: The interim government will be sovereign in the sense that Iraqis will be equal partners in every decision made by America and the international community -- in running the budget, trying Saddam, determining the future of the oil industry. Decisions cannot be executed without their agreement.

Ajami: We have to transfer power. This should have happened long ago. We could have gotten an Iraqi to run the country the way we got Hamid Karzai to run Afghanistan. America would still have had considerable influence behind the scenes, but we should never have had an American out front -- it's why the polls show that eighty-two percent of Iraqis want us to leave immediately.

We keep hearing that the violence will escalate around June 30th and the year-end elections -- that it will only get worse before it gets better.

Chas Freeman: It's not rocket science to figure out that the easiest way for the interim Iraqi authority to establish credibility among its people will be to turn on the U.S. By refusing to give authority, we will create a situation in which they will feel obliged to seize it from us.

Zinni: If you're going to have an election, the first thing you have to do is determine the form of government you're going to have: parliament, a federated system, a confederated system? You need political parties. I don't see that happening. Iraqis don't understand what kind of government they're going to have. They are going to be told how to vote in Friday prayers by some mullah.

Kerrey: Any time you have disorder, any radical who stands on a stump and gives a speech wins the day. So I can get up and say to a religious Shiite in Baghdad, "We didn't have prostitution in the old days, so vote for me, and anyone who is a prostitute will be beaten. If you don't like this disorder, we'll bring order back with a strict interpretation of Islamic law." He'll get a standing ovation.


We went into Iraq thinking it was a secular state, but the political rhetoric among Shiite and Sunni leaders has intensified. Is religion taking the place of politics?

Ajami: I supported the war in part because Iraq had in it the roots of secular culture, which I believed positioned it well to adopt a representative government. What I never imagined was how quickly the Sunni Arabs -- who relied on the secret police to control the country under Saddam -- would fall back on the mosques as their weapon of control. More surprising was that the Shiites -- the oppressed underclass who represent sixty percent of the population -- have also begun to use Islam as a political tool. It connects them, the dispossessed, to the united Muslim world at large.

Greenstock: Iraqis are a proud people, in no small part because hundreds of years ago they ruled the known world from Baghdad. That's embedded in their national psyche.


Is the concern that as the religious tenor among Iraqis intensifies, they will begin to identify their struggle as part of the larger conflict of Islam vs. the West?

Zinni: This is a key point. Everybody I know in this part of the world says you cannot let this become a religious war. You can't let this become Islam vs. the West. I fear that's what it's become. We're viewed as modern crusaders. We have our own mad mullahs in America -- the Jerry Falwells, the Pat Robertsons -- who criticize Islam. They are heard much louder over there than they are here.

Ibrahim: It's worse than that. Bush himself is seen to be a mad mullah. The president has repeatedly asserted that God is on our side in Iraq, that he's consulting with a "higher" father. The zealotry even infects the military. General William Boykin recently said, "My God is much bigger than their Allah" -- this was all over the Arab media. He was never fired or reprimanded for making that statement. Prisoners have given accounts of being forced to thank Jesus and denounce Islam. The perception in the Gulf, where I live, is that this administration is vehemently anti-Muslim. Like it or not, we are in a war with 2.1 billion Muslims.

Beers: Even though the clash between Islam and Christianity during the Crusades took place 1,000 years ago, those terms clearly still have resonance in the Islamic community and Al Qaeda. To invoke religion is to give our opponents ammunition in the larger war on terrorism.


We often hear that the war on terror has supercharged radical Islam and energized the recruitment of terrorists. What evidence do we have to support this?

Freeman: Increasing sophistication in the ambush tactics and improvised explosive devices used to kill American troops indicate growing cooperation between secular Iraqi factions and religious extremists like Al Qaeda. Sunni insurgents in Iraq are being helped by Hamas from the Palestinian occupied territories, and the Shiites are being assisted by Hezbollah from Lebanon. All these forces are cooperating, even though many have historically been mortal enemies. Clearly, the U.S. is a big enough enemy for everyone in the region to put aside their differences.

Beers: We're seeing the development of tactics in Iraq, such as suicide bombing. Insurgents have been driving cars with explosives into hotels and office buildings. The recruitment may be even more prolific outside Iraq. Intelligence shows Al Qaeda recruiting in places as far-flung as Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, Kenya, Somalia and Nigeria, as well as in Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Ibrahim: In Saudi Arabia, where Al Qaeda is waging a daily war, at least fifty people have died in the last month alone. They bombed five housing complexes and an American school. In the heart of the industrial sector, four Americans from oil companies were shot and one was dragged by a car for four hours.


Should we view radical Islam as the enemy?

Zinni: Any time we look at an "enemy," we look at it at three levels. At the tactical level, the enemy is the terrorist organizations and the financing they get. The operational level is the enemy's center of gravity -- it's the rationale, which is radical Islam. At the strategic level, it's the continuous flow of young people so desperate and angry that they're willing to believe it. At the tactical level, we could be winning - we could be hurting Al Qaeda and capturing its leadership. But as an ideology, it's strengthening. It is probably stronger now than before September 11th, in terms of recruiting manpower willing to kill themselves.


Surely the Abu Ghraib prison scandal didn't help. Should Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or other Bush officials resign?

Beers: The Navy has a custom -- if a ship runs aground, the captain is relieved regardless of who is responsible. That's how Abu Ghraib should be handled.

Biden: I was in the Oval Office the other day, and the president asked me what I would do about resignations. I said, "Look, Mr. President, would I keep Rumsfeld? Absolutely not." And I turned to Vice President Cheney, who was there, and I said, "Mr. Vice President, I wouldn't keep you if it weren't constitutionally required." I turned back to the president and said, "Mr. President, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are bright guys, really patriotic, but they've been dead wrong on every major piece of advice they've given you. That's why I'd get rid of them, Mr. President -- not just Abu Ghraib." They said nothing. Just sat like big old bullfrogs on a log and looked at me.


Speaking of Cheney, how does this instability affect contractors such as Halliburton?

Zinni: Halliburton is spending staggering sums of money building fortified workplaces. It's killing the American taxpayer, who's footing the bill. There are two bodyguards for every worker. For $100,000 a year, you've got a truck driver from West Virginia. If I'm an Iraqi, I say, "For that cost, you could hire ten of us as drivers. And if I'm getting a paycheck, I'll have a vested interest in that truck getting through." Even the way we do contracting makes no sense.


What about our oil concerns? We often hear that a prime reason we went into Iraq was to get access to its oil as our ties to Saudi Arabia falter.

Greenstock: Oil is not the big bogey we should be worried about. Oil will go on flowing come what may, so long as there is reasonable order in the oil-producing countries. Whatever the character of the regime, it always wants to sell its oil. Look at Iran, Saudi Arabia, even Qaddafi in Libya.

Freeman: Yet the oil system is extremely vulnerable to shock. There's a rule in the Middle East that you don't need these fancy seismic studies to locate oil reserves -- if you find the Shiites, there's usually oil. There are more than 1 million Shiites in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, which is where the oil is. They've suffered persecution by the religious majority in Saudi Arabia, and they're vulnerable to spillover from the anti-American struggle in Iraq. The global nightmare is that there would be terrorist action among Saudi Shiites directed at the oil pipelines, ports and refineries. For Americans, that would mean four or more dollars per gallon of gas.

Ibrahim: The sixty-year relationship we've had with Saudi Arabia is on the verge of collapse. How many times have we asked them to please, please open the spigots so we can bring prices down? There's a new 900-pound gorilla coming called China. In ten years, it's going to be the largest consumer of oil in the world, which means that the people who produce oil are no longer kissing America's ass -- they're beginning to kiss China's ass.


Has the war at least produced a new respect for American military power?

Ibrahim: Hardly. We are no longer loved because of Iraq, and we are also no longer feared because of Iraq. The neoconservative dream of regime change throughout the region -- in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya and Somalia -- is dead. Do you really think any of those countries are afraid of us after watching us bleed in the streets of Iraq?

Biden: The perception of us is that if we don't succeed, we're a paper tiger. We can project power, but we don't have staying power. The Bush administration has seriously damaged the legitimate and necessary role of power in our foreign-policy arsenal. What happens if we have another Milosevic? Will there be support for a U.S. president in taking down a genocidal maniac? No.


What does the future of war look like? Will we face World War III?

Zinni: My son is a Marine captain, and he's going to face a changed battlefield -- messier than Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq. It's no longer honorable fighting, where you defeat the forces of a nation-state on the battlefield. He's going to face all sorts of violent components -- insurgents, terrorists, warlords -- as well as environmental challenges and humanitarian problems.

Barnett: We're going to end up replicating the struggle again and again. Like spraying the cockroaches in one apartment and scattering them to the next -- we're driving terrorists to the next country over. Sort of like rooting out old Japanese warriors on some isolated Pacific island twenty years after World War II, we're going to be killing off the last of these guys years from now in deepest, darkest Africa.


In the near term, is a change of administrations the best way out of the quagmire?

Ibrahim: I voted for Bush, but I'd sooner die than vote for him again. The neocons are vampires through which we have to drive a wooden stake. Neoconservatism must end as an ideology if you want America to recover its position as leader of the world.

Kerrey: We need a coalition of the pragmatic in the White House, not of the religious or ideological. John Kerry will be much more capable of making the tough deals necessary to bring in the allies and make it work. In an odd way, that's good news for Bush. I predict that in the end, the two of them will celebrate a great bipartisan foreign-policy victory in Iraq, begun by President Bush and finished by President Kerry.

Biden: About six months ago, the president said to me, "Well, at least I make strong decisions, I lead." I said, "Mr. President, look behind you. Leaders have followers. No one's following. Nobody."


Correction on the interview podcast from "The Black Fridays"

Find the 45-min interview here.  It is a good summary of my thinking in general and where we stand in history today.


Podcast of my recent appearance on "The Black Fridays"


Hosts are Stacy Lowery and Wes Owsley, the latter of whom latched on to my stuff when he caught the 3-hour "New Map" broadcast on CSPAN back around Labor Day 2004 (due to a 3am feeding of his new baby).  The interview ran about 45 mins.

We did it via Skype, so the sound is great.

These guys ran me through the canon--so PNM forward.  They are enthusiastic, and I was pretty good--considering the pollen right now.

Find the podcast here.