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

Entries in Libya (13)


Good piece on US concerns: Libya v. Egypt

Appears in NYT.

The one thing that's been clear about the Arab Spring to date:  it is a process of Sunni empowerment that comes with a great deal of identity politics.  America is now experiencing some payback for all those decades of supporting dictators who kept a lid on that identity.  in the past, I felt we did that in deference to the volatility generated by similar dynamics among the Shia in the decades after the Iranian Revolution.  But that was a conundrum-like choice:  we deeply angered half of the Middle East out of fear of the other half.

Now the Shia half seems back on its heels.  We might have imagined a tipping point with the re-Shia-ization of Iraq, but that seems rather puny right now with Syria almost literally coming apart and Iran still in internal lockdown against domestic opposition and external lockdown over the nuke program (those dropping oil exports . . .).

Yes, we now get a chorus of experts saying, "Aha!  I told you the Arab Spring was a disaster!"  But it's like that quote I gave Esquire back when it started:  the Arab Spring is like a kidney stone.  Sure, it's no fun passing it, but if you think it's going to stay in that kidney forever, just getting bigger, that's no answer either.  So yeah, passing it will hurt, but what's the alternative to trying to get it done quickly?  Pretending it's never going to come?

But the major (for me, at least) theme remains:  globalization has arrived in the Middle East, and it has triggered a lot of social and political tumult.  Large chunks of the population (mostly young) do not see a future they like, while Africa is booming and Asia keeps getting richer and a middle class blossoms across Latin America.  The Arab world is still losing - dramatically - at globalization.  As the region ages demographically from a mean age of about 22 to 32 across this decade and the next, the lack of jobs will be magnificently destabilizing.  That youth bulge is not being served, and when you can't produce the jobs (the MB's real problem now), you - those who pretend to rule - have to indulge the anger.

That's what we're seeing now: the Sunni Islamists in power are no more clued in than the secular dictators who preceded.  They are, however, more willing to indulge the populism.  This can go on for a long while.  It just can't go anywhere in terms of progress, because global investors will want none of this uncertainty.  Frankly, it's why China greatly prefers Africa.


Wikistrat's "The World According to Tom Barnett" 2011 brief, Part 9 - Final (Q&A on postwar stabilization operations and America's future allies)

Last segment of my "big brief" presentation to an international military audience in the Washington DC area in September 2011. Final questions involved postwar operations and who should be involved.


Time's Battleland: Why America should go slow on declaring victory in Libya - or making promises

[co-written with Michael S. Smith II of Kronos Advisory LLC]

The demise of Col Qaddafi, a despicable despot who should have met this or a worse fate sooner, will likely give rise to power grabs in Libya by groups whose agendas will often be anything other than what meets the eye. Despite many power holders' claims of “secularist” and democratic aims, Washington's policy makers would be wise to exercise great caution when assessing who should be trusted inside Libya. For, at present, it would appear Libya is taking on a political atmosphere that will carry a high Salafist quotient.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Esquire's Politics Blog: 5 Post-Qaddafi Realities for Libya and the Rest of Us

They came to bury Muammar Qaddafi, not capture him. After more than four decades of rule, he was still in the business of threatening and killing Libyans — a kind of start-up insurgency that would never go away. So if Qaddafi is indeed dead, then so much the better; the great bogeyman has been removed from the scene. Of course the world will (temporarily at least) lament the violence required for his departure from power, but as dictator-toppling exercises go, this one was about as good as it gets: First, the Arab Spring's power of example, then the rebels-turned-ruling-military-force driving him out from below, and finally an enabling from the human rights-minded powers that be.

But still: How did we really get here? And, perhaps more importantly, what now?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


Time's Battleland: Right where we've always wanted us

Philip Stephens of the Financial Times recently pens a rather pessimistic piece on what Libya said about "Britain's pretensions of influence." Noting that the "campaign has stretched the armed forces to their limit," he calls it a "last hurrah." Now, the underlying tone of the piece is his criticism of PM David Cameron's desire to pursue a foreign policy more independent of both the US and EU, thus reaching out to the emerging powers, but his overall use of the Libyan intervention got me thinking: isn't this what we've always wanted in terms of a balanced world?

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.



Time's Battleland: Globalization at the barrel of a gun

Careful where you aim that weapon, buddy!

That phrase, with its powerful imagery, was often tossed at me following the publication of my 2004 book, The Pentagon's New Map. In it, I argued that globalization's expansion was, and would continue to be, the primary cause of unrest and conflict in the world, as connectivity - in all its forms - extended itself into the non-integrated regions and triggered rising expectations (as in, "If the Indians and Chinese are getting richer, then why do we continue to submit to this incompetent government that keeps us unduly disconnected from all that opportunity?").

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: Our silent partner everywhere we intervene - China

Soon to be re-joined by their Chinese comrades!

That's how I like to describe it. Whether we like it or not - much less admit it, every time we show up somewhere in tumult, the Chinese are already there or soon to show up. They will be making the big investments (like that $3-4B on a copper mine in Afghanistan) and they will be winning the big extractive contracts (like with both the Kurdish Regional Government and Baghdad in Iraq). Paraphrasing Buckaroo Banzai, "No matter where we go, there they are." You can call it free-riding and label it clever competition, but it's more complimentary than we in the West care to admit, because after the bombs stop, somebody has to rebuild and who are more incentivized than those resource-ravenous Chinese?

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


Esquire's The Politics Blog: Obama's Middle East Speech Text, Decoded Line-by-Line

Expectations couldn't have been lower for President Obama's Middle East speech on Thursday, and yet it was a work of "realist" beauty that recognized: a) how little influence America actually has over these types of events, and b) where we stand at the beginning of what is likely to be a long process of political upheaval and — hopefully — economic reform that addresses the underlying issues driving the entire region. Yes, Obama took a pass on Palestine and Israel (his historic referencing of Israel's pre-'67 borders is the Mideast equivalent of a "world without nuclear weapons"), but he's got several touch points in the coming days (the Netanyahu meeting, another speech, Netanyahu's speech to Congress) with which to address that, so this was more of a broad-strokes laying out as to what America stands for, and what it's willing to do amidst its current fiscal realities. And — again — it was a great mix of stated idealism, expressed in long-haul terms, and political pragmatism that recognizes the here-and-now realities that must temper any sense of America coming to anybody else's immediate rescue.

Obama's was a well-crafted message — one that reassured both the world and Americans that this administration knows its limits and its responsibilities to history. It was, in a word, presidential.

And now, so you don't have to sit through it again, a little deconstruction of the most compelling sections excerpted (from the prepared remarks) at length....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


Time's Battleland: If issued, Libyan ICC arrest warrants would continue "perfect" Africa record for court

After many weeks of speculation and veiled threats-by-extension from Western government leaders, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced on Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi, his son Seif al-Islam Qaddafi and his brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanousi for systematically targeting citizens in Libya's ongoing protests and civil strife. Libya isn't a signatory to the ICC treaty, and prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo declared that the Libyan people should take it upon themselves to make the arrests, if warrants are granted. Moreno-Ocampo said he had enough evidence to go to trial immediately, just another sign that the Qaddafi clan has crossed a line that disallows their staying in power - as far as the West is concerned.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


The inevitable escalation is Qaddafi's

Excellent instincts by Obama, as he senses the kill.  Rebels get their first substantial breakthrough in the West, so it's time to pile on--bootless-style.

Best part:  it eliminates all the nonsense we've heard about "never again."  The demand out there remains. What needed to change was our response. We are doing just enough to take advantage of the opportunity and keep the ultimate victory belonging to the Libyan tribes themselves. The SysAdmin never needed to be Powell's twins of: 1) overriding power; and 2) owning the aftermath all by ourselves.  That logic is dead and buried--and thank God Powell said no to SECDEF because he couldn't take Armitage along.  This is much more in line with the pre-Bush or Clintonian level of commitment:  yes, you are vilified when it fails or takes too long, but those costs are acceptable compared to the all-or-nothing mindset of the primacistic neocons, who, in their serious hubris, thought Washington was in charge rather than globalization.  If all we get from the Facebook Revs is clearing the deck in North Africa, that will be fantastic--and a serious legacy for Obama in the same manner as Eastern Europe was for George H.W. Bush.  It's all nicely opportunistic and going with the major flows of the age, and that is how it should be.

This sort of response sends a lot more signal than the heavy hardware or brigades.  It says America will continue to fight as it always has: by generating more stuff than you can possibly imagine.  The old model was big stuff.  The new model is small and disposable and unmanned stuff.  It comes with willpower attached.  It's staying power is its dwell time.

China thinks it has a grip on the future with a carrier killer, but it's protecting itself from the 20th century. The name of the game going forward is what it has been these past two decades:  globalization's advance, the remapping of fake states, the liberation of people long oppressed by their conditions and cruel leaders, and the new matrixing of supply chains and labor pools as this magnificent process continues to unfold.

We remain the world's most comfortably revisionist power, and that it what separates us--and has always separated us--from everybody else who pretends to similar global influence.  We just have needed to update the toolkit.

What escalation remains is Qaddafi's as he considers exit strategies.  He should take the money and the freedom, otherwise he will be made THE example.


Failed states keep neighborhoods bad, allowing AQ sanctuary, while rising states allow connections, but it's civil strife that remains AQ's bread-and-butter dynamic

Trio of articles worth differentiating in their meaning. First via Chris Ridlon and other pair from WPR's Media Roundup today.

Underlying question is, Which states do we care about in the Gap?

Some argue that failed states are THE threat. The Patrick piece is clear enough on the record and it's right out of PNM: Yes, at any one time there are several dozen failed states, but, on average, only about a half-dozen fall into the transnational terrorism pool. Why? Only so many in the al-Qaeda network worth mentioning.  

The same dynamic was true in the 1990s, or what I cited in PNM: Usually about three-dozen failures out there, and, on average, the US gets involved in some short-to-medium duration intervention in about a half-dozen each year, mostly on humanitarian grounds.

Why tend to these states?  They are the crack house on the inner-city block:  they bring everybody down to their level on trust, criminality, bad investment climate, and the like.  Regions hook up to the Core in clumps, not individually.  A critical mass of improvement is needed in a region, and failed states prevent that critical mass.  They do, therefore, create conditions that encourage backwardness, disconnectedness, corrupt, smuggling, and civil strife.  These are where AQ do their real business.  Yes, we are concerned about their ability to strike inside the Core, but these are episodes and nothing more.  There is no real struggle to be had there, just good police work. The real struggles are in the Gap.  And so we deal with failed states when they get above the crap-line, otherwise we mostly ignore and hope they eventually present something the Chinese want so they'll come in and rehab the place a bit, like they did in Sudan.  I know, I know. China in Sudan is evil, except Sudan is much better now and the only big delta in experience is Chinese investment and purchasing of oil.  And China has gone along with the divorce - a very good precedent.

Patrick is also right that AQ prefers up-and-comers, or states with just enough connectivity and technology and corruption to give them access to the Core.  Pakistan is perfect in this regard, much better than Afghanistan (my column Monday).  Under the right conditions, we need to worry far more about Pakistan than Afghanistan, which is a solution for locals.  

But as the Yemen article shows, a certain amount of strife is necessary for a semi-connected state (Yemen is valuable for its close location in the Persian peninsula) to be truly useful.  If the state comes together and gets itself a decent government, then the Core security aid will flow and AQ will have its moments but no great advantage.

Better, as the third article suggests, to work a true civil war, where, in the heat of battle, sides get less picky about their allies.

It's been my argument for a while now (meaning about a decade), that AQ is doomed in the Middle East due to demographics - or the middle-aging of the youth bulge. That forces revolutionary change and job creation, because the alternative is too scary for the world, especially with the coming nuclearization of the PG.  In that overall dynamic, AQ becomes an element but a small player. It needs to go "back in time" a bit, like any revolutionary group that is seeing its moment pass (think Lenin looking at Germany and then recognizing the opportunity in Russia).

As the Middle East middle-ages, AQ goes to either Central Asia or Africa.  I say Africa, because in Central Asia, there are too many great powers willing to kill and repress to keep it out (actually, all of them).  In reality, that was the dynamic that led to the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Africa, by way of contrast, is a looser and easier place to infiltrate.  Fortunately, for us, most of the Islam there is relatively mellow and not easily whipped into AQ shape, and yet, AQ must try, because here is the last gasp. What Africa provides is huge churn, a lot of globalization remapping and plenty of opportunities for civil strife - like Libya.  Central Asia will be a backwater by comparison.

No, I'm not worried about Africa.  Many great things happening there, but with the good comes the bad and the processing must occur along the way.  But not any "WWIII" or "perpetual war" or any of that nonsense. It's just what is left over with globalization's continued advance.


Arming the Libyan rebels

NYT coverage of the debate in Washington about whether or not to arm the rebels.

Right up to this point, everything I've ever come across or anyone I've ever spoken with has said there are only trace amounts of al-Qaeda affiliated elements in Libya.  Now, of all a sudden, people are talking like maybe it's majority AQ, which strikes me as nonsense. Piece here quotes Mr. Terror Blurb himself, Bruce Reidel, saying it could be 2% or 80% - we don't know.  Frankly, again, slapping that level of SWAG on our understanding seems silly.

We know this:  plenty of Libyans showed up as fly-in jihadists in Iraq during the civil war period there, meaning they mixed it up with AQ then.  Does that make them AQ forever?  It certainly makes them opportunists.  All it really tells me is that there's an underemployed class of young men in Libya who, in the absence of other opportunities, will go where the fight is.  Nothing unique there.  

There's also al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but that group has frankly struggled to be taken seriously as a force, as it's mostly a relabeling of an existing group that was going nowhere (bigger the territory in the title, more likely, in my mind, that it's not exactly succeeding anywhere). Up to now, no one has portrayed that group as Libyan-centric.  Yes, they will show up, but that's standard.  The reality, as noted in the piece, is that you have to train on what you provide, so we'll have people on the ground (besides the CIA already there).  If things go really sour, then we burn that bridge when we come to it.  But this is not a logical showstopper.  A Libyan long divided in two and suffering civil conflict will do the same - or far better - for AQIM than a concerted arms push to dethrone the guy.  So, again, factor them in as the cost of doing any sort of business here, but do not elevate them into the decision-tilting bogeyman, because they're not, and speculating in the press doesn't make them so.

So telling me that there are "flickers" (ADM Stavridis' term) doesn't exactly make me hesitate all that much. And raising the specter of Bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s likewise doesn't do a whole lot, because it's not like that experience changed his goals or hatreds one bit in the end (Run the counterfactual and we don't supply the mujuahideen.  Is Bin Laden now our friend and non-terrorist?).  What arms his early AQ people obtained from us were also not exactly used against us, and given all the other arms we sell in this world (half the world's total), citing this "into the hands of AQ" danger is likewise a bit much.  AQ doesn't have a hard time buying small arms.

I'm not saying that all the usual dangers do not apply, because they most certainly do.  I'm just saying that layering on this additional fear factor about "arming al-Qaeda" is a red herring and - by all accounts until suddenly this week - an uninformed one.  I'm prepared to have my mind changed, but let's see the evidence of AQ running that rebel show.  If Mr. Reidel wants to propose an 80% infiltration of the rebel ranks, he should back it up or stop throwing unsubstantiated fears out there.


Esquire's Politics Blog: Obama's Libya Speech, Decoded

Okay, we're familiar with the Obama drill on Libya to date: 1) Write political checks with your mouth that you have no intention of cashing with your military. 2) Keep acting like it's no big thing to your presidency, because you're a busy leader, and let the French take this bit in their mouth for once. 3) When all the ducks (UN, NATO, Arab League) are lined up, commit only the minimum of cutting-edge military assets to make this work, emphasizing no boots on the ground and absolutely no sense of responsibility for the aftermath — besides the usual superpower tithing. So yeah, a responsibility to protect, just no responsibility to pay the Bush-Cheney standard of 90-percent of blood and treasure.

Now for the official sales pitch to the American people, line-by-line:

I want to begin by paying tribute to our men and women in uniform...

Translation: Although every president starts out every war address like this, I'm a Democrat, and so I especially need to do this.

Read the entire 3,500 word post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.