New Map, Same Bad Destinations

Dr. Thomas Barnett, Harvard trained political scientist and self-described Pentagon futurist, has a bone to pick with the Bush administration. America’s invasion of Iraq was a great achievement, but the President hasn’t yet shared with Americans why we are staying there, for … well, forever. Barnett’s latest book, The Pentagon’s New Map, cheerfully explains that there is no exit strategy for Iraq or Afghanistan. He writes, “We are never leaving the Gap and we are never ‘bringing the boys home.’ There is no exiting the Gap, only shrinking the Gap … and we better stop kidding ourselves about ‘exit strategies.'”

Barnett’s view is this: The world is divided into a culturally and economically connected Core and a disconnected Non-Integrating Gap. It needs a post Cold War “rule-set reset” to ensure that the disconnected ones – states and individuals – are not excluded from the game. The security of the international system is the new American responsibility. We must organize and act in a way to combat violence originating, for the most part, from individuals and groups operating from the disconnected Gap. He believes the good news of our rule-set should be actively shared, and that this sharing is natural, good, moral and non-imperialistic. Barnett is a self-described optimist who fully intends to leave behind a far safer and better world for his children and mine.

Using market, computing and advertising idiom, Barnett explains that there are two key roles that United States must play in the 21st century – that of rule-setting Leviathan and that of System Administrator. His book lays out how the Department of Defense must bifurcate accordingly into two robust capabilities: a killer app that is speedy, stealthy, powerful, young, male, deadly and used overseas only, and its mild mannered opposite, a policing-oriented force that uses military and civilian law, works at home and abroad and is not bound by posse comitatus restrictions. The Leviathan force and the System Administrator force are the main ways of getting America’s greatest export commodity – security – out to the “customer.”

As in any other free trade, we are as benefited by the exchange as is our “customer.” Barnett explains, “This exporting of security is, in large part, nothing more than a by-product of the U.S. military’s continuous worldwide operations. We are the only military in the history of the world to possess a planet-spanning command scheme.” Barnett’s book explains how this capability can and should be used to create a global future “worth creating.”

Reading this book took a tremendous amount of fortitude on my part. The staff officer and strategy analyst in me enjoyed the strategic debate, reminisces about PowerPoint and the tribulations of a being a mid-level apparatchik-cum-smartass, and reading about Pentagon personalities. But the Burke-loving libertarian in me was increasingly gripped by a strange combination of amazement and terror. Barnett mustn’t take this personally; I feel the same way when I read Sam Huntington.

Barnett’s Leviathan is Hobbesian, a paternalistic stabilizing and restraining force within which free activity and thought is permitted. He has clearly never heard of Robert Higgs’s Leviathan or how the nature of government as an institution is to exploit and seek crises in order to grow, cultivate and confiscate power in a zero sum game with increasingly unwilling but politically irrelevant subjects. Barnett admits to being an economic determinist, apparently unimproved through his recent work for global financial services company Cantor Fitzgerald. To his credit, while he doesn’t use the language of contract, consent and choice, he does see how security, trust, shared rules, and economy are related and symbiotic. He does understand why direct foreign (and presumably domestic) investment is a mark of national health, wealth and wisdom. But his prescription struck me more like the idiosyncratic The Road to Wellville than a practical means of fostering peace in our time.

The Pentagon’s New Map is cartographically designed to support the mission of eliminating Gap states. In this quest, the American military as well as the American social political system will be reoriented. The military becomes both Leviathan attack forces and System Administrator nation builders supported by a global garrisoning scheme that retains most of our Cold War overseas bases and adds new launching pad bases in new places. Soldiers of the future will get orders not only to Japan and Germany, but to strange new bases in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, and ultimately West Africa, Southern Africa, and South America.

Barnett points out that the American social political reorientation has already started, and that our new organizing construct rests on two key documents: The PATRIOT Act of 2002 and the 2002 National Security Strategy. The PATRIOT Act might be described as a legislative assault on the Constitution, approved sight unseen by the Congress. The National Security Strategy introduced the radical concept of pre-emptive executive war. The sleeping legislative and aggressive executive are complemented by a silent judiciary which, in an interesting way, is represented by what Barnett calls a “real answer man,” Attorney General John Ashcroft. An “answer man” is a “new source of authority within the government … armed with extraordinary legal powers, which might strike many citizens as threatening their basic civil rights.” The idea here is that in a post 9-11 environment, we needed new domestic rule-sets. Barnett shares his observations because he had predicted this exact scenario long before 9-11. Perhaps he picked up this idea after studying Germany in the 1930s.

Throughout the book, the author presents himself as an optimist, a good Catholic, an outside-the-box thinker and a serious military strategist. What struck me as I read The New Pentagon Map was that had Dr. Barnett not explained these things, I would never have guessed. His remedy of American-led global assimilation using military decapitation of out-of-favor and hated regimes and military nation-builders to accelerate our version of clean slate socio-religious-economic rule-sets until history becomes terminal is not cause for optimism. His rejection of the ethic of Augustine, Aquinas, and certainly the sitting Pope is not exactly being a good Catholic. Outside-the-box thinking in the American year 2003 is not represented by timid variations of mindless neoconservatism, neo-Jacobinism and muscular Wilsonianism. And Barnett’s advice for Pentagon function and organization is remarkably impractical from either a Clausewitz or a Sun Tzu perspective, and it certainly violates Constitutional mandates for national defense.

As for Core and Gap relations, I couldn’t expunge a mental image of a connected powerful Core in Northwest D.C. and an economically disconnected and violent Gap in Southeast D.C. Would correcting this be a job for Leviathan Force or System Administrator Force? Are we also going to send Marines into Lancaster County, Pennsylvania? And do we do all this before or after we’ve eliminated all the disconnected Gaps overseas? I know that Barnett is worried about the poor underprivileged citizens in violent disconnected overseas societies. But his philosophy in less perfect or moral hands would put at risk all kinds of people and cultures who choose to be different and isolated.

It is clear that Barnett takes his ideas seriously. But he also offers some curious inconsistencies. For most of the world, Barnett is adamant that barriers must come down, that engagement and integration must happen; he spends several pages explaining that he dislikes the divisiveness of the term “arc of instability.” Yet, in the case of Israel, he advocates a wall separating the West Bank and Gaza from Israel, “to keep suicide bombers out while creating a de facto border between the two states, separating a demographically moribund Israel from a youth-bulging Palestine.” This is different from his advice for America and the rest of the Core, which is, “Without this [flow of labor from the Gap to the Core], overpopulation and underperforming economies in the Gap will lead to explosive situations that spill over into the Core. Either way, they are coming. Our only choice is how we welcome them.”

To write effectively about a military-market link and a “security market” requires expertise in security issues and political science, as well as knowledge of economics and boots-on-the-ground experience. Barnett has plenty of the former, but very little of the latter. He observes a lack of connectivity in the Gap, even while he speaks of the billions and billions of American dollars remitted from immigrant workers back home. He writes dismissively of the extensive paperless banking system of hawala, of landlocked Bolivia running a ship flagging industry, and of small and large countries that band together in opposition to the U.S. to gain favorable World Trade Organization decisions. Barnett’s shaky grasp of economic principles and lack of understanding of how markets (and states and individuals) function degrades and weakens his argument, and thus his prescription for a safer global future. His intentions are exceptionally honorable, but every person, state and market in the world, in both Core and Gap, would successfully evade, resist or illegally profit from America’s use of a “planet spanning command-scheme.” I’m not convinced that Barnett’s cure would be any better than the disease. It would surely cost far more in American liberty, constitutional democracy and blood than it would be worth.

Irving Kristol lamented recently, “It’s too bad. I think it would be natural for the United States … to play a far more dominant role in world affairs … to command and to give orders as to what is to be done. People need that. There are many parts of the world – Africa in particular – where an authority willing to use troops can make … a healthy difference.” I think Barnett would agree wholeheartedly. However, it would be a far better service to American national security if Barnett, in his next book about what to do with military force and how to encourage global order, would read more of Thomas Paine, “Rights of Man, Part Second.”

“A great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It had its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all parts of a civilized community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their laws; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost every thing which is ascribed to government.”

One final note. The Pentagon’s New Map includes the use of a German word I had never heard of: Götterdämmerung. It means “a turbulent ending of a regime or an institution.” If we follow Barnett’s national and global security advice in The New Pentagon Map, we just might achieve Götterdämmerung – not in rogue states where he expects, but back home in Washington. Come to think of it, perhaps we should be encouraging Dr. Barnett in his efforts.