In late June Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye sent me his critique of Thomas M. Barnett's Pentagon's New Map. The book is an elaboration of Barnett's 2003 article of the same name for Esquire Magazine.
I promised Dave I'd find time to study his critique and make comments about Barnett's thesis. I did this in the manner of promising myself I would organize my closets and file cabinets.
Much of Dave's discussion, which is made from great familiarity with Barnett's New Map, is outside my understanding. However, I have enough acquaintance with Barnett's Core-Seam-Gap model to be struck by Dave's comments about connectivity; I find he makes excellent points. My problem is with the entire model, which I consider a train wreck. Yet the basic concept underlying the model is sound.
Dr Barnett has taken the view that the US military cannot compartmentalize when it comes to analyzing enemy threats. He's saying that one can't confine threat analysis to another country's military and weapons arsenal. And one can't confine a study of US weakness to analyzing US reliance on strategic resources such as petroleum.
Thus, Barnett is making a serious attempt to modernize US defense policy, which has not undergone any fundamental updating since the concept of establishing US naval superiority in order to be ready to meet threats before they come to US shores. This is because US defense policy got swallowed up by the Cold War and the attendant NATO policy.
Barnett is attempting to think in holistic terms about US defense -- to look at all broad types of possible threats within the paradigm of military response. I have not read Barnett's book but my understanding is that Barnett has long argued that a country's economy must be factored into US threat analysis.
I interject that I am sure this argument has made Barnett hugely unpopular with economists, who defend their turf with the zeal of -- well, the Zealots. An easy way in Washington to get darts thrown at your picture is to step outside your scholarly or wonkish bounds. That observation goes double for military types who step a micron over the Battlefield Defense line in their analysis.
And the same deep suspicion holds true in reverse: From within the Pentagon there is a band that zealously guards the sacred cow of American democracy, which is that the US military must carefully confine itself to purely military matters.
Thus any common-sense observation that matters beyond armaments and troop deployments can have a military implication tends to be viewed from certain quarters in the Pentagon as a Trotskyite plot meant to weaken the fabric of American society.
Luckily (or perhaps through design) Barnett has escaped tar and feathers because of his sexy model: the Core, the Seam and Non-Integrating Gap. Because there is not one department of the US military that cannot find argument for budget requests by referencing the model, it has its supporters at the Pentagon.
Thus, Pundita's conundrum when it comes to discussing Barnett's ideas. Until receiving Dave's post, I dealt with the impasse by taking an executive decision not to discuss the ideas, except to repeat the honest assessment that came flying out of my mouth the first time I encountered Barnett's model:
Pundita's outburst placed America and Arctic penguins in the Non-Integrating Gap, and all those countries that know about the workings of the World Bank in the Core.
(The Seam would be West European countries, which were the recipient of early Bank loans, but which today have only a hazy idea of how Bank policies have affected the 'underdeveloped' world.)
However, Pundita belongs to the radical school of thought that maintains the United States of America is currently engaged in a hot war. Thus, my answer to many defense-related questions is, "Whatever makes CENTCOM happy."
The Pentagon was forced into a very complex war after the US military and the CIA spent years hamstrung by the US Department of State, the Congress, the White House, and the US news media. Whatever helps the US military fight the war from that far behind, Pundita is all for it.
This said, I think that by organizing his thesis around the Core-Gap-Seam model, Barnett has leaped over groundwork that is required to make sense of the model and address its inadequacies.
Here I might be unfair to Barnett's earlier writings, which I have not read, and his book, which I've not read. However, I venture that Dr. Barnett and his disciples need to lay groundwork by:
> Clearly arguing that the enduring doctrine of US defense (US naval superiority=keeping the enemy from US shores) needs fundamental revision.
> Clearly articulating the issue of the control that the civilian academia gained over US defense policy after WW2 and how this works against coherent defense policy.
> Clearly explaining the need for the military to develop a defense paradigm that includes threats generally excluded from military analysis.
Now here all good Barnett disciples will ask, "What means that word 'clearly'?"
> No arcane language that can only be intuited by scholars specializing in the history of secret societies or World War Two code breaking.
> No attempts at creating an algebra.
> No more listening to radio signals from outer space for inspiration on how to frame a concept in writing.
> Remembering that in Washington it all comes down to budget, which means learning to write one syllable dumbed-down abstracts that even a senator with no military experience can comprehend.
Thomas Barnett made an intelligent, bold move by taking his case straight to the public via Esquire magazine. Yet his thesis has gotten bogged down partly because of the arcane language and references attached to it. This has prevented people from a variety of fields from examining the model. And it has cut off whatever public support he might have gotten for his thesis, to the extent he articulated it in the Esquire article.
Once the groundwork is laid, then is the time to conjure a working hypothesis, in the form of a tentative model for how a holistic defense policy might look.
In one sentence, Barnett's current model divides the world into countries in various stages of integration with the WTO-democratic paradigm -- the Core countries representing the most integrated. Yet this paradigm is highly illusory, even mythic, in key aspects. Here are but a few examples to explain the mythic aspect:
> The United States is the biggest transit area for transnational organized crime syndicates, with the European Union coming in around second. Why? Open borders; a great deal of freedom; EU integration making checkpoints, different passports, etc. unnecessary across a large body of land, and so on.
As to how much foreign exchange from crime related industries is washed through the EU and the US, and how much the respective banking systems depend on it -- what we know for certain is "a great deal."
> The governing party in France is so corrupt that as soon as Jacques Chirac leaves office he most probably will face criminal charges.
> England does not have a free press -- any publication deemed an affront to the British royal family can be censored by the government. Those Americans who think Britons can get around the law by importing censored publications are unaware that Britain does not provide anywhere near the protection of free speech that is found in the USA.
Britain is known as the "libel capital of the world." Even foreign authors whose books are ordered over the Internet for reading by the British are a target for a libel suit launched in Britain. A recent suit brought against Rachel Enrenfeld for examining a connection between terror funding and a Saudi national underscores Britain's affront to the US First Amendment. Dr. Enrhenfeld was sued in Britain (and the case found in favor of the plaintiff) because less than 30 copies of the book in question were ordered on the Internet for reading in Britain.
That's enough examples to get across that Barnett's idea of "Core" countries rests on shaky criteria, if one is trying to identify nations that make up the 'least threat' to the USA and each other.
I would consider Britain's approach to dealing with Arafat and Tehran, and terrorists in general, to be a considerable security threat to the US. As I would consider the post-invasion conduct of the British military in southern Iraq, which saw the British insisting that anyone coming across the border from Iran should not be challenged.
The Israeli military was so upset with the situation -- and with the US military for going along with it -- that at one point they said to hell with it, might as well break up the country because it's now overrun with terrorists. The Iraqi Governing Council was equally upset with the situation.
For that reason and many others that have come to light during the past decade, Washington, and evidentially Dr. Barnett, are still in the grip of the "He Ain't Heavy He's My Ally" school of defense thinking. Or what Pundita calls the Thelma and Louise school.
In summary, Barnett's model needs considerable refinement -- as in going back to the drawing board and starting over again. Yet to repeat, the thinking that led to the model is on the right track.