Monday, October 16

My doctor the optimist, and Dave Schuler comments on Thomas Barnett's ideas

When I told the doctor today that I didn't see any use to getting a steroid injection given that it wouldn't actually heal the tendonitis, she replied that wasn't necessarily true. She said that she'd had her tendonitis cured years ago by just one injection. Who heals and who doesn't from such injections seems to depends on several factors. She is arranging for me to see a specialist; the appointment should be around the beginning of November.

Meanwhile, Pundita has not stayed completely off the Internet. I have answered emails and I got into a fun exchange this weekend with Jim Ellsworth that started out about Thomas Barnett's ideas then ranged to China policy then to globalization's bad guys (e.g., transnational organized crime and US 'legit' corporations that flout American laws).

I am so used to being on the Internet that withdrawing completely from it feels like I am agreeing to an amputation. But that is a silly and counterproductive sentiment, if I want the tendonitis to heal. So I am initiating a blackout -- literally disconnecting the computer until November 1st, which means not opening any emails until then.

We'll see how long the blackout lasts, but at least I can make it inconvenient for myself to get on the Net.

An email that got under the blackout wire was one from Dave Schuler in response to my recent posts on Thomas P. M. Barnett's latest book, which I've published below with my reply.

By the way, if you'd like to get away from the grind for a few minutes, take a hike with Dave and the Samoyed members of his family to enjoy the fall scenery.

"Dear Pundita:
I haven't read Blueprint for the Future but I suppose I should. As you may recall I have written about Barnett's Core-Gap model a number of times in the past and am, to say the least, skeptical. I like a number of things about Barnett's model. It's extremely optimistic and does provide a way forward. However, I also have a number of problems with his model namely:

> it's non-falsifiable
> it's not quantified
> it's politically non-feasible
> it has unachievable prerequisites
> it's redundant

The non-falsifiability is obvious. How would you go about proving that the Core and Gap simply did not exist on the terms that Barnett imagines? He'd simply come up with some additional qualifier, e.g., "Seam State", "New Core", etc., to explain away the inconsistencies. It's also not quantified. How connected must a country be to be considered part of the Core? New Core? Seam? Gap? As best as I can tell these are all self-referential.

These two in combination render the Core-Gap model theology rather than science.

It's a political nonstarter. Where will the budget come from? There are only two alternatives: a brand-spanking new budget item or it will need to come from State or Defense. There won't be a brand-spanking new budget item. We're already borrowing to the hilt now and the American people won't accept a new tax to fund an organization to build schools, hospitals, and roads in other countries while they want schools, hospitals, and roads here. To divert budget from State or Defense he'd need to convince current bureaucrats to abandon the weapons systems and programs they've backed they're entire careers in favor of his SysAdmin Force. I don't see it happening.

The prerequisite for his entire model is the world's acceptance of the U. S. military as a world-spanning Leviathan. It will never happen.

Finally, it's redundant. We already have a SysAdmin Force: it's called American companies and the American people.
Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye "

"Dear Dave,
Because of the tendonitis I am not up to adding much by way of comments, but FYI Barnett is talking about adding a Cabinet-level department. (!)

Funding for development is the least of the problem with his idea. The funding burden could be shared with other governments via development banks, etc. But Barnett is talking about building a US bureaucracy to administer the SysAdmin concept that would necessarily be so large it boggles the mind.

And if one wanted to be cruelly dismissive of Barnett's idea, one could say that he is talking about a quasi-military bureaucracy that puts a literal gun in the hand of paper pushers and systems engineers.

However, you really should read Blueprint if only because Barnett has been so energetic in pushing his ideas in the military communities here and abroad (including China). And also because the basic idea behind the SysAdmin concept is going forward anyhow in the military, even without Barnett's input -- even though, as you (and Barnett) point out, it is being fought tooth-and-nail by factions that don't want to give funding ground for their weapons systems.

Friday, October 13

More on Thomas P. M. Barnett's ideas

This update follows on my post earlier today; it's to acknowledge Jim Ellsworth's opinion that Thomas Barnett would greatly disagree with my outline of his position as he put forth in Blueprint for Action, and to add a few comments to my observations today about Barnett's ideas.

It is hard to critique Barnett's ideas simply because there are so many of them. His book ranges from a sketch of his Core-Gap-Seam model of states and call for a larger 'SysAdmin' force to accompany the traditional warfare force, to foreign policy discussions, his debunking of American exceptionalism and defense of China, a foray into crystal ball gazing, and on and on.

But in brief Barnett's thesis envisions that traditional war is headed for history's dustbin. So he examines the kind of armed conflicts arising outside the traditional model of war and asks how the Pentagon can best plan for dealing such conflicts.

Some of his suggestions are good; e.g., "We need to stand an African command" (along the model of CENTCOM). And when he confines his discussion to the Pentagon, he is illuminating: "Contrary to popular imagination, the Pentagon is primarily in the business of preparing for war, not waging it [...] It may seem counterintuitive but the defense budget accounts only for future wars, not today's."

But Barnett skirts the central problem with his thesis that the Core states should be chiefly concerned with integrating the Gap states into the Core. The Core-Gap-Seam model is actually based on trade; specifically, the World Trade Organization. So when the model is applied to defense, one must ask whether oppressive regimes should be part of a global 'System Administration' force.

A deeper question is whether the United States wants to trade in the Cold War Nato model of defense for one that simply substitutes 'world peace' for 'fighting the commies.'

Barnett is very clear on arguing that strengthening the Core via closer integration of Seam states and Gap ones should take top priority in foreign relations:

"America needs to commit itself to the concept that getting countries from the Gap to the Core is not only a national security imperative, it's our overarching foreign policy." (page 30)

This idea leads straight to Barnett's argument for the obvious conclusion: if America is to be the world's supercop, "the US can't go it alone in peacekeeping." Thus, by many twists and turns, we find ourselves plopped in a desk at the Chirac School of foreign policy.

During the Cold War days, we couldn't do too much to rile our Nato allies, or our defense model would fall apart. Barnett wants US foreign policy to commit to refraining from doing too much to rile the WTO members; this so US military planning does not run into problems in those countries where America has joint operations.

In other words, if we set up joint military operations with every country on earth -- well, at least every Core-Seam country -- we will de-Gap the world. The catch is that we have to mesh our foreign policy with that of the Core-Seam countries.

Thomas Barnett has used the war on terror to argue that long-term safety for the US in the post-9/11 era calls for unprecedented cooperation with countries that fit his Core-Seam criteria.

I would argue that long-term safety lies in getting very clear on how to translate American democratic values into our foreign relations. That means, at root, being explicit on where we can compromise and where we can't, and building our post-9/11 defense policy on that foundation.


I received a note from Jim Ellsworth in response to my thoughts about Thomas P. M. Barnett's ideas. Jim observed, and I believe quite correctly, that he believes "Tom would take exception to several of the points you use to characterize his position!"

It's not very nice of me to take pot shots at a position while saying that I'm taking a hiatus from blogging, thereby limiting all debate and discussion -- particularly so because this blog does not have a comment section!

So I will append to today's post some further comments, which will have to do for a time. I should be able to post the comments by 6:00 PM at latest.


E gives sage advice; Jim Ellsworth does Feng Shui, sort of; Pundita draws bead on Barnett

When I last left the Reader, I dutifully popped copious amounts of an anti-inflammatory drug, wore the hand brace, and continued to power through a rush project -- well, actually, a project I deemed rush on account of wanting to rush through it.

After a week there has been zero improvement in the tendonitis and the Ibuprofen hasn't made a bit of difference, although the condition has not worsened.

In the middle of this I received emails from two Pundita readers. I have forgotten the following reader's pen name and because it would take troubling him with an email or mousing to look it up, I am posting the letter signed simply "E."

"Hi Pundita,
[...] You want my advice? Well, even if you don't here it is:

If you're at the computer a lot, you can inadvertently develop a bad posture where you almost unknowingly put too much weight or stress on a particular point such as a hand, elbow, even (believe it or not) a shoulder. This has happened to me.

Then eventually it reaches a point where it gets sore. Sometimes really sore and the pain seems out of proportion to anything you could have done to set it off.

So what to do? It gets better on its own but takes some months. But you have to rearrange where your mouse, arms, and everything are, to guarantee you won't keep falling back into the same position, 'cause that's what most people will do. Only way is to change the layout (seat, mouse, things you might rest your arm on, put pressure on). Otherwise when its 95% gone, you can do the same thing and bring it right back. Once you got it, it comes back easy."

After mulling E's advice I realized that I didn't relish the idea of chronic injury to my right hand. I decided that I could not do both the project and the blog, so I decided to hang up on the blog until the tendonitis was completely healed, instead of messing around with steroid injections that only dull the pain, and get through at least the first phase of the project (which is for a friend) before hanging up on that too.

Then came an email from James B. Ellsworth of the US Naval War College, who was in town to present a forthcoming land warfare paper with the title, SysAdmin: Toward Barnett's Stabilization and Reconstruction Force.

The paper, Jim explained, takes Thomas P. M. Barnett's "Department of Everything Else" proposal from Barnett's Blueprint for Action book and "operationalizes it, with a roadmap (well, a sketch anyhow) aimed at the senior military [leadership] of how we might go about making it real."

Readers with a long memory will recall that this is the very same James B. Ellsworth who intuited last year that Pundita was sticking her head in the sand about an impending personal crisis.

This time a warning from Jim not to push myself again beyond what is sensible. But his mention of Barnett's latest book had an effect on me reminiscent of a wonderfully silly lottery ad that ran in my region a few years back:

An elderly woman lies on her deathbed surrounded by grieving relatives. Then a Feng Shui expert shifts the placement of a bureau in her room, and she immediately rises from her bed.

What Barnett does not mention in his book -- indeed, what is rarely mentioned anywhere -- is that the intelligence department that Donald Rumsfeld and some Neocons in government set up in the Pentagon after 9/11 created a fine "department of everything else" to manage post-conflict stabilization in Iraq. Indeed, with the help of Iraqi expats they created a working model for post-conflict Iraq, right down to the ministry levels.

I learned about the model from a PBS Frontline episode some years back. Frontline was allowed to photograph the 'shadow' government at work, and which was created in advance of the US invasion of Iraq. (Ret.) Major General Paul Vallely mentioned the model during a speech at the Intel Conference in early 2005 and spoke darkly about its tragic abortion by forces in government other than the Pentagon.

For reasons that are still unclear, the model government was not transferred to Baghdad after the invasion. Instead, we got Paul Bremer and the bumbling of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Yet given the epic war between the Pentagon and the US Department of State that launched after 9/11, I suspect that at least some of the blame for the abortion rests with State.

One can't base a critique of Barnett's book on his omission of the model and it would have been outside the scope of his discussion to examine why such a useful project was blocked from implementation in Iraq. Yet Barnett's ruthless pragmatism, which informs his entire blueprint for action in the post-9/11 world, is jarringly out of place in the current war.

The observation would not be a criticism if narrowly applied to Barnett's discussion of the 'new' US military that has been taking shape under Rumsfeld's guidance. Barnett's book is a godsend for a general public trying to understand how the military is finally grappling with a post-Cold War defense environment. So I recommend the book but with great misgivings; I joked to Jim that I had trouble finishing the book because I kept throwing it across the room.

Barnett takes the world as he finds it, and so he's designed his blueprint to mesh with globalization. The problem is that the term 'globalization' has become a euphemism for multilateralism and what I call the Chirac School of foreign policy. So one might say that if Thomas P.M. Barnett didn't exist, the State Department would have invented him -- or at least the factions at State that still cling to the Chirac School.

Chirac's multilateralism is barely disguised neomercantilism; the school of foreign policy that he and his advisors pushed at the UN and EU, and which so greatly influenced US policy under President Clinton, excludes all but the exigencies of doing business from a government's foreign relations. That effectively places dictatorships on the same level as democracies, which includes decisions about development loans, aid monies, and trade.

In the war on terror, democracy is fighting for its life. Until and unless the realization percolates to all levels of the Pentagon, State and the US Congress, we can expect to fight the war for many decades.

And speaking of the French, one need only read of the proposed bill to arrest anyone who publicly refuses to acknowledge that the Turks practiced literal genocide on the Armenians to realize that many French have only the most tenuous understanding that freedom of speech is a pillar of democracy.

I will stop myself here, but the above is enough to convey the wondrous effect on me that Jim's mention of Barnett's book wrought. I think it was Ethan Zuckerman who wrote, or quoted another blogger as saying, that a blog is the "remnants of attention." The Pundita blog is not a remnant for me; it is my way of speaking out instead of fuming in silence about the kind of pragmatism that Thomas Barnett represents, and keeping myself focused on news developments that I consider important.

Then again, I don't want to end up with chronic tendonitis. So I informed my friend that I was at least temporarily suspending my work on his project. As for the blog, I'm going to check back on November 1st and stay off the computer until then, and hope that there has been considerable improvement in the tendonitis by that time. In any case, I am not giving up the blog.

Jim's paper should be posted online by November, and I will pass along the URL at that time. The Department of Everything Else is a concept that is growing in importance in the defense establishment, and one that needs considerable attention at the operational level.

For readers unfamiliar with the "Department of Everything Else," it's an envisioned "department of global security that speaks to the world in terms of our shared responsibility [to further and defend peace in the world]."

Until November, then, and best regards to all.
1:30 PM update
I have just learned that Dymphna at Gates of Vienna blog is suffering from the genetic disorder fibromyalgia and releated chronic fatigue syndrome, which has made many physical activities difficult for her. And here I thought I had a health problem! It seems that her condition has taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks, which occasioned an apology that she had not replied to an email of mine. Dear Dymphna, no apology needed. You will make Pundita happy if you coddle yourself.
6:00 PM update
See this post, just up, for more of my discussion about Barnett's ideas.

Wednesday, October 4


doc's best guess is that i have tendonitis. put me on prescription-strength ibuprofen and told me to keep wearing hand brace. if no improvement in a week she'll send me to another doc who will inject injured site on hand with steroid.

i am suspending posting on the blog until next friday. by then i should know more where i stand.
regards to all,

Monday, October 2

situation unchanged

sorry for delay in writing today.
doctor appt. bumped to wed am.
wearing hand brace which helps a little but still stabbing pain 1 point on back of hand when i mouse.
ominously there does not seem to be swelling.
hope not nerve damage but no use self diagnosing.
will write again wed pm.
best to all,

Sunday, October 1

With apologies again to evariste

This is a reply to Rugby, who, having escaped the laboratory, found a doting human who gifted him with a laptop. As near as I can make out from Rugby's spelling, this meeting occurred while the human was sitting at an outdoor cafe minding his own business and typing on his laptop. Rugby ran up his leg and proceeded to type a dissertation on gerontology, which he plagiarized from a scientist at the lab.

No, my post on Saturday is not a clue that my real identity is that of a cat. Now please ask your human to buy you a book called PCs for Dummies. If your paws can't navigate the book pages, ask the human to read you the book's explanation of a computer mouse -- or send you an email on the topic, if you have trouble with spoken human language.

While you're at it, please ask the human to show you how to work the Spell Check.