Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Dr. Thomas Barnett, senior strategic researcher and professor at the U.S. Naval War College. He served as assistant for strategic futures in the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation (Oct. 2001-June 2003). He is the author of the new book The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century.
FP: Dr. Barnett, welcome to Frontpage Interview, it is a pleasure to have you here.
Barnett: Thanks for the opportunity.
FP: What inspired you to write this book?
Barnett: I was disturbed by the continuing tendency at the Pentagon to describe the world at large as "chaotic" and "uncertain," as well as their tendency to view globalization as a uniformly negative impact on global security. I don't see the world this way, and I wanted to share that vision. The vision appeals to general readers because of its optimism and its ability to explain the world in a fairly straightforward fashion, helping them understand security within a larger historical context, as well as contextualizing the Global War on Terrorism within the process of globalization's progressive unfolding. It's not that hard to think about the future systematically. The military actually does a decent job of it (better than most). It just prefers to highlight only the negative and to consistently view war within the context of war alone and rarely within the context of everything else. Once you get a grip on the everything else, war and peace become a lot more understandable and people's anxiety about the future can be dramatically reduced. Again, that's why the general reader likes the book. As for the military, it's a very controversial book to some, and a real strategy planning guide to others--especially regional military commands.
FP: Tell us a bit why you think globalization is, as you say, “this country’s gift to history” and why it is crucial for U.S. and world security.
Barnett: The current form of globalization is really built on the American model, unlike the first modern version that we saw from 1870 to roughly 1939, which was based on European colonialism. Our model comes out of the twin crucibles of the Second Industrial Revolution and the U.S. Civil War, and was a stealthily rising model in the shadow of European colonialism until the two world wars destroyed that model and ours became ascendant.
If you look around the world today, you see our system of transactions and interdependency becoming the norm for a good two-thirds of humanity, or what I call the Functioning Core of globalization. The trick is to extend that model of interactions to the rest of the world, or to make globalization truly global. Why does that matter? Virtually all the mass violence in the system today is found within those regions least connected, in a broadband fashion, to the global economy and the rule sets that define stability inside the Functioning Core. If you want to end war as we know it, as well as this Global War on Terrorism, then you connect the disconnected. Bush calls it "liberty" and "freedom," but I call it "connectivity." We are, though, basically talking the same game.
FP: Ok, well then, in the context of what you think about globalization, you think what the U.S. is doing in Iraq is a good idea, right?.
Barnett: Transnational terrorism, in the form of the Salafi Jihadist movement, is fundamentally a function of globalization. As the global economy penetrates the traditional societies of the Muslim world, the violent rejection of the integration is expressed by those Salafis, like bin Laden and al-Zarqawi, who detest that process so much they are willing to kill and die to keep it out, dreaming instead of an Islamic super-state that would transport people back to the golden religious age they prefer, a hint of which we saw in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.
In short, their strategy is to drive the West out of the Middle East so they can hijack the Middle East out of globalization's creeping embrace. We counter that strategy best over the long haul by seeking to connect the region to the outside world and allowing that connectivity to generate local demand from below for better and more representative government.
Most of this process is driven by private economic transactions, with foreign direct investment being the key flow. But that connectivity won't come if the global business community thinks the region is a security sink hole, full of danger and no one to stand watch over regional stability. When the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam, we set off a Big Bang of tumult and political change in the region, which is apparent all over the dial but likewise will take years to unfold.
So long as the big security issues remain in the region, the Middle East will remain narrowly connected to the global economy (through energy only), but once those security problems are eliminated, then I expect broadband economic connectivity will ensue.
Other than Saddam, two key issues remain in the region: Israel-Palestine and Iran. Both are altered significantly by Saddam's toppling and our assumption of a key security role in the region--far more than anything we pursued previously. The trick now is to co-opt Iran and with it focus the bulk of our security effort on Israel and Palestine. Iraq will be reformed for now around the Kurds and the Shiites, with the Sunnis coming back on line as the insurgency becomes progressively isolated there, also with help from Iran. That's why Iran is the key now to stability, and why it's time "Nixon goes to Tehran."
But the underlying point remains: the U.S. cannot pull out of the Middle East militarily until the Middle East joins the world economically and politically--beyond just oil and terrorism. If you want to win a Global War on Terrorism, there is no choice but to transform the region that is source for virtually all transnational terrorism--the Middle East. Saddam was the right place to start, and it was a great war.
The occupation, however, shows how far we need to go in improving that capacity, because there will be other bad regimes worth toppling in coming years, so we have to be able to master the peace, not just the war. To that end, we need a military that's preeminent in both realms. We have the first one down (war), now it's time to get the second one ready (peace).
FP: So you think the U.S. will annex much of Canada and Latin America this century?
Barnett: No, I don't, and I think it's awfully strange you use that word "annex," because I certainly never do and didn't in the book. Do you think the EU has "annexed" Eastern Europe? Or do you accept the notion that states can come together in larger unions under peaceful conditions? What I said in the book was that "The United States will admit new members to its union in coming decades, and these will come first from the Western Hemisphere, but over time from outside as well" (p. 382).
Apparently you read that and could think of only one way it could occur, which I find very interesting. If one out of every three voters in the U.S. by 2050 is Hispanic, do you think it's possible that the United States would be open to having Latin American states join our union? Can you imagine a post-Castro Cuban population being desirous of that opportunity? Or a Haitian? Is the United States a country worth joining? Or do you think the only possible means for something like this happening is through military conquest?
I think your question speaks more to your limited imagination than some alleged bias of mine toward military solutions being the only possible pathway for future integration. In fact, I put the prediction in the book for precisely that purpose: to push the reader beyond such previously narrowing perspectives. I mean, if the United States starts at 13 members and now has 50, why would anyone assume it would remain fixed at that number forever while the EU is adding states to its multinational union in bunches? The United States is the world's oldest and most successful multinational economic and political union in the world. Americans tend to forget that, as well as most of our history.
FP: Mr. Barnett, it was just the way I asked the question, especially since I am thinking of what critics would ask and I am also thinking of our previous questions and answers. I can’t think of too many people more pro-American than myself and, as a Canadian, I think it would be great if Canada joined the States. And yes, I absolutely do think that peaceful states can join together without any kind of “annexation.” And I think the world would be a much better place if all nations became Americanized. (To say the least, I was not very popular in academia because of these views). So I am with you all the way here. I apologize that perhaps I could have been clearer in my disposition behind the question.
In any case, Mr. Barnett, your answer crystallized exactly what I wanted to be crystallized in this discussion. Thank you.
Last question: tomorrow President Bush asks you to become an adviser and, supposing you agree, in the first meeting he asks you what steps he should take next in the terror war in general and in the Iraq war in particular. What do you tell him?
Barnett: I would tell him he needs to make sure the Secretary of Defense pushes the Army to become the postconflict stabilization and reconstruction force it needs to be so that when we engage in regime toppling in this war, so we don't end up with the same sort of snafued occupation that we got in Iraq. I would also tell him that setting up an office within State to take on postwar occupations simply won't work. So long as it is a tug of war between Defense and State, Defense will always be looking to pull out ASAP and State will always be looking to avoid the wars in the first place. We need a department between War (Defense) and Peace (State), one that is focused on getting countries from the Gap (as I describe those less connected regions) to the Core. State is built primarily to deal with functioning states, or the Core, while Defense is reorienting after 9/11 to wage wars in the Gap.
But the real function of U.S. grand strategy in coming years won't just be keeping the Core solid and keep the Gap from growing, it will be about getting countries from the Gap into the Core. A department that focused on that is where we would optimize our ground forces for small crisis response, postconflict stabilization and reconstruction, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and a host of other operations "other than war" that the Defense Department is loathe to perform, much less budget and train for, so we need to create a bureaucratic center of gravity for such efforts, which would naturally pull in foreign aid and the aid programs that are now scattered among 6 different agencies. We need to get strategic on this, and stop treating it as something we do in between wars. We will never shrink the Gap with war, because wars prevent bad futures but do not create good ones. Bush has enough strength now to start this process, although he is unlikely to finish it.
On foreign policy, I would tell him what I said recently in Esquire: make detente with Iran and accept it's getting the bomb. We need Iran as a security partner in the Middle East. We also need to lock-in China now in a strategic security partnership, while prices are low--so to speak. That will entail us giving up our defense guarantee to Taiwan, which could easily, in a fit of peak, pull us and China into a war if we're not careful.
Finally, in his second term the regime worth toppling sits in Pyongyang. Over Kim's grave, we should build an East Asian NATO and shut down the possibility of great power war there forever.
This is what I would tell him.
FP: Mr. Barnett, thank you for joining us today. We hope to see you again soon.
Barnett: Thanks. I always enjoy email interviews like this.
William F. Buckley Jr.
Richard Perle and David Frum