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12:39PM

Most Perceptive Presentation of My Thinking - Ever

Christopher Hitchens once called Perry Anderson, the British Marxian historian who presently teaches at UCLA, both "the West’s most influential Marxist" and "the most profound essayist wielding a pen.” I've always viewed him as D'Artagnan to the three musketeers of English school of Marxism – namely, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, and Eric Hobsbawn (now all deceased).

In 2013, the New Left Review, for only the third time in its history, devoted an entire issue to one author's take on a subject. It was Perry Anderson on "American Foreign Policy And Its Thinkers," divided into two long essays: "Imperium" – a history of U.S. foreign policy, and "Consilium" – an examination of the current state of grand strategy in the U.S. On the latter, Anderson avoided treating intellectuals who were primarily creatures of the media, so no Friedmans or Zakarias.

While I naturally don't agree with everything in his short history, I really admire the attempt, as I tried something similar in Great Powers. I also love Anderson's writing style. He is rare in that you often need to read a sentence more than once to understand it, but, when you do, you realize that the construction is so beautiful that it was worth the effort. You can say that about . . . really no one I've ever read before.

I am even more interested in his "Consilium" essay because it contains the single most intelligent and accurate analysis of my vision - better than anything I've ever found. Frankly, I don't think I summarize my strategy better than he does here. It's very nuanced and comprehensive, adds all the right grace notes (as far as I'm concerned) and captures me to the core (Marxian in outlook but not a Marxist).

I excerpt all the relevants bits in this post, offering no commentary because none is needed.  Where so many have gotten me wrong, Anderson gets me totally correct, and, quite frankly, I never thought I'd live to see this day.

[On that last point, I waited until Verso published the two essays as a book last spring (which I recommend to everyone) to generate this post. I like the formality of a book treating other books. But yes, it took me a long stretch to get around to this task.]

The other great joy for me here is that Anderson completely ignores my first two books (Pentagon's New Map, Blueprint for Action) and focuses solely on Great Powers (2009). Obviously, I will always be best known for PNM, but I consider Great Powers to be the culminating summation of the trilogy, which "descended" in scope from system (PNM) to state (BPFA) to leadership/strategy (GP) – purposefully Waltzian. I also think I was a much better author by the publication of GP. Plus, it's the least known and least appreciated of the three, when I feel it should be the best known and best appreciated (oh well, such is the trajectory of trilogies ...).

Now to book:

CONSILIUM

In the American intellectual landscape, the literature of grand strategy forms a domain of its own, distinct from diplomatic history or political science, though it may occasionally draw on these. Its sources lie in the country's security elite, which extends across the bureaucracy and the academy to foundations, think tanks, and the media. In this milieu, with its emplacements in the Council on Foreign Relations, the Kennedy School at Harvard, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Princeton, the Nitze School at Johns Hopkins, the Naval War College, Georgetown University, the Brookings and Carnegie Foundations, the Departments of State and of Defense, not to speak of the National Security Council and the CIA, positions are readily interchangeable, individuals moving seamlessly back and forth between university chairs or think tanks and government offices, in general regardless of the party in control of the administration ...

 

(10) CRUSADERS

[the Wilsonian liberal idealism with its focus on democracy, with treatment of Walter Russell Mead, Michael Mandelbaum, John Ikenberry, and Charles Kupchan]

 

(11) REALIST IDEALS

[the opposing school of American strategic thought known as idealism, with its focus on "hard" power, permanent interests, and no permanent friends, with treatment of Robert Kagan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Robert Art]

 

(12) ECONOMY FIRST

Are there any significant constructions in the discourse of American foreign policy that escape its mandatory dyad? Perhaps, in its way, one. In background and aim Thomas P.M. Barnett belongs in the company of grand strategests, but in outlook is at an angle to them. Trained as a Sovietologist at Harvard, he taught at the Naval War College, worked in the Office of Force Transformation set up by Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, voted for Kerry and now directs a consultancy offering technical and financial connexions to the outside world in regions like Iraqi Kurdistan. Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, the product of this trajectory, is unlike anything else in the literature, in manner and in substance. In the breezy style of a salesman with an inexhaustible store of snappy slogans, it lays out a eupeptic, yet far from conventional, vision of globalization as the master narrative for grasping the nature and future of US planetary power – one calculated to disconcert equally the bien-pensant platitudes of Clintonism, and their condemnation by critics like Brzezinski, in a triumphalism so confident it dispenses with a good many of its customary accoutrements.

America, Barnett's argument runs, has no cause for doubt or despondency in the aftermath of a war in Iraq that was well-intentioned, but hopelessly mismanaged. Its position is not slipping: "This is still America's world." For as the earth's first and most successful free-market economy and multiethnic political union, whose evolution prefigures that of humanity at large, "we are modern globalization's source code – its DNA." The implication? "The United States isn't coming to a bad end but a good beginning – our American system successfully projected upon the world."[GP, 1-2. 4] That projection, properly understood, neither involves nor requires US promotion of democracy at large. For Barnett, who declares himself without inhibition an economic determinist, it is capitalism that is the real revolutionary force spawned by America, whose expansion renders unnecessary attempts to introduce parliaments and elections around the world. The Cold War was won by using US military strength to buy time for Western economic superiority over the Soviet Union to do its work. So too in the post-Cold War era, peace comes before justice: if the US is willing to go slow in its political demands on regions that neither know nor accept liberal democracy, while getting its way on economic demands of them, it will see the realization of its ideals within them in due course. "America needs to ask itself: is it more important to make globalization truly global, while retaining great-power peace and defeating whatever anti-globalization insurgencies may appear in the decades ahead? Or do we tether our support for globalization's advance to the upfront demand that the world first resembles us politically?" [GP, 30]

So today it is not a league of democracies that is called for, but a league of capitalist powers, committed to making the order of capital workable on a world stage, rebranded along Lincoln lines as a "team of rivals" comprising China and Russia along with Japan, Europe, India, Brazil. Americans have no reason to baulk at the inclusion of either of their former adversaries in the Cold War. It took the United States half a century after its revolution to develop a popular multi-party democracy, even then excluding women and slaves, and it protected its industries for another century beyond that. China is closing the distance between it and America with the methods of Hamilton and Clay, though it now needs regulatory reforms like those of the Progressive Era (as does contemporary Wall Street). Its nationalist foreign policy already resembles that of the first Roosevelt. As for Russia, with its economic brutalism and crude materialism, it is in its Gilded Age – and there will be plenty of other versions of its younger self America is going to bump up against, who may not take it at its own estimation: "Moscow pragmatically sees America for what it truly is right now: militarily overextended, financially overdrawn and ideologically overwrought." But its anti-Americanism is largely for show. In view of Russia's past, the US could scarcely ask for a better partner than Putin, whose regime is nationalist, like that of China, but not expansionist. "Neither represents a systemic threat, because each supports globalization's advance, and so regards the world's dangers much as we do," with no desire to challenge the dominant liberal trade order, merely to extract maximum selfish benefit from it.[GP, 184-5, 227-31] The varieties of capitalism these and other rising contenders represent are one of its assets as a system, allowing experiments and offsets in its forms that can only strengthen it.

Between the advanced core and the more backward zones of the world, a historic gap remains to be overcome. But a capitalist domino effect is already at work. In that sense, "Africa will be a knock-off of India, which is a knock-off of China, which is a knock-off of South Korea, which is a knock-off of Japan, which half a century ago was developed by us as a knock-off of the United States. Call it globalization's 'six degrees of replication.'"[GP, 248] But if economically speaking, "history really has 'ended,'" transition along the gap is going to generate unprecedented social turmoil, as traditional populations are uprooted and customary ways of life destroyed before middle-class prosperity arrives. Religion will always be a way of coping with that tumult, and as globalization spreads, it is logical that there should be the greatest single religious awakening in history, because it is bringing the most sweeping changes in economic conditions ever known. In this churning, the more mixed and multicultural societies become, the more individuals, in the absence of a common culture, cling to their religious identity. There too, America in its multi-cultural patterns of faith is the leading edge of a universal process.

What of the war zone where Barnett himself has been involved? For all the spurious pretexts advanced for it, the decision to invade Iraq was not irrational: however mismanaged, it has shaken up the stagnation of the Middle East, and begun to reconnect the region with the pull of globalization. By contrast, the war in Afghanistan is a dead-end, only threatening fruther trouble with Pakistan. Bush's greatest failure was that he got nothing from Iran for toppling its two Sunni enemies, Sadam and the Taliban, and persisted – in deference to Saudi and Israeli pressure – in trying to contain rather than co-opt it. So it is no surprise that the mullahs have concluded nuclear weapons would keep them safe from US attempts to topple them too. In that they are absolutely right. Iran should be admitted to the nuclear club, since the only way to stop it from acquiring a capability would be to use nuclear weapons against it – conventional bombing would not do the trick. Needed in the Middle East is not a futile attack on Iran by Israel or America, but a regional security system which the big Asian powers, China and India, both more dependent on Gulf oil than America, cooperate with the US to enforce, and Iran – the only country in the region where governments can be voted out of office – plays the part to which its size and culture entitle it.[GP, 10-11, 26-7]

For the rest, by raising the bar so high against great power wars, US military force has been a huge gift to humanity. But the latter-day Pentagon needs to cut its overseas troop strength by at least a quarter and possibly a third. For Barnett, who lectured to Petraeus and Schoomaker, the future of counter-insurgency lies in the novel model of AFRICOM, which unlike the Pentagon's other area commands – Central, Pacific, European, Northern, Southern – maintains a light-footprint network of "contingency operating locations" in Africa, combining military vigilance with civilian assistance: "imperialism to some, but nothing more than a pistol-packing Peace Corps to me."[GP, 286-9] Chinese investment will do more to help close the gap in the Dark Continent, but AFRICOM is playing its part too.

In the larger scene, American obsessions with terrorism, democracy and nuclear weapons are all irrelevances. What matters is the vast unfolding of a globalization that resembles the internet as defined by one of its founders: "Noboy owns it, everybody uses it, and anybody can add services to it." The two now form a single process. Just as globalization becomes "a virtual Helsinki Accords for everyone who logs on," so WikiLeaks is – this from a planner fresh from the Defense Department - "the Radio Free Europe of the surveillance age."[GP, 301, 318] To join up, there is no requirement that a society be an electoral democracy, reduce its carbon emissions or desist from sensible protection of its industries. The rules for membership are simply: "come as you are and come when you can." As the middle class swells to half the world's population by 2020, America need have no fear of losing its preeminence. So long as it remains the global economy's leading risk-taker, "there will never be a post-American world. Just a post-Caucasian one."[GP, 413, 251]

Topped and tailed with a poem by Lermontov as epigraph and a tribute to H.G. Wells for envoi, as an exercise in grand strategy Great Powers is, in its way, no less exotic than [Mead's] God and Gold. The two can be taken as bookends to the field. Where Mead's construction marries realism and idealism a l'americaine in a paroxysmic union, Barnett sidesteps their embrace, without arriving – at least formally – at very different conclusions. In his conception of American power in the new century, though he tips his hat to the president, the Wilsonian strain is close to zero. Even the "liberal international order" is more a token than a touchstone, since in his usage it makes no case of economic protection. If, in their local meanings, idealism is all but absent, elements of realism are more visible. Theodore Roosevelt – not only the youngest, but "the most broadly accomplished and experienced individual ever to serve as president" – is singled out as the great transformer of American politics, both at home and abroad, and Kagan's Dangerous Nation saluted as the work that set Barnett thinking of ways in which he could connect Americans to globalization through their own history. But the cheerful welcome Great Powers extends to the autocracies of China and Russia as younger versions of the United States itself is at antipodes of Kagan. Treatment of Putin is enough to make Brzezinski's hair stand on end. Ready acceptance of Iranian nuclear weapons crosses a red line for Art.

Such iconoclasm is not simple a matter of temperament, though it is clearly also that – it is no surprise the Naval War College felt it could do without Barnett's services. It is because the underlying problematic has so little to do with the role of military force, where the realist tradition has principally focused, or even economic expansion, as a nationalist drive.The twist that takes it out of conventional accounts of American exceptionalism, while delivering a maximized version of it, is its reduction of the country's importance in the world to the pure principle of capitalism – supplier of the genetic code of a globalization that does not depend on, nor require, the Fourteen Points or the Atlantic Charter, but simply the power of the market and of mass consumption, with a modicum of force to put down such opponents as it may arouse. In its unfazed economic determinism, the result is not unlike a materialist variant, from the other side of the barricades, of the vision of America in Hardt and Negri's Empire. That empire in its more traditional sense, which they repudiate, has not entirely fled the scene in Great Powers, its paean to the Africa Command makes plain. There, the footprints are ever more frequent. Created only in 2007, AFRICOM now deploys US military effectives in 49 out of 55 countries of the continent. Not America rules the world – the world becomes America. Such is the message, taken straight, of Great Powers. In the interim, there is less distinction between the two than the prospectus suggests.

[then two paragraphs on Richard Rosecrance in a three-paragraph sub-chapter that ends with this paragraph:]

With a low view of European economic and demographic health, the vision of any kind of TAFTA as an open sesame to restoration of American fortunes is an object for derision in Great Powers: "Whenever I hear an American politician proclaim the need to strengthen the Western alliance, I know that leader promises to steer by our historical wake instead of crafting a forward-looking strategy. Recapturing past glory is not recapturing our youth but denying our parentage of this world we inhabit so uneasily today."[GP, 369] Europeans are pensioners in it. It would be wrong to reject them, but pointless to look to them. After all, Barnett remarks kindly, on the freeway of globalization grandad can come along for the ride, whoever is sitting in the front seat next to the driver.

 

(13) OUTSIDE THE CASTLE

[final chapter that compares the various grand strategists and strategies]

[at the bottom of a paragraph on the need to "fix" America with a centrist agenda being common to all thinkers] The menu may be ignored – it largely is by Kagan and Barnett – but rarely, if ever, is it outright rejected.

Remedies for external setbacks or oncoming hazards are more divisive. The Republican administration of 2000-2008, more controversial than its predecessor, enjoyed the support of Kagan throughout, Mead and Barnett at first, while incurring criticism, much of it vehement, from Ikenberry and Kupchan, Art and Brzezinski ...

Democracy, on the other hand, its spread till yesterday an irrenounceable goal of any self-respecting diplomacy, is now on the back burner. Openly discarded as a guideline by Kupchan, Barnett and Brzezinski, downgraded by Art, matter of horticulture rather than engineering for Mandelbaum, only Ikenberry and Kagan look wistfully for a league of democracies ...

If Iran refuses to obey Western instructions to halt its nuclear programme, it will – no one, of course welcomes the prospect – in extremis have to be attacked, hopefully with a helping hand or a friendly wink from Moscow and Beijing. Only Barnett breaks the taboo that protects the Israeli nuclear monopoly in the name of nonproliferation.

How is American domination to be presevered in the arena of Weltpolitik proper – the domain of the great powers and their conflicts, actual or potential? 

... 

For Mandelbaum and Ikenberry, on the contrary, China is the great prize whose adhesion to the liberal international order is increasingly plausible, and will render it irreversible, while for Barnett, with his more relaxed conception of such an order, the PRC is to all intents and purposes already in the bag.

 Again, what I like best is that Anderson doesn't distort what so many distort in my work (endless wars! globalization at the barrel of a gun!) and captures the essence of my vision, which is – indeed - "economy first."

 

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