Politics & Policy

Bright Lights, Big World

The shape of things to come.

War between major industrialized nations is a thing of the past. The United States will annex new states, some outside the Western Hemisphere. Within ten years the new Iraq will be a beacon of freedom to a Middle East swept up in democratic reform that started when America swept Saddam aside. The U.S. military will split into two distinct forces, one that wins wars quickly and efficiently and the other built to establish peace after conflict. Economic globalization will make the world more like America–open, capitalist, and free. If America fights the war properly on all fronts, the age of terrorism can end in an age of global peace.

These predictions, and more, come from U.S. Naval War College professor and Strategic Researcher Thomas Barnett, whose book lays out a strategic vision for the global war against terrorists. Set for release in April, The Pentagon’s New Map offers a sweeping view of the world from the end of the Cold War through the 1990s “vacation from history,” past 9/11, and into the future.

Barnett’s centerpiece is a geostrategic map he developed while studying how America should approach the post-Cold War world as the sole superpower. He developed the map and the philosophy behind it while working on futurist studies for the Center for Naval Analyses and for the firm Cantor Fitzgerald during the 1990s, and first aired it publicly in an Esquire article in 2003. That byline earned him mountains of hate mail from the Left and the Right, with the former “praying for his soul” (for supporting the Iraq war) and the latter wanting to “kick his ass” (for conspiring in the latest one-world government scheme). But the map is neither soul-searing monstrosity nor one-world goo-goo mantra. It is a roadmap from our terror-ridden time to what Barnett calls a “future worth creating” by predicting where conflict where arise next.

This new map (it replaces the Pentagon’s Cold War map that once divided East from West) classifies the world along three lines called the Core, Gap, and Seam. The Core includes the industrialized and industrializing nations across North America, Europe, most of Asia and South America, and outliers Israel and South Africa. The Gap denotes failed and failing states from the Caribbean to Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia, with the name suggesting their disconnected state, economically, politically, and culturally, from the Core. The Seam is the boundary between Core and Gap. Life in the Gap is nasty, brutish, and short, an ideal environment for spawning terrorists and their ideology. Gap citizens are more likely to listen to join jihad and wage holy war against the Western cultural forces that seem so ubiquitous. For the Core to retain its way of life, the key to stabilizing and ultimately shrinking the Gap is economic globalization–the more Core trade rules influence trade rules in the Gap, the better for everyone. The Gap’s dictators have to go one way or another, because they make the Gap unlivable.

The Pentagon’s New Map is part autobiography and part exploration of Big Ideas with a serious yet amiable mind. Barnett can throw around macroeconomic statistics and Planet of the Apes references with equal ease. He connects the seemingly disparate issues of 9/11 and President Bush’s African AIDS initiative in a forehead slapping “Why didn’t I think of that?” way. The book does tend toward repetition near the end, a minor quibble against an otherwise solid work.

Liberals and conservatives alike can find things to love and hate in Barnett’s ideas, which probably means he is on to something. Conservatives will like his full-throated support for the Iraq war, which Barnett believes is a “Big Bang” that will usher in vital reform throughout the Middle East. Conservatives will latch on to Barnett’s view that economic globalization is America’s way of ensuring peace and is therefore a force for good, as is America itself. In Barnett’s thinking, America is not the problem and our system of law may well be the cure. Conservatives may also appreciate Barnett’s unblinking view of war, which he says is necessary to combat terrorism in particular and disconnectedness in general. But liberals will probably agree with Barnett’s insistence that war is not the answer (though it certainly is an answer) to terrorism. They will probably support his view that the Core must shrink the Gap with kindness and law enforcement as often as warfare. Liberals will mostly agree with his excessive criticisms of the “frightening” Patriot Act. And they will enjoy his jabs at the Bush administration for failing to articulate a war vision that can rally the world to our side. But both Left and Right will approach his moral arguments for shrinking the Gap with some trepidation because the implications are staggering.

In The Pentagon’s New Map, Barnett presents the most comprehensive view of the post-Cold War world yet written, delivering a hopeful view of how the world can look a few decades from now if we seize the moment and govern it properly. Barnett’s ideas have made their way into the upper reaches of numerous corporations, the Pentagon, and the Bush administration, influencing the way the White House and the Pentagon understand the war. His non-partisan delivery frames the war as a necessary and noble American enterprise.

The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century lays out the terms upon which the coming presidential election should be decided–war versus peace, risk versus security, and honesty versus wishful thinking. We can have peace, according to Barnett, if we choose our battles wisely and fight them as skillfully as we have proven we can, if we are able to pick up the pieces after war, and if we understand war in the context of everything else–economics, culture, and the whole shebang. It is an intellectual tour de force of astounding scope and scale.

Bryan Preston is co-author of JunkYardBlog.

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