Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, Part 8
HH: Part 8 of my 8 part conversation with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map, Dr. Barnett, of course, one of the most widely read, influential strategists of our time, his book very, very influential inside of the Pentagon, and among other circles of people concerned about the future. Dr. Barnett, welcome back. I really want to say at the beginning, thanks for the seven weeks prior. It’s been quite an interesting experiment.
TB: Yeah, I did the first one from my home, and the last one from my home, but it’s been a real dash in between.
HH: Well, I appreciate it, as does the audience. Hope Without Guarantees is the concluding chapter of The Pentagon’s New Map. That is a line from the Lord of the Rings. Explain what you mean by using it.
TB: Well, I really like to put out optimistic, positive visions of the future, because most people who do futuristic kind of stuff lay out this kind of analysis, usually talk about how everything can go wrong. And you know, the sum total of human experience over time is things get progressively better, so in effect, all the futurists are more wrong than right. And if you really want to give people a comprehensive sense as to what’s possible in the future, you really have to bet more on the positive outcomes than the negative ones, and I really wanted just to lay out in this last chapter, which really ended up being an outline for the sequel, the second book, Blueprint For Action, how I thought this thing could all work out.
HH: Now I am a fan of Tolkien as well, but I sort like Galadriel’s warning that even now, there’s hope left. But this I will say to you, your quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the company is true. And as I look at the last hundred years, and I had Andrew Roberts on yesterday, who wrote the History of the English Speaking People Since 1900, I think your hope, it’s a little rose-colored glasses when you look at the machinery of killing that we’re just getting connected up to.
TB: Well, in terms of the bio and genetic and all that other kind of stuff, yeah, it’s a more frightening set of possibilities, but I would argue never have we been more connected, more robust and more resilient, not just the West, but increasingly, a rising East. And the overlapping interest there, I say, really point to a future where we kind of expand our definition of our friends, and not hold on to kind of past images really born from a Cold War perspective. So I count a lot more allies than most people do, and I certainly count a number of allies beyond just the Anglosphere.
HH: Now let me ask you about your riff on, you used to fear nuclear war, you grew up when that was a reality in the Cuban Missile crisis.
HH: And now you don’t fear it any longer. But you also write in this book very movingly about your daughter’s battle with cancer, and I was thinking to myself as I read that, do you not fear cancer anymore, simply because you won the first round?
TB: Well, I certainly know it better. And going through that experience vicariously through my daughter does actually make me less frightened of cancer. I mean, it’s a process that can be manipulated, and it’s a process that can be defeated, ultimately, in my mind, thanks to the experience. And you know, I don’t doubt that if I had lost her, then I’d have a darker view, and that’s a reality that faces anybody who thinks about the future, is how to disaggregate their personal life experiences from their analysis. So I was spared that, and I’m glad for it, because it does allow me to maintain a certain level of optimism regarding the future. But with nuclear weapons, I really think you’re looking at a process where we’ve matured, and where we’ve created the rule set and the understanding as to how we deal with nuclear weapons, and we’re really mopping up sort of the last few players who hope to join the league, so to speak. And once we get past this last couple, North Korea and Iran, I really don’t see any particular problems, because as I look at the list that I was presented with when I joined this business 18 years ago, a lot of countries have fallen of that list of potential proliferators, and we’re really down to two players that we were worried about back in 1990, we’re still worried about them now. But I think there are ways to work that out even.
HH: I want to get to the list of the ten things you think will happen, and to Kashmir, Taiwan and Korea, the three hot spots. But first, before we do that, one of the reasons I left your last chapter somewhat unpersuaded is that you make some recommendations that I strongly agree with, but I just don’t see the political will for, the primary one being, quoting here from your book, Pentagon’s New Map, “The United States needs to play system administrator to globalization’s continuing functioning and advance, periodically waging war across the gap as its de facto leviathan.” I agree with that. I think that’s what we’re doing in Iraq. But I don’t see the political will in this country to support that mission long term, Dr. Barnett.
TB: Well, certainly not if what we do is look around the world and say it’s us and the West against the rest, because the West as we have defined it historically is demographically moribund. They’re not having babies. There’s Mark Steyn’s point. And the Japanese, our Asian West, really isn’t up for this kind of long haul battle. You really have to connect yourself to countries that are closer to this kind of frontier integrating experience. And there I would cite somebody like China, and somebody like India, which has tens of thousands of people now engaged in kind of preemptive nation building throughout Africa. So I would say you can locate the labor where the problem is, you just have to change your perspective on allies, and you have to look to countries who are closer to the kind of experience that we’re going to have to engage in to deal with these less integrated parts of the global economy, and help them get integrated.
HH: But when you have the United States having to take the lead, and our political system so deeply polarized over issues of the extension of American force abroad, can you fix that? I mean, you talk to Democrats, you are a Democrat. You can’t support the strategy you propose with a Democratic Party that’s pacifist and isolationist.
TB: I can’t support any of this, quite frankly, with the Boomer leadership that we’ve got now. I think it’s going to take a generational shift. I think it’s going to take somebody emerging who has the perspective more informed by the 70’s and on, than the group we have currently in power, which I think is kind of trapped in definitions of allies, definitions of war, and definitions of threat, and definitions of burden, and what we can ask from the American public, which really don’t correspond to a rising generation which is dramatically different, the biggest cohort, the Millennial generation, or the Echo Boomers, that we’ve ever had, more diverse, more connected, and capable of behavior that you’re citing the YouTube kind of stuff today on your website. It’s typically quite baffling to people from previous generations. These are connected, committed, interested, willing to sacrifice themselves for larger goods and goals, generation that I think we’re going to really benefit from. The question is how we connect them politically to leadership over time. And there, I don’t see much attraction in terms of their parents’ current generation of political leaders.
HH: I did bring up in the first hour a video that talked about connectivity, something that’s all very, very familiar to you, but which can stun for the first time when you hear about sort of the export of connectivity to China and India, and in places like that.
HH: But I’m not sure that that will be rapid enough in its effect on the third world to forestall the radicalization that al Qaeda is pushing. I’ve got a lot of questions for you today from people who say what about modern day piracy, for example? Al Qaeda is interdicting oil. What about the soccer bombing today? These people blew up 18 children, Dr. Barnett. It’s not a rational world that we’re dealing with, with these people.
TB: No, I mean, there’s going to be a segment in any country that experiences the onrush of connectivity to the outside world, that there’s going to be a segment, and they’re often male, they’re often young, they’re often middle class, they’re often educated, who find the pathway of what happens to their country, in that forum of increasingly connectivity to the outside world, which is often first in the most negative forms. And what usually penetrates a country first are criminal networks, and the bad stuff on the internet. All the crap gets through first before the good stuff in large part because the good stuff requires the trade deals and the opening up and the reduction of tariffs, and it requires entrenched elites to get out of the way of their own public’s desire to be empowered by that sort of connectivity. So there are a lot of things that make this not easy, and there are a lot of ideologies that currently stand ready to take advantage of people’s uncertainty, and their fears of an unknown future, to say better than this sort of connectivity, which is threatening your traditional way of life, let’s just disconnect from that world, let’s achieve some sort of civilizational apartheid between us and the horror that is the West toxification process called globalization, and let’s fight it out. But those numbers, by and large, if you look at these countries, they’re not that profound. They’re not that big. Al Qaeda as a threat gets overblown in terms of its numbers. We estimate serious terrorists around the world number in about the ten to twenty thousand range, with an at risk population of maybe a hundred thousand more. But I mean, this is not a world commandeering, global economy commandeering sort of force. Their impact, in terms of what’s happened with the global economy over the last five years, have been negligible. We’re experiencing the biggest growth we’ve ever had in the global economy.
HH: Next hour, I’m going to be talking with an old friend, John Agresto, whose new book, Mugged By Reality, is a memoir of his time in Iraq. And he writes that we simply do not understand radical Islam. And he doesn’t overestimate how large it is, but he does believe that we underestimate how deeply radical it is about the West. Do you think you’ve factored that in enough to your analysis to justify your optimism?
TB: Well, I don’t justify my optimism on somehow us in an Oprah-like exchange with radical Islam, we’re going to talk bad guys out of bad behavior. By and large, I think the irrationals, the people who will fight this no matter what, are going to be hunted down and killed progressively over time. What I tend to cite more than how much America’s going to lay on the line is the fact that the three billion new capitalists we added in the East, and in the South over the last twenty years, they want their higher standards of living. They want their access to raw materials around the world. They want all these things. And the notion that somehow if we don’t keep up our military effort, globalization’s going to…
HH: We’ll be right back with Dr. Barnett. Stay tuned.
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HH: Dr. Barnett, let’s get to the substance of your ten suggestions, but a prelude first. You say bluntly the State Department, the United States State Department, is broken, it’s ossified, it cannot get done what needs to get done. Can you explain your diagnosis and your treatment for the State Department?
TB: Well, the State Department, I think the diagnosis is that they’re just able to deal with countries with whom we have stable relationships with. They’re able to deal with what I call the functioning core, or the connectivity of globalization has made us thick as thieves with other countries around the world, where there’s lots of connectivity and where military issues don’t necessarily rise to the top of the heap. You know, think of classic relationships like between us and Canada. There, the State Department can run that kind of relationship quite well. What they don’t really have is any serious expertise at dealing with the number one problem we’re going to be dealing with across the 21st Century, and that is how do you get unstable countries more stable? Giving the State Department the U.S. Agency for International Development was a complete disaster in my mind, because they’re kind of running it right down the hill so bad that Bush looked at it, and basically said I need to create some competition, the Millennium Challenge Corporation. I think that kind of competition to State’s monopoly in these kinds of post-conflict situations, which was interrupted and not interrupted well by the Defense Department with Iraq, just showing that if the Defense Department doesn’t work with the State Department, you don’t get anywhere, but when you leave it to the State Department alone, as we have in other situations inside what I describe as the gap, we don’t get the outcomes we really need to get, either. I think we need to create kind of competition, and I think you’re going to see that competition, interestingly enough, created in this just named Africa command, which is going to be built on the experience of the combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, where we’re seeing the implementation of a new vision of how the military, foreign aid personnel and the State Department come together in really new and interesting ways, the so-called 3-D approach, diplomacy, development and defense. So I think we’re going to see competition arise, and that’s the best way to challenge State to be better over time.
HH: When I read your acknowledgements, and I came across Henry Gaffney and Admiral Flannigan, and Vice Admiral Sobrowsky, it occurred to me again that the life you lived inside the Pentagon was lived with very smart people studying the most difficult issues, debating them ruthlessly, in a culture of excellence. Does that State Department have anything like that?
TB: Well, there, you’re talking about a situation where the best and brightest have not, I would argue, gone to State over the course of the Cold War. It was no surprise that that’s where you found all the wise men who really put together that multi-decades vision that became the containment strategy of the Cold War, because that’s where the best people were at that point. I mean, Defense Department, as a concept, and as an institution, was just getting started in the aftermath of the Second World War. All the real talent, all the visionary stuff, was in the State Department back then. But when you shift to a Cold War, where the military became the preeminent determiner of our relationships with many countries in the outside world, and most specifically with the Soviet Union in a binary standoff that lasted half a century, the talent over time, the people who wanted to change things, or really try to run things as much as possible, they went to the Defense Department, and that’s where the best minds really are now. And it’s a terrible imbalance that really needs to be corrected over time.
HH: All right. Now let’s get to the ten steps, and I want to start with the first one, which is the most important one. We must succeed in recreating Iraq as you put it. I agree with that 100%. Do you see that happening? Or do you see giving up and going home, and let the chips and the genocide fall where it may?
TB: I don’t see us ever giving up and going home, but I see us getting more realistic about the outcome. And again, Yugoslavia came apart, and some parts of it came off really well, and some parts of it were not so well, and some parts were downright ugly. But we took that process in a partitioned sort of way. I mean, we got what we could early, and we made things better over time incrementally, chunk by chuck. I think realistically, we’re going to have to look at Iraq like that. We’ve succeeded dramatically in Kurdistan, okay? I would say we’ve done a pretty decent job in holding off sectarian violence until the last six months ago between the Shia portion of Iraq, which is doing quite well, absent that kind of violence, and the Sunni portion, which has been the real problem all along. So if you look at it as kind of three nation building efforts, we’ve got one very good one, the Kurdish region, we’ve got one bad one, but holding onto it fairly well, and it’s where we’re going to have to make some sort of rapprochement, I would argue, with Iran over time, because we’re going to have to get some help from them in curtailing the violence emanating from the Shia side, instead, because we’re targeting Iran also, rhetorically at least, and with a certain amount of demonstrated willingness for regime change, instead what we’re getting is they’re fueling the violence on that side, when what I think we should really be doing is after we settled down Kurdistan, which is really well on its way, we should look for the opportunity to bring Iran into the process of a post-war settlement in Iraq, and use the Shia portion of Iraq in the same way that kind of Poland, historically, infected Russia with ideas from the outside, use that as a conduit for the pushing of change in Iran
HH: Now in the book, though…
TB: …the Sunni portion is the part that’s really tough.
HH: In the book, you say the mullahs have got to be out by 2010, meaning, and in your only real, I think, error in the book is to say Khatami might have been a Gorbacev, when he turned out to be just another feckless puppet of the supreme religious leader there, traded out when his time, his expiration date came up. Do you still think the mullahs are going to be gone by 2010?
TB: I don’t think they’re going to, I don’t think the mullahs are ever going to be gone. I think their role as kind of the preeminent power brokers in the system is approaching its end, because the system in Iran is so broken, that what you’re looking at is really after a flirtation with a Newt Gingrich-like Ahmadinejad, who’s kind of a professional bomb thrower, a guy who can turn a phrase, and spout a lot of revolutionary stuff, but whose career is going to end up, because he’s such a firebrand, because he burns so many bridges, is going to be pretty short. I think he’s already on his way out, and will be definitely out when they probably go for a pragmatic pick in 2009 as the president. The question will be when the current grand ayatollah dies, who takes his place, there we’ve seen in the last election kind of an unpacking of the assembly of experts with more pragmatic elements. So I think we’re looking at the possibility that Rafsanjani can be an Andropov-like figure, and the question is, who does he pick as a Gorbacev, because I think you’re looking at the rise of pragmatic conservatives inside Iran who realize they can’t have the mullahs as their preeminent face to the outside world, and they need to deal with some of the systemic problems that have been unaddressed across the 28 years of this revolution.
HH: But can Israel allow them to have a nuke? Or can the United States allow them to obtain nuclear weapons?
TB: I think they’ve already achieved a sort of nuclear deterrence, in the sense that the only way we can really take them out, absent the full-off invasion, which we’re not able to do, and Israel doesn’t have a chance at, we would have to go nuclear, basically, with our bombs, to really get a strong sense of wiping out their nuclear capacity. And we won’t strike preemptively in a nuclear fashion, and neither will Israel. So I think we’ve got to understand that not being able to take them out with anything less than nuclear, and not being able to pull off an invasion, they’ve already achieved a certain deterrence. I think we need to ask what that gets us, and I think it may be the answer to peace in the Middle East.
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HH: Step number two, overthrowing Kim Jung Il, do you think we are moving in that direction after the recent announcement? Or do you think that is allowing Kim Jung Il more time to escape the contradictions he’s built around himself, Dr. Barnett?
TB: I think the push we got that yielded the deal that we signed, which is strikingly Clintonian in its trust factor, so I’m sort of with John Bolton on that one, was really more representative of China being really angry with the detonation of the nuke last summer. And I think what really happened, less than the sanctions, financial sanctions that we put on Korea and the freezing of their assets abroad, was that China really let it be known to Kim Jung Il that they can yank his chain in terms of their support, and his desperate need for energy. So I think China is trying to drag this thing out, they’re trying to talk, as Bob Zoelick argued in the Wall Street Journal op-ed a couple of days back, they’re trying to talk Kim Jung Il into becoming sort of a Deng Xiaoping for North Korea. I think they’re ultimately going to fail for that, because I think if he lets any sort of economic reform come about, he’s going to turn counter-reactive. I don’t think he’s going to go through on the nuke deal. I think he’s going to play us and blackmail us down the road. I think the key thing is going to be us establishing a level of trust with China, which I would argue the Bush administration’s done a pretty darn good job on in the personages of Bob Zoelick first, and then Christopher Hill, creating sort of a long term dialogue about what Asia after Kim needs to be like. And the discussion has really broached the subject that I think needs to be broached, and that is the creation of an East Asian NATO that recognizes China’s going to be the biggest player in the region, and basically through some sort of strategic alliance that allows America to remain a key pillar of security in the region, because just about everybody wants us there, and to a certain extent, even China does. That will take great power war off the table in Asia, and allow us to shift resources, and start talking more seriously about China and India giving us some help in the long war in Southwest Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, where they have a lot of rising interests.
HH: Steps six and seven in your ten steps include that China-U.S. alliance, and an Asian NATO. Again, we come back to the subject we’ve discusses a lot over the past eight weeks. Your estimate of China’s danger to us, and their ambitions beyond Taiwan, which many very serious, credible analysts say is much more significant and dangerous to us than you believe. I want to give you, though, a couple of minutes to argue straight into that why not fear China, not just as a near peer military competitor, but as a deceptive, absolutely committed to the rule of the party, though not in the old classic party style sense, and aggressive would-be hegemon.
HH: Well, in terms of their threat as a rising near peer militarily, I just don’t buy that. Our worst estimates are they’re spending about $70 billion. Last year, we spent about $700 billion. I look over the next twenty years, we’re going to outspend them about $10 trillion dollars. So the notion that we can’t hedge against a rising China, which I see building a military that’s essentially about threatening our ability to threaten their ability to threaten Taiwan’s ability to threaten them with a cry for independence. That’s such a myopically focused, no legs sort of military, no strategic projection sort of military, though I don’t really consider them a serious competitor in terms of power projection on the planet. In terms of economic interdependency, I think the thing that most people really don’t get about our relationship with China is how economically interdependent we already are. I mean, we really have used their labor with our multinational corporations to basically create a deflationary pressure on world’s prices, and to keep us living a pretty good life over the last twenty years, that without access to their cheap labor, we wouldn’t have been able to pull off. We don’t really have a trade deficit with China. We basically send our multinationals over there, and we export, we control about 70% of their exports. And all we’re really turning China into is one big final assembler. People talk about it as a trade deficit, because we put value on the good when it’s assembled in China. But the reality is, the people who are making the money are most of the subcontractors on the components, the other Asian countries. We get the cheap goods, China gets a few cents for labor. So they’re not rising to the extent that people make them out to be, and yet they are increasing their savings rate to a tremendous degree, which creates another kind of interesting dependency. We’re reliant on them in terms of their willingness to hold our currency, and they’re increasingly relying on us, because their economy’s so tied to our willingness to take their exports, that if we ever turned on each other, the self destruction would be rapid and complete.
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HH: I want to get through this list, Dr. Barnett. I want to go right to your suggestion that A) in the next couple of decades, the United States may expand the number of states included in its union, and B) that we have a North American union of some sort coming. Can you explain?
TB: Well, you know, the history of the United States has been that we’ve expanded over time. I mean, we’re a rare country in the history of humanity that’s basically added new members progressively over time. We did with our last additions being 1959, and then we got sort of stuck on this number fifty, and it’s become sort of a sacred notion, and that America’s closed for membership, until you get to the post-Cold War era, and then you start watching a European Union seemingly replicating many aspects of our model, political, economic, military, and adding members, and that not being seen as imperialism, but really sort of a brand that’s attractive, and is attracting new members. And I would like to see the United States get back in the business of being a brand so attractive that countries want to join us. I think it’s happened, economically in many ways, you see the dollarization of economies in many parts of Latin America. I think it’s happened, security wise, and has really been a reality going all the way back to the Monroe Doctrine. I don’t see why it can’t happen politically over time, especially when you start thinking about the rising Hispanic quotient in our population, where you’re looking at by the time I’m an old man in 2050, you may have one out of three voters basically Hispanic. And under those conditions, I think it’s pretty open the question of whether we can get back in the business of expanding this country. Juan Enriquez, a Harvard sociologist, a really interesting guy who likes to know, he wrote a great book called The Untied States of America, and I spent some time with him, he likes to note that no American president in this country’s history has ever been born or died under the same flag, and that basically take a president born after 1959, to have served and then died before that string will ever be unbroken, I don’t think it’s going to happen, because I think when you see Cuba go, I think that’s going to be a potential candidate. And once we crack the barrier from 50 to 51, I think we’re going to recognize in some ways, this is a positive sort of race between us and other countries that are going to have that kind of magnet effect over time, China in Asia, the growing European Union.
HH: Do you see American political willingness to embrace, say, some of the states of Mexico, disaggregating from Mexico’s corrupt oligarchic, slow and just not capitalistic, and aligning with the United States?
TB: Well, you know, it depends on how you look at Mexico. There’s really kind of four Mexicos, and the two that are closer to us are actually much more amenable to that kind of process, I would argue, in terms of their standard of living, and the corruption index of their politics, which having lived for years in Rhode Island, I wouldn’t say is as bad as people make out. I think you really have to recognize and remember that Mexico’s already given us something like ten states in the past, so the notion that Mexico voluntarily would find more logical a union with us politically, when it already has economic union for all practical purposes in NAFTA, and it’s had a security union with the United States in all practical senses for decades…
HH: Since the Zimmerman telegram, yes. Okay, very quickly, Kashmir, because Pakistan has lots of nukes, Pakistan has a border with India, Pakistan has crazy separatists and radical Islamists, Kashmir does not look to me to be amenable to any of the sort of solutions you hope will somehow evolve. What do you see happening there?
TB: Well, I don’t see anything happening there that’s going to be a real big problem in the sense that once both sides got nukes, war basically stopped between them on this issue. They still shoot stray shells at each other, and they still talk tough every once in a while, and there are still terrorist acts against one another, but there hasn’t been any significant threat of war since both sides have nukes, and have really come to understand that that kind of rules out that possibility. I worry more about Pakistan in terms of its ungovernable territories in the northwest, where the Taliban have basically resurrected kind of a state within a state, al Qaeda’s operating quite freely. And I think if you get another 9/11 in the United States, you might get one heck of a response towards Pakistan.
HH: All right, the last of your ten steps is really more of a prediction, and one made in sorrow, not happiness. Africa comes last, because Africa offers least, you write. Explain what you mean by that.
TB: Well, I will say of the ten predictions that I made in that book, the one that I’ve kind of come around the most on has probably been Africa. And it’s been through understanding more and more China’s economic penetration of the region, and realizing that in many ways, China is setting up Africa in sort of a quasi-economic colony, to which it will export not just cheap manufactured goods, but ultimately jobs over time. China’s demographic sweet spot today won’t be there in twenty years. They’re going to age more rapidly than any country in human history. So they really have to, after they help us cash out the Boomer generation, by picking up a lot of our assets with all their savings, they’re going to have to find somebody they can in effect manipulate and develop in their own image, much the same way that we’ve done with China over the last twenty years, and that place is going to be Africa, where they already have 100,000 nations engaging in sort of preemptive nation building across the board. It won’t be a smooth process. I think there’s an interesting possibility, and largely a strategic opportunity, for the United States to pair up with China in terms of integrating Africa, and kind of removing that as a potential battle space between us and the radical Salafi jihadists in the future, because when you look at mass of Islam, and you’ve got to remember, the al Qaeda guys are Sunni, not Shia, there is a big swath to the northern part of Africa which has sizeable Sunni populations, and I think you’re going to see Sunni north, Christian south civil wars across the middle of Africa.
HH: The civil wars you just mentioned about China, in Africa, do you see China participating with its allies in the Sunni north in those wars?
TB: No, I think China is already engaging, you know, in the same way that Hezbollah is sort of a force that’s out there now, that shows what good post-war reconstruction and stability ops looks like, even though we don’t care for their tactics, and we don’t care for their victories, I think Hezbollah shows us what an effective post-war sort of insurgency looks like.