Thomas P.M. Barnett on the Pentagon’s New Map
HH: It’s a pleasure to welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map, perhaps the most influential book on foreign policy inside of the Pentagon from the last six or seven years. Mr. Barnett, welcome to the program.
TB: Thanks for having me, Hugh.
HH: Now we’ve been talking via e-mails about perhaps doing something new with this book, taking it very seriously, and moving through its chapters, one at a time, over the course of many weeks and months. But let’s begin by explaining to people who you are and how you came to the position that you came to of influence inside the Pentagon. Give us the quick brief if you can on yourself.
TB: I got a PhD in political science at Harvard in 1990, went and worked for a think tank in Washington that worked primarily for the Navy and Marines for eight years, then went to the Naval War College up in Newport, was a professor there, led a bunch of research projects, one on Y2K, one with Cantor Fitzgerald in a series of workshops atop the World Trade Center to look at the future of globalization and what could threaten it. When 9/11 hits, I get asked by my former boss, former president of the Naval War College, Art Cebrowski, who becomes Don Rumsfeld’s new office force transformation director, to come down to Washington, and I did for about 20 months, worked in the office of the secretary of defense, to come up with a grand strategy for the United States, post-9/11, that could help the admiral think about the choices he was going to make in terms of force structure, meaning what ships, aircraft, weapon systems we buy. The briefing took off for me personally. I started giving it all over the world, attracted the attention of Esquire back in 2002. They named me one of the best and brightest in their inaugural best and brightest issue that December. That became a briefing for the Esquire staff. That became an article that took off like wildfire. That became a book deal, and the book, thanks to Brian Lamb, became a New York Times bestseller.
HH: Now Thomas Barnett, the process you describe of how grand strategy is developed is not a process that was under way at the Pentagon throughout the 90’s. Now I’m merging a little bit the introduction and chapter one, but can you explain what happened to America’s strategic thinking in the 90’s, and the gap that you found?
TB: Well, you know, we’ve gotten so comfortable with letting the Soviets basically size our force, tell us what to buy, and sort of how much to buy it. We got in such a bilateral relationship sort of habit, that when the Soviets went away, we pined for them for about two or three years. We set our sights on Japan, briefly, and then we kind of fell in love with China with the Taiwan Straits crisis in ’94-’95. But the overall structure of our grand strategy has been kind of, really an attempt to avoid a grand strategy. We kept all the old enemy images, and all the old requirements for big war, but then added a whole bunch of small war, or what people identify now as counter-insurgency in Iraq, all sorts of new military operations other than war, on top of all the old requirements. And that became kind of an excuse for saying well, the world is so uncertain, we can’t really pick any sort of strategy. We have to defend against every possibility at all times. And to me, defending against everything is pretty much defending against nothing, because you can’t stretch yourself that thin. But 9/11 really woke us up, gave us a strong sense of the new dangers in the world, and it’s led to a serious recalibration of thinking. It takes time, because the Pentagon’s a big ship. But we’re really moving off the problem we had across most of the 90’s, which was that we had a force for waging war, but we don’t have the force for waging peace.
HH: Now you also describe at length early in the book how senior levels of Pentagon are very reluctant to change. For example, the brief you gave on how to engage the Soviet Navy after there was no Soviet Navy, only a Russian Navy, but that the middle levels are willing to accept that the paradigm has shifted dramatically on them. Has that accelerated in the last three years?
TB: Absolutely. A good example, they were trying to invite me to go to the Army War College for years to give the brief. I finally did, Summer before last. When I got there, I said what’s been the hold up? You know, I’d briefed everywhere else. They said a lot of the people on the staff here thought you were crazy. I said well, why am I here now in the summer of 2005? They said the second tour in Iraq did it. That changed their mind. That gave them a sense that this was an inescapable sort of…you know, not a one off, not a blip, not a pause before we resume our brilliant pursuit of the near peer competitor China, but frankly, the long war, as John Abizaid likes to call it. And when you get guys like Mattis coming back to the Marines, Jim Mattis, Dave Petraeus coming back to Leavenworth, the big schoolhouse for the Army, now going back to be the head of the MNF troops, our whole effort in Iraq, you’re starting to see a kind of experience. And if you track across their career, these guys grew up on Desert Storm, then they went to Somalia, then they did the Balkans. They’ve been to Haiti, they went to Afghanistan, they went to Iraq. So the notion that you can call all the post-war operations, and all the small stuff, and all the special operations, and all that stuff lesser includeds, meaning stuff you don’t really buy for, train for, optimize for, just stuff you assume you can handle if you’re good at the big war. That’s not good enough anymore, because we’ve seen we can whip traditionally echelon arrayed opponents, conventional militaries. But then we come under the gun in the insurgency. So again, we’ve got a first half team in a league that insists on keeping score until the end of the game, and our enemies are smart enough to know I’m not going to fight the first half team, that tremendous war fighting force. I’m going to wait until the Americans go into peacekeeping mode, and then I’m going to kill two or three a day, and that’s how I’m going to drive them out.
HH: Thomas Barnett, does it make sense, the project I’ve been discussing with you via e-mails, can the average civilian listener, even the higher educated one, understand this? And is it necessary that they do?
TB: Well, you know, it’s the reason why, and I know you’re a big defender of blogs, because I saw your interview with Joe Rago, it’s the reason why I started a blog, quite frankly, when the book came out back, the first book, back in April of 2004, so I could get a dialogue with a wide array of people, because I know it’s not easy. I mean, we lived in kind of hedgehog times in the Cold War, you know, the hedgehog knows one big thing, the fox knows many things. Well, knowing one big thing in the Cold War was enough. You know, containment, mutual assured destruction, let the Soviets size our forces. We discovered on 9/11 we’re not living in a hedgehog world anymore. You’ve got to deal with multiple players, multiple types of players, multiple regions, you know, all sorts of dynamics involving economics and other things. It is a complex world. It requires complex explanations. But I believe it’s essential that we raise a generation of not only informed citizens, but frankly a generation in the national security community of real strategists, real grand strategists, people who think about war within the context of everything else, not just war within the context of war, but within everything else we call globalization, because we’ve outsourced the job of grand strategies to journalists, and op-ed columnists, and that’s just not doing the job.
HH: Oh, far from it. Well, Thomas Barnett, nice to make your acquaintance. The book is The Pentagon’s New Map: War And Peace In The 21st Century. I’ll link it at Hughhewitt.com. We’re going to devote an hour a week, or every other week, to one chapter at a time, America. And if you want to figure out what’s going on in the world, here’s your tutor, Thomas Barnett. I’ll be your host. Get the book, and we’ll tell you when we come back for that. Thank you, Mr. Barnett.
End of interview.