Thomas P.M. Barnett – Part 5
HH: Part 5 now with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, in the conversation about his book, The Pentagon’s New Map, one of the most important books of the last many years, read throughout the Pentagon, instrumental in rethinking our strategic approach to the world through the military and beyond. Dr. Barnett, welcome back. Good to have you.
TB: Thanks for having me.
HH: Well, this chapter, Chapter 5, The New Ordering Principles, starts with a right hook. Would you give us an update on your daughter, Emily, and how she came to launch Chapter 5?
TB: Well, my daughter, Emily, was born in 1991, and it was in the summer of 1994, when she was 2 ½, that when I was changing a diaper of hers, she was in the middle of potty training at the time, I felt a lump on her right abdomen, and I just saw it sort of moving under her skin. That ended up being some tests, and kind of the radical redefinition of our family life when we discovered she had an advanced case of kidney cancer, lost one kidney, and the cancer had spread into both of her lungs, so a stage four out of stage five, and we didn’t have to ask what stage five was. So we ended up putting on about a sixteen month in that regard, having a second child, whom we discovered my wife was pregnant with, almost the day we got back from the hospital from the initial surgeries and chemotherapy and radiation. So we went through this kind of amazing ten month period when we were trying to keep our first born alive, and have our second one be born. And it was, for me, as somebody who likes to think of himself as a grand strategist, and sees it as a lifetime pursuit, this is almost where my character was born, and my understanding of what it takes to be a long term thinker really came about, because we were faced with a host of decisions. You know, a two year old facing a five year survival rate, that’s nothing. I mean, that gets them to seven, and we really needed a solution that got her to, you know, hopefully 120. So it really was an amazing glimpse, and an amazing crucible to travel through, intellectually and as a parent, to realize that I was making decisions, along with my wife, regarding my daughter’s care, and we had to make some big ones, that really had an impact, stretching out, you know, decades. And it kind of gave me a sense as to what it means when something like that perturbs your system, something so shocking that it reorders your entire view of the world, and you say I’m in a different universe now, and I have to act differently, and I have to interact with others differently, and I have to have some new rules attached to it.
HH: And you change everything. Just to illustrate, during her chemo period and her radiation period, people were barred at the door, who otherwise would have been welcomed into your home a short period before, simply because of the necessity to reorder how you lived.
TB: Because she had a depressed immune system, so kids would show up, friends would show up, anybody who had a sniffle, we just said no. And it was that kind of bizarre reordering, and it was hard to explain to people, because we were trying to keep her alive through a very desperate and dangerous situation. But even that told me some interesting things about, you know, how you have to think about defense in depth. You know, she had this depressed immune system, so we had to sort of work on our insides, make sure she got the right kind of food to build her blood up after the chemotherapy rounds. She had this hole in her chest through which a catheter was permanently placed. That was sort of like, you know, a hole in the system that allowed bad things to come in and attack her. And then we had to keep her whole environment clean around her. So we had to worry about kind of inside the connection between her and the outside, and the outside world. And I make comparisons in the book to the kind of challenges all of a sudden we found ourselves waking up to as a country, in terms of realizing the home game, and the concerns about homeland security, a new focus on perimeter security with our borders and what not, and then that new fence that we can’t just let bad things exist out there in the world that can come and harm us. We have to be more proactive than we’ve been in the past.
HH: You referred to her as the girl that lived. I assume she’s doing fine?
TB: She is. She likes that phrase, because she’s a big Harry Potter fan. She’s 15 now, and boy, she’s a completely different package. I’ll tell you that.
HH: Well now, let’s go…that was the jumping off point, and here comes the right hook. Osama bin Laden’s message on 9/11 was essentially this. You will never be able to live with us in your midst, we will attack you from within, we will never give you peace. Your only choice is to remove us from your world by removing yourself from ours. The only alternative to this outcome is that one of us must die. That is absolutely right. One of us must die. Either the core assimilates the gap, or the gap divides the core. And again, this relates back to Emily. Either you won or the cancer won. It was a completely shattering event.
TB: Right, right, right. And the cancer felt like that. It had kind of gotten inside the walls of the house, and gotten inside the skin of my first born, and it was there to kill her, and it was going to be…either it went, or she went. And that kind of ordering principles is profound. I mean, it’s Earth-shattering. I think that’s what 9/11 was for a lot of people. And I think that was Osama bin Laden’s basic take on us, was that if he scared us enough, dramatically enough, kind of punched us hard, right in the face, he was hoping to shock us so out of control, that we’d say you know what? It’s not worth it. We’ll pulling out of the Middle East, and he’d have his set piece with the House of Saad that he’s really gunning for. And instead, we basically threw Bush’s decision to go not just to Afghanistan but to Iraq, we basically threw the gauntlet back in his face, and said you know what? We’re going to connect the Middle East faster than you can disconnect it, and we’re not leaving until your part of the world connects, and in fact, until your chances for acquiring power are completely destroyed.
HH: What I liked about Chapter 5, Dr. Barnett, is it’s something I could imagine being written 150 years from now, because it is at that level. It’s a here is the challenge thrown down by bin Laden, here is the riposte by the Bush administration, and it’s got none of this day to day kind of, is the surge going to work, whatever. But it’s genuinely the distillation of what happened.
TB: Right. And you know, that’s the hardest part to sell to people, is that we’re in this thing, you know, and it’s not really our choice to leave or to come. I mean, we’ve been drawn into a battle that’s been raging, I would argue, inside the Middle East for quite some time, and there’s just no way we can divorce ourselves from it, because even if we’re not there, you know what? The Asian economies depend so much on access to oil, that the world has got to be there on some level. And since we’re the only country that has the capacity to project military power, you know, this is the world we live in. Either we deal with it, or we retreat and just accept the fact that we’re not going to have a standard of living that we can really enjoy.
HH: Now I want to back up to system perturbations. What an unwieldy term. I know why you use it, but couldn’t you have come up with something cleverer?
TB: Well, it’s the notion of…the classic example is you drop a stone in a pond, and you say that’s the vertical action, that’s the vertical scenario, dropping the stone in the pond. But what it creates are these horizontal scenarios, the ripple effects. And you start to think about that as a way of describing sort of the asymmetrical attack that you experience, or to describe sort of any kind of shock to the system. I mean, if you think about Katrina, if you think about SARS, you know, they tend to have a geographic quality to them, they tend to come out of the blue, they tend to scare people. They don’t tend to kill a lot of people per se, but they have repercussions that are much bigger than the actual strike. And so you start to realize that’s…my argument is that’s a way of describing what it is to be attacked in a dense, interconnected world. It’s the disconnectedness that results that’s your real problem with. Not so much the original strike, because I don’t think you can stop anybody from doing anything they can dream up. I mean, it’s a complex world. But you’ve got to get better at being resilient in terms of handling what comes as a result of that strike.
HH: The movie is not mentioned, the Jurassic Park movie, and I doubt you’ve seen it, given the fifteen years you’ve lived. But it would be tantamount to the electrical failure that occurred on the island, and everything that happened next to it. You got in the mood for doing this, because you were sent to the Navy War College, hired there, not sent…
HH: …and assigned Y2K planning by a somewhat eccentric general. You didn’t want the assignment, but it turned out to be a set up for grand strategy, post-9/11. We’ve got about a minute and a half to the break. Explain why.
TB: Well, the idea, the guy in charge, Admiral Art Zabrowsky, the father of net centric warfare, was that Y2K was going to be sort of a dry run, or a war game, almost, with a firm deadline that would give us the sense as to how all this connectivity of the information age was altering without us realizing our definitions of national security and international stability. So we ran a series of workshops looking at Y2K, and we said you know what? We’re just going to stipulate it’s going to be bad, bad all across the board, all across the world. What does that look like? And we came up with a description of all these fantastic scenarios. None of it happened on Y2K, January 1st, 2000. A lot of these things happened with 9/11, and it was because we spent time imagining what a strike like that would be. We didn’t spend any time imagining a strike on the World Trade Center, but we spent time imagining what that kind of shocking strike against a connected system would have in terms of its ultimate repercussions.
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HH: When we went to break, we were talking about those shocks to the system that rescramble and recalibrate everything. Your better analogy here, dinosaurs and mammals, Dr. Barnett. Explain that.
TB: Well, we hypothesized with the Y2K effect that what it would do is it would reward the most efficient, and it would penalize the least efficient in the system. So all this connectivity rising with the information revolution, those who had mastered that complexity would come through Y2K swimmingly, and we thought those who didn’t master it would have a hard time, and would be kind of separated from the pack. So we said it was almost like the meteor effect on dinosaurs. The meteor hits, the dust rises, the dinosaurs can’t handle that problem, apparently, they die off in numbers, the mammals arise in their wake. So the question becomes, when you get that kind of shocking reordering of the system, who are the dinosaurs, and who are the mammals?
HH: Now I want to go back to Cantor Fitzgerald, and explain to people this is the investment banking firm, headquartered around the world, but also in the World Trade Center, took grievous losses on 9/11.
HH: You had been in deep consultations with them for a long period of time.
HH: It was part of your war college studies. Explain what happened to Cantor Fitzgerald in the aftermath of 9/11.
TB: Well, it was kind of ironic. Remember back to ’93, when they had the first bombing at the World Trade Center, Cantor Fitzgerald later, through the personage of a retired Navy admiral, came to the war college, and we ended up doing a series of economic security war games, we called them, atop the World Trade Center at the Window On The Worlds restaurant on the 107th floor, where we brought together Wall Street CEO’s, national security heavyweights, military people, and subject matter experts, to look at the future of globalization, and to get a sense that well, if the 1990’s were like the 1920’s, what would make the 2000’s like the 1930’s? What would send the world down a pathway of self-destruction or danger, or what would an attack on globalization look and feel like? And so it was kind of ironic, because this was a project that brought together the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, you know, these two buildings, that were struck on 9/11, Cantor Fitzgerald loses, oh God, I think it was 650 people, or…it was just an amazing number. It was like basically everybody there that morning. And what was so amazing about the story was that you know, they had both a dinosaur, sort of, and a mammal within their midst. They had the old fashioned form of worker bees, the traders, who did things on the phones, and looked at screens and made split second decisions that way. But they had also created sort of a cannibalizing agent within the overall company structure called E-speed, that was moving the company progressively towards electronic trading. So what saved them in the end was that even with the catastrophic losses of the traders, they were able, through the resiliency afforded them by all the infrastructure they had created with this new electronic trading firm they created called E-speed, they were able to shift that load off to the new company, and somehow survive the process of losing all those people, and actually posting a profit in the fourth quarter of 2001, which was part of Howard Lutnick’s great charge, to make sure that he could take care of all the widows and orphans created by that terrible day.
HH: So now, it was not really a question of disaster planning. It was redundancy, but redundancy for the new speed of the world, history accelerating, and you have to be able to be resilient in almost a nanosecond.
TB: They were already evolving, is the point. You know, they had already evolved themselves into the next generation, and it kind of shows you that if you want to be resilient, you have to always be adapting yourself to the environment.
HH: A couple more examples of perturbing events. You mention in Chapter 5, previously in history triggers, such as the crucifixion of Christ, it’s a perturbing event. It will change everything, but it will change everything over decades or centuries.
HH: Now it’s days and weeks. One of them Beijing and SARS. Explain how this faster perturbation plays out there.
TB: Well, they ran into a situation, China did, where they were far more connected with the world than they realized. I mean, they’ve connected up in terms of all this travel, all this money going in and out, all this business, but they still have parts of their universe in China which are still semi-backward. So you have the kind of dangerous practices with poultry and agricultural livestock in the Canton province, Guangdong Province, as they call it now, and you get…that’s typically where the flues arise for the planet. Well, we got SARS, kind of this superflu, a few years back, and lo and behold, it quickly transmitted itself not just to Guangzhou, but right over to Honk Kong. And once it hits Hong Kong, international node for international travel, boom. You get SARS traveling all around the planet very rapidly. That’s when the World Health Organization, sort of the global authority on this kind of thing, comes in and basically says to China, you get this thing fixed, or we’re going to stop travel in and out of your country. It actually happened to Toronto, where somebody showed up from Honk Kong, infected with SARS, and the WHO shut down Toronto for some period of time. And all of a sudden, China was responsible for all this disruption around the world, and was forced into dealing with the lack of transparency in its own health system. And what it triggered was a huge uptick in state to state cooperation among all the countries in Southeast Asia, so that when Avian Flu comes along a few years later, they’re far more resilient.
HH: And demonstrating, I think, the point that if you are connected to the core, as China is, uneasily, but nevertheless there, you cannot adapt non-core behaviors and succeed in it.
TB: No, you’re forced, you know, each time you have one of these perturbations, you’re forced by the system as a whole to kind of get your ship in order, and to conform more an more to the rule. So the more you connect, the more you’re subject to the code.
HH: Now Sub-Saharan Africa, after 9/11, also connects with a demand for pharmaceutical relief for its AIDS crisis, a sort of reverse to the China connection.
TB: Yeah, this is one of those great complexity tales, you know, the butterfly flaps its wings in China, and you get a hurricane off the coast of Florida. What had happened was, and we talked about this as a possibility of Y2K, you get the 9/11 strike, and we were concerned that people would take advantage of Y2K to sow their own seeds of mischief, and then claim credit as part of the great, you know, awakening of terror and chaos that some people had predicted with Y2K, so it didn’t surprise us that when you had 9/11, you’ve got this fellow traveler who jumps into the situation right on its heels, and spreads anthrax, okay?
TB: You get five dead, eighteen sick in America. I mean, in terms of actual deaths, it was miniscule. I mean, it wasn’t even a good car wreck. But it created repercussions, especially since the anthrax was spread into the Senate offices. Right on the heels of that, you get Canada, normally a very sedate and very regular rule set follower, Canada declares that it’s going to break Bayer Pharmaceuticals’ patent on Cipro, and it’s going to start pumping out generic versions to make the country safe from this possible sort of attack. Well, that was kind of stunning for Canada to step up and do something like that. America didn’t have to make such threats, or go through such demands, because all America needed to do was glance sort of knowingly across the Atlantic at Bayer, the German giant pharmaceutical, and they were smart enough to start pumping out Cipro 24/7, all across the world, and flooding the U.S. market with Cipro at cut rate prices to make sure they appeared to be very responsive to new American concerns. Now Africa watches this, sub-Saharan Africa, which for years had been arguing on the AIDS crisis to the core, as I call it, advanced countries, you have got to give us a break on patents. You’ve got to give us some sort of relief here. You’ve got to let Indian and Brazilian pharmaceutical companies come up with your triple cocktail, break all your patents, and give it to us cheap, because we’re talking about a huge crisis here, lots of people dying, and the result, the response you usually got from the West was hey, that’s too much to ask for. Well, that response wasn’t good enough, the result was we got a new deal on the WTO treaty…
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HH: We got cut off going to break there, Dr. Barnett.
HH: During the go around of the World Trade Organization, sub-Saharan Africa just rose up and said if you can break Cipro’s patent, you can break the patent on these cocktails.
TB: Right. And it was us being revealed as saying hey, under national security emergency conditions, we’ll come up with a new rule set on drugs if that’s what’s required. And what sub-Saharan Africa countries basically said to us was hey, we think we’re in that kind of situation with AIDS. Cut us a break, or we’ll derail the launching of the development round. Since that was occurring in November, 2001, and the advanced countries certainly didn’t want to make it look like Osama bin Laden derailed those talka by creating this big tumult, they basically gave in. It’s been complex in terms of the outcome, but they basically gave in to the demands of developing countries to get some relief on patents with AIDS drugs, so the outcome, oddly enough, in this complex world, Osama bin Laden attacks America on 9/11, and you get cheaper AIDS drugs throughout the gap as a result.
HH: Now to the core and the controversial section of Chapter 5, your argument that the United States needs to be a perturber, that it needs to, and Bush did embrace, the big bang strategy, that the Middle East simply does not work for the vast bulk of people who live there, that that therefore, we went in and turned over all the tables as a response to 9/11. We changed the rules.
TB: Right. And you know, we have that history. I mean, the birth of our country was a rules set reset for the planet. I mean, it sort of said this is a new possibility, this kind of democracy, this kind of government, this kind of new expression of political and economic union. And so we have a history of doing that, and we really did it, I would argue, in enjoining the effort in the Second World War and coming out of it, and creating all those international organizations under Truman, and creating the whole sort of structure for the Cold War, and we were kind of called upon again by 9/11 to say you know, here’s the new package. And we’ve gotten some of the rules out there. I mean, the preemption concept with Bush, I think, is a necessary rule set change. The trick has been how do we get it acceptance among a wide enough array of countries in the world that it becomes not just a perceived unilateralist act by America, but instead becomes a sort of logical expression of the will of a majority of countries on the planet.
HH: Now I want to quote you, I’m sure it’s a line that strikes some of your audience as absurd, and others stand up and cheer. “Not only is the United States government the greatest force for good the world has ever known, but the U.S. military is the single greatest instrument of that good as well.” Now I know that as a matter of statistics, you’ve proven that, just in terms of mission days spent bringing relief to the world where suffering is occurring.
HH: But nevertheless, that still posits positive good to the U.S. military’s operations in the world, and that must strike some as far-fetched.
TB: Well, I mean, I think you’ve got to look at it in terms of the grand sweep of history. When we saved Europe in terms of a very disastrous civil war in the first World War, we came back and stopped the threat of fascism in the Second World War, and basically have engaged in a long term babysitting operation in Europe that, you know, gave birth to the EU over the long haul. We stood down the threat of the communist socialist bloc, and on that basis, helped liberate 3 billion people in the direction of markets and economic freedom, and hopefully over time, political freedom. We’ve become a huge glue in Asia, and participated in that section of the world’s rise. Yes, there were things we did along the way that were great missteps, Vietnam being one of them. But you have to look at these mistakes in terms of the larger stories that don’t get told, which is when Americans come and stay with their forces, typically, stability ensues, economic integration ensues, and you get prosperity over time and lasting peace. We’re down to the tougher nuts now with sub-Saharan Africa and the announcement today by Bush that there will be an Africa command, which is something I predicted in the second book, Blueprint For Action, and we’re stuck in the Middle East for quite some time. But these are no longer challenges, and no greater challenges than what we faced in the past. We just have to remember our role in history, and I argue that that’s a very, very, very positive role that no other country has aspired to, to the degree that we have.
HH: Now we’ll talk about Iraq after the break, but just to set it up, it seems to me that if you read your book and go back to that 30,000 feet, that the chaos of Iraq, whether it’s a marketplace bombing that kills 150 people, or the loss of great young Americans, which happens every single day, and you know some of their families, I know some of their families, that nevertheless, in the world historical context you’re describing, the chaos in Iraq really isn’t that much chaos.
TB: Not in the grand scheme of things. I mean, it doesn’t…we’re actually a world more at peace than we’ve ever been, and with a global economy that we’ve never enjoyed before. So I mean, we’re trying to affect change in a part of the world that’s not been well integrated up to now, but which we need to integrate because of the rising demand for energy around the planet.
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HH: We turn now to Iraq, Dr. Barnett. What year did you finish writing The Pentagon’s New Map?
TB: I wrote it in August and September of 2003.
HH: So six months into the invasion, and here we are, three years and six months later, and the four possible outcomes you described in The Pentagon’s New Map, I hate to say it, but right now, it looks like the Blackhawk Down, the series, when you were hoping it would be the new Berlin Wall.
TB: I was hoping we’d…yeah, and we should explain kind of how I got those four scenarios.
TB: It’s kind of a classic Royal Dutch Shell future scenario methodology. Ask a couple of questions, usually a what question as to what the outcome could be, and then you ask a how question, how could it come about. So the what question…
HH: Can we stop for a sec…what is the Royal Dutch Shell thing you just mentioned?
TB: Well, Royal Dutch Shell were sort of pioneers in business scenario planning.
TB: So they pioneered this kind of business-oriented approach to thinking through complex future alternatives, and creating scenarios which give the audience a deep understanding as to what that possible world would look and feel like. And once they give you a variety of those choices, you get a sense of the possible range of futures, and you ask yourself, how am I positioned to deal with those futures? So it’s a simple methodology. You ask a couple of questions, you get four outcomes, a yes-yes, a no-yes, a yes-no, and a no-no. And that gives you the four scenarios. So you try to keep it kind of rigorous and simple. What I did in this four-way scenario was basically to say hey, either the big bang is going to work, meaning we deal with Iraq effectively, and it creates kind of a tumult of change around the region, or Iraq is going to do badly, and you’re going to get kind of a cause celeb that’s going to draw a lot of resistence from around the region. And then there’s the question of Iraq itself. Does it become made over effectively, or does it end up becoming sort of America’s West Bank? And I think you’re right. We’re kind of stuck on the bad end of both of those spectrums. Iraq is looking more like America’s West Bank than a successful makeover, and we are seeing the cause celeb argument that the National Intelligence Council made, and not really the follow through on the big bang that we were hoping for, and that looked like, quite frankly, was going to be achieved as late as about sixteen to twenty-five months after the original invasion. There was a lot of very positive change throughout the region, which has since retrenched to a certain extent, because we haven’t been successful in the reconstruction. So I dubbed that kind of bad-bad scenario Blackhawk Down, a kind of a never ending series. Unlike a one-time act in Somalia, it’s the thing that just goes on, week after week after week, and since it’s broadcast across the media, it has a very numbing effect that kind of says to America, quagmire, a repeat of Vietnam, we can never defeat all these people, we’re better off to leave. And that’s the problem.
HH: Now in the opening to his autobiography, The Oak and the Calf, Solzhenitsyn wrote about what if the fa