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Thomas P.M. Barnett – Part 7

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HH: Joined now by Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett. He’s the author of The Pentagon’s New Map, one of the preeminent global strategists in the United States. The book, The Pentagon’s New Map, widely read and influential within the Pentagon and other military think tanks. We are on Chapter 7 of an eight week series. This chapter, The Miss We Make, and Dr. Barnett, welcome back, always a pleasure to talk to you.

TB: Always a pleasure to be here.

HH: If I could summarize this, I think I’d use the line from Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is a failure to communicate. In this case, America with the world about what it’s up to. Fair?

TB: I think it’s that, but at its core, it’s a misperception as to what shape the world is in right now. There was a tendency coming off the Cold War to assume that what we had back then, and you know, we have a tendency whenever we move off one period and into the next, to look to the last period with a sense of nostalgia. And you know, that runs in about a twenty year cycle, so we are very nostalgic right now for the 1980’s, and the so-called stability of the Cold War. But the truth is that the 1980’s were the peaking of most of the dangerous trends we saw in the world. It was the peaking of global defense spending. It was the global peaking of men under arms. It was the global peaking of arms transfers. It was the global peaking of the number of terrorist incidents around the world, even though we get more deadly incidences now. You look back to 1985-1987, and it was really the last great gasp of a lot of violence around the world, and we’ve been on a generally very peaceful trend ever since, so that when we count up the wars we have today, and the civil strife, and the military coups, and the incidences of genocide and politically inspired violence, we’re actually looking at numbers that are better than we’ve seen in 30, 40, and in some instances, 50, 60 years, going all the way back to the Second World War. So you know, the first thing you’ve got to get across to people is right now in history, never has a smaller percentage of humanity ever been involved, or in the course of organizing itself currently, to engage in acts of mass violence or terror. It’s actually the most peaceful we’ve ever been, and we’ve never had a global economy that’s ever been as big, and as expansive, and as stable, and as growing as we’ve got now.

HH: I think you persuasively move through some of those myths, and I want to come back to them. But I found the second half of Chapter 7 much more compelling about the problems we face, even in the midst of the non-chaos and the economic boom that we find ourselves in. I want to read a fairly lengthy quote from Page 354-355, where you write, “Where we need to put forth vision, we have left the impression of vindictiveness. Where we needed to offer hope in the future worth creating, we frighten needlessly with loose talk of who’s next and bring it on, or World War III or IV, I lose count at times.”

TB: Right.

HH: “Finally, where we needed to explain grand strategy, we’ve spoken menacingly of preemption and little else. We have defined the future in terms of what America fears and desires, not what the world fears and desires. We recognize a core that is threatened, but not a gap crying out in suffering. We have failed in our imagination, in our words and in our deeds. It is time for this nation to grow beyond our sense of anger and humiliation over 9/11, and the first foolish notion we must discard is the only way we can make the future safe is to partition it through empire.” I agree wholly with that. The question is how do you do it?

TB: Well, like most of these arguments, it tends to be generational shifts. You know, I think what we’re suffering right now is almost the Boomer leadership that we’ve been saddled with, that still views things in kind of binary, zero sum ways. And it’s because their seminal experiences were in the 1960’s, and so they’re so tainted by Vietnam, and so tainted by the height of the Cold War, and they were raised in that mindset. I really think that’s a trap that we find ourselves locked into, in terms of the leadership we’ve had since 1990, and I think we’re probably looking at another six to eight more years of that kind of stuff before we really move into a generation that probably…you know, more reflective, the first candidate we’ve gotten so far is Obama, more reflective of people born after 1960, who really came of age in the 1970’s, and start to see the world in terms of its gross connectivity, which really became apparent to us as we discussed earlier, once the Cold War peaked, you know, ’72, ’73, we make d

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