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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Thomas P.M. Barnett, Pt. 5

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HH: I’m not actually there. I haven’t come back from vacation, yet, and I’ll be back on Monday. But before I left, I took the opportunity to spend an hour in our series of conversations with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of Great Powers: America And The World After Bush, because I wanted to keep up the momentum. I wanted to make sure that once a week we continued as I had promised from the beginning, the conversation about this very important book about grand strategy, America’s place in the world, 2008-09, and going forward. Dr. Barnett, welcome back. We’re on Chapter 6 today, The Security Realignment: Rediscovering Diplomacy, Defense & Development. And I’ve got to say, I was reading it at the same time that I was preparing for an interview with Thomas Ricks on his new book, The Gamble.

TPMB: Right.

HH: And I’ll cover with Ricks the 2004-2008 near collapse and then the recovery in Iraq. But I want to focus on what I thought was the most important part of your chapter, which is what’s ahead for the Pentagon. And I’d like to start by the three generals you profile – General Wallace, Maddis and Petraeus, and what they represent vis-à-vis Colin Powell’s generation as sort of a set up question to you.

TPMB: Well, you know, what Powell’s generation took from Vietnam, even though we got fairly good at doing counterinsurgency and nation building near the end, what they took from that experience was one, never get stuck with the post-war again, and two, almost to purposefully deny those assets to yourself in order to make your military very good at the war, but not capable of the peace, and so unusable, in effect, for the peace. And so the Powell Doctrine truly extrapolated from the Weinberger Doctrine, basically said we’d only use force in the post-Vietnam era in a very overwhelming fashion. And then we really wouldn’t try to do any sort of post-war reconstruction or stability operations. In effect, we would go, we would beat down the bad actors, rescue who needed to be rescued, and then if we had to go back and do it all over again in six or seven years, then that was the definition of realism for these guys. And it did revive the military from the depths of the Vietnam experience. And Powell gets tremendous credit along with everybody in his generation for reviving the professional spirit and taking what was a non-professional military, ending the draft, and making it the first truly professional military which conquered the coordination aspect of ground, air and sea, the co-called joint force. So we get a truly all powerful leviathan out of this process. But it does trigger a period, roughly from ’75 right through about 2004, so it’s about a three decade period, where we essentially denied the legitimacy of doing that kind of post-war small war stuff. Instead, we concentrated on the big scenarios, and called everybody else lesser includeds. And that worked if you believed in the Powell Doctrine’s approach, but my problem with the Powell Doctrine and the post-Cold War era is that it seemed like such a cynical dismissal of the responsibilities of actually making places better than we found them when we went in and did our business in terms of the military interventions. So we’d go to Iraq and we don’t really solve anything, so we go back to Iraq. We go to Somalia, we don’t really solve anything, we’ve been back to Somalia. We went to Haiti, we didn’t really solve anything, and we ended up going back to Haiti. So by the time he retires and he shifts over to the State Department, he had left behind a tremendous legacy, a military that was really unfit for the post-war, didn’t have the doctrine, didn’t have the equipment. You know, that famous question asked by the National Guardsmen to Rumsfeld, which got the response from Rumsfeld, you know, you go to war with the army that you have, not the one that you want. And it was all of a sudden, some seemed like the public was pinning the lack of armored Humvees on just Rumsfeld. And the reality was, the Army didn’t buy armored Humvees for three decades. I mean, they just didn’t buy those kinds of things. They didn’t want to have those sorts of assets, because they didn’t want to give the political leadership the sense that they were capable in the post-war. So it kind of inoculated them, and it was a kind of an extreme expression. But because we didn’t really solve anything with these interventions, we got more and more frustrated. And below the Powell generation arose another generation, you can call them the Petraeus generation, guys who made their entire career in these situations that had significant post-wars, where they got a taste of them like in the no-fly zones, and the efforts we did to stabilize the Kurds after the first Gulf War. They did a lot of time in Somalia, these guys, they went to Haiti. A lot of them cut their teeth big time in the Balkans, so they had gone through these experiences and knew what was coming in terms of the decision to go into Iraq. But the system as a whole, I will tell you, was very kind of cynically predisposed not to prepare efficiently for it, and you could argue that the Bush administration, or specifically the neocons, had almost an extreme belief in the power of military power to affect social and political and economic change almost in a fell swoop, that kind of shock and awe extrapolated. So when you get to the troubles we start experiencing in the post-war, there arises this kind of new generation, plus a key player they bring back, a retired general by the name of Schoomaker, and they make two huge changes in the U.S. military. First, they modularize the Army. They go from the structure of divisions as the fungible unit, and they break them down back into brigade level, almost like regiment level, 4-5,000 we had in the U.S. Army prior to the first World War, back when we were a continental constabulary force. So they broke down the big division structure of the 20th Century, made it very fungible because it was going to be rotatable, and they all had to be at tier one readiness, meaning they all had to be ready to fight. You couldn’t have rear echelon, which only half their equipment, and mid-echelon with some of their equipment, and first tier guys on the front line who had all of their equipment. Everybody had to have their equipment. So that was one big change, and the other big change which I talk about in the book with Maddis and Petraeus and Wallace in particular, Wallace who heads Leavenworth, replaced by Petraeus, and then goes on to TraDoc, training and doctrine command for the military, and Maddis, a Marine Corps general who goes and runs Quantico, is that they take the lessons learned process, which had been much more gather it during the war, and then cogitate on it after the war and get ready for the next war. They took that very slow, ponderous process and made it very real time, to the point where Maddis had his Marine officers interviewing wounded Marines in Bethesda like the night they got there from Germany, and then had their lessons plugged into new training within 24 hours.

HH: Now is this trio, are they exceptional, or are they emblematic?

TPMB: I think they’re emblematic. I think it’s fair to say they’re emblematic. The cynic in me argued, you know, I’ve had this argument with a lot of people over time, was Iraq a diversion. I say no, because it was closer to al Qaeda’s real goals, and better to send those things spinning, the Persian Gulf, then to get mired down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I think we’re back to that essential question now about how much we’re really going to risk blood and treasure on a part of the world that has no strategic importance to us. But the other reason why I thought Iraq was important is that I could really see us going to Afghanistan and saying you know what, the Brits did this, the Soviets did this, we do it for a couple of years and just say the heck with it and we pull out, whereas Iraq was so important, that by going in there and really doing the post-war, it meant we were going to have the pain and the struggle and the losses, quite frankly, that made that military change very dramatically to the point where we are now, I would argue, finally conquering the Vietnam syndrome, which was not about bombing opponents to smithereens from 30,000 feet. We know how to do that. We’ve done that in exemplar fashion throughout the history. It’s being willing to stay and do the block by block, and the mile by mile clearing out and the holding, and the counterinsurgency, and winning the hearts and minds of the people, and understanding it’s not how many bad guys you kill, it’s how many locals you win over.

HH: Now these three generals, Wallace, Maddis and Petraeus, when they came back, you make a point in this chapter which I find fascinating as a layman, that the military’s always had these schools, always had these commands where they analyze what just happened, but they’ve never sent their best warriors there during the course of a conflict. And yet what happened with the COIN and the other facilities is truly extraordinary. This was smart.

TPMB: It was, you know, it was almost a revolt from below. A lot of people make this argument, the Millennials, the youngest guys, and you’ll love this. They start blogging uncontrollably, and they start chatting with each other in chat rooms. And there’s a very famous New Yorker piece on this that gets cited in the COIN, Counterinsurgency Field Manual, and these guys start getting the wrath of their own officers who see them rigging up their computers or laptops and having all this conversation. And they said you’re breaking operational security. You’re talking about security things, al Qaeda will listen in. And the response, you know, kind of apocryphal was, listen, dumbass, these guys already know these tactics. We need to teach each other so we don’t get killed, okay? And that response started, and started brewing in these blogs and in these chat rooms, and company commanders in these various website, and it got intense. I mean, the blowback from below in terms of the officers, young officers who said, the junior ones, they said you just haven’t trained us for this. And if you refuse to train us and change our system to train us, we’re going to train ourselves, and we’re going to do it off-line, we’re going to do it against the rules, and we’re going to do it on our own, and we’re going to do it peer to peer. And that, I think, was so challenging to the U.S. Army in particular, less so to the Marines who kind of take change better, that they started bringing these guys inside the wire, inside the internets, the approved intranets, brought them inside the Leavenworth collections. There’s still a lot of discussion outside.

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HH: Riveting, especially if as I have done for the last seven and a half years, you try and cover the war as best you can. You know, Dr. Barnett, I was amazed when I put in a request to David Petraeus, and he got up in the middle of the night, and he called the radio show, and we talked in July of 2007 about the surge. I had talked to Casey, I had talked to Abizaid, but they were not the same kind of conversations. And what I see revealed here is that he had a real grasp, as did the people he brought to Leavenworth, of the changing information element in this war, and the need to fight it at all levels using all teams and all opportunities to talk to anyone about it.

TPMB: Right, I mean, Schoomaker, the guy who was the Army chief of staff, who came back from being head of Special Operations Command, he came out of retirement, he’s the guy who did the modularization. He and Wallace were sort of more old war horses who learned, and really made huge changes, whereas Maddis and Petraeus, in my mind, were the classic monks in the sense that they read everything. They read blogs, they read chat rooms. They were so totally wired in.

HH: Well, Petraeus sent you an e-mail, right? He was reading your blog.

TPMB: Right, and you always get accused of name dropping when you make a note like that, but I just, I was so impressed by his grasp of things. And Maddis was the same way. He reads just everything across the board, and he makes his officers read like crazy.

HH: Yeah, Maddis’ EO had me down to Pendleton to go through their simulation warfare, even though I’ve never been to Iraq, but he wanted a radio talk show host to at least understand how they were training the troops. These guys are impressive in their understanding of the need to push information out. But now Schoomaker, by the way, he’s a Rumsfeld hire. You’ve got to give Rumsfeld points for that.

TPMB: Listen, you’ve got to give Rumsfeld points for all these hires.

HH: That’s true.

TPMB: I mean, and the cover story I did on Rumsfeld for Esquire, you know, there were two points I was trying to get across. One was everybody talks about the fighting force, but people don’t realize that what most, what Rumsfeld did was really on the force that generates the fighting force, the institution of the Army and the Navy and the Air Force and the Marines, who crank that force that gets overseas and does that. He did a lot of changes back here at home that made it much smoother and faster, to the point where, you know, quite effectively, that transformed force did similar sorts of efforts, made similar sorts of success, suffered similar sorts of losses, with half as many troops in the second war as compared to the first war. That was a very well run war. Where they came a-cropper was really admitting what was the force requirements for the post-war. But even there you have to give Rumsfeld, and that was the second point I wanted to make in the piece, you had to give him credit because he spent about half his time obsessing over who was the right pick for the right, you know, everything one and two star and above. So bringing back Schoomaker, moving Wallace back to Leavenworth, and then to TraDoc, Training Doctrine Command, bringing Maddis back, bringing Petraeus back, I mean, these were all his choices time and time again. So he can be accused of not having made a fast enough effort, and I think he’s rightfully accused to make the adjustment, but he did put the guys in position, and he didn’t stop them from making the adjustment as quickly as they were able to. There was political obstructionism, I would argue, from a White House that was concerned about the ’04 and ’06 elections, so we didn’t get like enough truth on the post-war until after ’04, we didn’t get enough truth on the insurgency until after ’06. But these guys were chomping at the bit, and you have to give Rumsfeld credit for putting them in the right situations, because it really is a huge shift from blue Navy and Air Force, who are the dominant leviathan players, you know, the big war players, so they’re the bigger services in a Cold War setting. It’s a big shift from blue to green, Army and Marine, because in a post-Cold War, or in this long war environment, where you’re going to have lots of small wars instead of big ones, those guys are going to be the guys doing the fighting. And over time, they’re the ones who are going to rise on the basis of the operational experience. And in effect, their mafia is going to become the dominant leadership cohort inside the military and all the services. So it’s a big, big generational shift.

HH: You know, that is such an alarming statement if you’re a Navy guy that I’m sure you’ve got a lot of admirals not very happy with Dr. Barnett.

TPMB: Well…

HH: But I’ve got to ask you about Rumsfeld and grading him, and more importantly, the effort underway under Gates. You write at one point, we don’t need the joint strike fighter or the future combat system. We need more minesweepers, less stealth aircraft, and a whole laundry list. Was that part of Rumsfeld’s transformation? He went after some of the big items pretty early in his tenure, but then the war caught up with all of that reform. Where does the Pentagon stand now in your assessment of what it needs to be buying and not buying?

TPMB: Yeah, Rumsfeld went after a couple of big ticket items early on, and said you know, I just don’t see the appropriateness of these. But then when 9/11 happens, and you’ve got the big supplementals, and there was like no spending limits, then as I like to say, Rumsfeld loved all his children and made everybody happy, and really didn’t make many choices between the big war, the small war forces. And so there was a lot of stuffing into the supplementals all sorts of stuff that really shouldn’t have been bought in my mind. And I’m not arguing against getting rid of these big weapons systems completely. I think we’re going to have to have much smaller buys. I want to have the technological edge. I want to have the best big war force out there. But I mean, the small war stuff is more labor intensive, and I have a problem with trading theoretical deaths in theoretical conflicts twenty years from now, against real deaths in real conflicts right now.

HH: You also argue the Army had to get to the Navy posture of a deployment of a larger part of its forces on continual alerts. It’s very hard to do.

TPMB: Rotational.

HH: Where are they in that?

TPMB: Well, by all accounts, they’ve really moved pretty far along. I mean, you will get very smart arguments from a lot of officers about what is still wrong and how it needs to be fixed. And you know, there’s always many more turns of the crank. But I think what Schoomaker did by shifting from that divisional structure to something more like the way Navy rotates ships, something the Air force had already done in terms of its expeditionary wings, so everybody has kind of gone along this mindset, and it’s a little bit threatening to the Marines who like to think of themselves as the preeminent and unique kind of expeditionary force for everybody to be copying them. But it really is the world that we live in. And you know, to me, coming to the election, I said if McCain or Obama wins, the most important choice in my mind, looking at this institutional change was, get me another two years of a Gates-like figure who is on the side of the small wars, who is attacking the next waritis crowd, as he calls them, those who dream a little too heavily about the next war twenty years from now against this fabled Chinese military, and instead aren’t making the resources shift enough to the current wars that we’re fighting.

HH: Off agenda question, we’ve got a minute to the break, do you get invited by groups that are not military to translate Pentagon for them? Because it seems to me that’s what this chapter does, is that this hugely important for the country transformation/non-transformation that’s sweeping the Pentagon is just all ancient Greek to most people. You’re one of the people that speak both ways. Do you get asked to do that?

TPMB: I do. I do a lot of non-military, non-governmental stuff. I do a lot of explaining us to other foreign governments, which is always a challenge, to the Chinese, to the Indians, to the Europeans. I spent a week with the Dutch, who reminded me that they had done some of these things, you know, three or four hundred years ago, so it wasn’t exactly new to them. But what I do for the military primarily is I come in and I do the big picture for them, because they know the details. They sure as heck don’t need to hear them from me.

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HH: All right, I’ve been keeping a list of the most controversial statements in the book, and I’ve got a new leader here, Dr. Barnett.

TPMB: All right.

HH: Page 272, “Again, if we didn’t have al Qaeda, it would behoove us to invent it at this time in American history, if only to save us from the strategic folly of fulfilling prophecies of rising great powers inevitably triggering global conflict.” You have the floor. Explain.

TPMB: Well, you know, the leviathan or big war crowd lives in great fear of having its scenarios disappear. And I will tell you, Taiwan is going away as a scenario. When we talk about North Korea, we’re really not talking about the possibility of going at it with China. I mean, we’re not going to fight over that rotting corpse. We’re going to try to figure out who’s going to pay the bill and find the nukes and stuff like that. And I make the argument with Iran that you know, ultimately you’re going to have to do some sort of deterrence containment. So we’re not going to be able to do the big takedown of Iran. And those are the three big scenarios. Okay, after you get past those three big scenarios, you’re really into the Nigeria’s, and the Zimbabwe’s, and a bunch, you know, maybe Venezuela or who knows, drug wars or whatever, but none of those are big war scenarios. So what you get from the big war crowd is they get more and more nervous seeing this thing drag out. And they’ve been arguing for a long time that the Iraq thing is a one-off, okay, we’re never going to do it again…

HH: Right.

TPMB: And of course, we’re doing it already again by going back to Afghanistan in a serious fashion.

HH: Right.

TPMB: So that argument’s right off the board. They start selling you these resource wars against the Chinese in Africa. And to me, that’s a terrible throwback that has to be dismissed for what it is. When you had the Soviet economy very hermetically sealed from the outside world, and that you had the Western economy, it really was traded with itself, by and large. You could talk about those two entities going at it over third party resources in the third world, and you could talk about zero sum outcomes, you know, Russians get the platinum, we don’t, they’re richer, we’re not, we’re denied, they got it, they could be more powerful over time. You really can’t talk about that scenario with us and the Chinese. I mean, first, you just examine the financial interdependence, but I mean, we’re going to fight the Chinese over resources in Africa so they can take them back to China so they can turn them into stuff and sell it to us at Wal-Mart? We’re going to have that kind of conflict down the road? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think about the economic connectivity. But it shows you how bankrupt the big war scenarios are. I say it’s good not to have that kind of mania associated with that, and constantly looking for the next Soviet Union. So better to have, quite frankly, something that gives an embodiment to this real important issue, the question of the friction that comes about when we see globalization extend itself rapidly and profoundly into previously off-grid, very traditional locations. So al Qaeda is a reflection of the Middle East being basically being penetrated and overwhelmed in the last twenty year, next twenty, thirty years, by globalization and all its networks and all its possibilities, and all its media flows and everything else. They find all that just abhorrent, anathema. They call it Westoxification, and they know darned well that in twenty years, as that Middle East middle ages, they’re going to lose their historical chance.

HH: Now what happens, though, when China tests asymmetrical weapons such as satellite weaponry, which can only be intended to deter us, or learns how to track our super-silent submarines, or does information warfare drills against our computer networks at the Pentagon? How do you read that, Dr. Barnett?

TPMB: I read it as a huge waste of time.

HH: By them, but should we ignore it?

TPMB: By them, and no…but back to this discussion we had last week. We still put out a report on them that says you know, as we calculate our big war force, you’re our favorite thing to think about.

HH: Okay.

TPMB: And here’s our annual report about our favorite thing to think about called the PLA. So naturally, because they’re so myopic on Taiwan, and their government frankly doesn’t discourage them from doing that because they don’t really want to have any ambition for overseas activities, and they’re going to have to because globalization is giving them a lot of economic interest distant from their shore, I mean they keep buying in the PLA a force pretty much designed to stop us from stopping them from stopping Taiwan from stopping them from pressuring Taiwan. And you know, once you get down to that point of overlapping concentric circles, you start saying to yourself why am I building a force for this one very narrow scenario? Why am I getting sucked into Taiwan on this issue? Why would we encourage China to get sucked in on this very myopic issue when we really need them to buy different things and move their force in a different fashion? Brazil’s a classic example. They want to buy nuclear subs now, and you look at them and you say what do you want a nuclear sub for? And they look at you and they say well, you guys’ve got them. I mean, isn’t that what a big country does when they get rich? They buy nuclear submarines?

HH: Yeah.

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HH: I might have subtitled it A Few Kind Words For Blackwater. And I must say, Dr. Barnett, I find that refreshing in that it’s realistic about the need for the Blackwaters of the world, and it does not give into the obvious temptation to do what has happened to them, demonize them. Explain to the audience why Blackwater’s here to stay and its counterparts.

TPMB: Well, you know, the basic argument I’ve had for a while is that you’re in a frontier integrating mode. You had a global economy that was yea big called the West, 25-30 years ago, and then it exploded, and it encompassed the East, and it encompassed big chunks of the South. And so we have a lot of lesser trust environments, and some very no-trust environments, you know, essentially frontiers of a globalized world, and you’re going to be in a position of dealing with those frontiers. And as you do that, that kind of long frontier integration process, it looks like a lot of the characters you had in the American West. And for the same reason you had a Pinkerton in the American West who did all sorts of stuff, you saw that movie 3:10 To Yuma, Peter Fonda’s character really nefarious guy…

HH: Yup.

TPMB: …very scary. He was a classic Pinkerton, you know, kind of a rough, nasty fellow who came in to do business on the side of security and justice, but often according to corporate concerns, because the corporations were the big players building the infrastructure. So if you have that kind of situation going on in these countries, in Africa, in the Middle East, and any sort of post-war, post-disaster environment, no surprise Kellogg, Brown & Root, KBR shows up. No surprise Blackwater, which has got a new, strange name because they’re getting out of the bodyguard business. But there’s tons of players like that, and it does recall a lot of the same characters you saw in the American West. And I say don’t be surprised, don’t demonize them. We may not have rules for them in the current context, but develop those rules and understand the privatization of American foreign policy in terms of relying on contractors is big time. That happens in big frontier integrating periods like the American West.

HH: Now let’s turn to the subject which is also part of this security realignment chapter. Africommand and Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa…

TPMB: Right.

HH: …as well as just generally how you expect this model to replicate across places like Latin America. This is very important stuff. I first read about the Djibouti deployment in Robert Kaplan’s book, and it’s obviously taken off. Tell people about it.

TPMB: Well, it was fascinating to me. I got an invitation to come down to JFCOM, Joint Forces Command down at Norfolk, and there was a new crew command element, Naval command element, that was going to take over this base in Djibouti. And they said come on down and give you talk. And I said great, came down and gave the talk to them, and they said you know what? You talk about the leviathan versus the system administrator force, the war force versus the post-war peace force. And they said we are your sys-admin force. And I said really? And they said sure, and look at our work chart. And they threw it up on the wall, and sure enough, you get down to the bottom where there should be all sorts of guys with guns, and what you had were well diggers and medics and military to military trainers, and all sorts of civil affairs specialists. And I said where’s your pointy end? And they said we’ve been doing this combined joint task force-Horn of Africa, it was originally set up by the Marines back right around the time soon after 9/11, 02/02 time frame, and they were basically, it was supposed to be a picket line to catch bad actors fleeing the Middle East into Africa, not so much of a flow, so they decided to go ashore, set up in this old French foreign legion base, which I think is classic. It’s an amazing base. And they started doing capacity building with the local militaries. And as the Marines got tapped, the Navy stepped in, and you saw guys who, I met a guy who was running a small base in Kenya, submariner. He hadn’t been in a submarine in five years, and he’s running this Dances With Wolves little spot, contingency operation location Amanda Bay, where it’s just a couple of concertino wires around the outside, and the monkeys and the baboons and the deer and the snakes and everything go in and out as much as they darn well please. And these guys are working, you know, all sorts of basic…helping the schoolmarms, dealing with the local religions leaders, the imams, very basic stuff. And yet when bad stuff needs to happen, they’re the flow-through point for special operations forces to come in. So it was, the whole experience of going to Africa after learning this situation from the command element on its way over at Norfolk when I met them, it convinced me that that break of the military into two different aspects, you know, a war force and a stabilizing frontier integrating force, had happened completely in Africa, and that the designs for Africom were to be basically a total sort of system administrator force, very much a blending of defense, diplomacy and development, very much the small scale capacity building. And they were going to have really no military arm to speak of except when they needed to deal with bad actors. And there’s really not that many of them in Africa. Then they would flow in the special operators who represent sort of the big war, or the kinetic, or the leviathan force. So a complete…and it reminded me of metropolitan police departments in the sense that you have your community cops who walk the beat, rarely use their gun, often don’t use their gun the entire career, twenty years in the uniform. But then you have the SWAT force that comes in when the highly armed bad actors need to be dealt with. And there is a big, strong ethos, difference between those two communities, and they often have a lot of friction.

HH: Do the command structures of those interchange at all? Will you find a captain doing two years at Djibouti and then doing two years in Iraq? Or are they becoming different militaries?

TPMB: Well, a good friend of mine, Harry Ulrich who now works with my company, Enterra Solutions, he ran Africa for NATO. And one of the things he did with his reservists was to encourage them to specialize on like, you know, he’d take one reserve element, civil affairs like out of Pittsburgh or something like that, and he’d say you guys just do these three countries in the Gulf of Guinea. And he’d say you focus on that, I’m not going to send you anywhere else, and your career, you’re going to develop long term expertise, you’re going to go to these countries over and over again, and you’re going to be our smartest guys on these situations. You’re going to build up institutional knowledge for us. So you are seeing, I think, and I think you’re going to see it more and more, it’s going to be a big challenge for the military, the desire to get real strong, regional expertise on the sys-admin, system administrator side of the ledger, the peace force.

HH: Do you think they’ll get promoted as quickly, 30 seconds?

TPMB: That is hard. That is a real big challenge. But you know, back when we did this kind of stuff in the American West, you had guys who were majors in the Marine Corps for thirty years.

HH: Yup. And they just stayed there.

TPMB: So maybe you just have to change the definition of career.

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HH: Finishing up with my hour-long conversation with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett about Great Powers: America And The World After Bush, specifically Chapter 6: The Security Realignment, fascinating chapter. Dr. Barnett, listeners to this show know about the ooda loop. I’ve talked about Col. Boyd before, observe, orient, decide and act. In terms of politics, it’s got applicability. You suggest replacing that with diagnose, dialogue, design, learn and redesign, sort of a new ooda loop. Has that got legs inside the Pentagon?

TPMB: Well, where that came from was the Counterinsurgency Manual, the field manual. So what they’re suggesting is there is a more complex, more interactive, much more people-focused than enemy-focused decision loop that needs to be mastered. And that’s the key difference between the very simple algorithm, the keychain, kill chain called shoot the enemy. You can drill that. You can drill that like crazy into a 19 year old male and make him very proficient at it. We’ve been doing that for thousands of years. Go out, figure out, make your mark, find your guy, shoot him. That you can drill. To make this post-war, this everything else kind of officer come about, that guy you have to educate. That is not a 20 year old in most instances. That’s often a 30 year old or even a 40 year old. That’s a guy with significant private sector experience. A lot of the guys you meet in Africa doing this kind of stuff, they’re cops, they’re high school counselors, they’re teachers, they come from a lot of interesting backgrounds, and they are really, really kind of walking human collectors, human intelligence, I mean. There was this guy I traipsed around with in Kenya for a while, and he was just like a local politician. He could tell you the best surfer at this town on the beach in Kenya, he knew every imam. When they came in and caught this bad actor from al Qaeda, he could tell you every room that guy had ever been in. I mean, that’s the kind of knowledge he had, and you can only get that by…

HH: And is the military getting better at this? I mean, are we…in the five years, six years since you’ve started following this stuff closely in Iraq, are we getting better at this?

TPMB: We’re getting a lot better. And the key thing, one of the things I wanted to get across in the book was don’t ruin this force, and I’ve been accused of ruining the war force with my ideas for the last eight, ten years, but I say don’t ruin this post-war force, which we finally achieved at great cost and great evolution and great effort. Don’t lose it by going into some sort of post-Vietnam-like spiral after Iraq, which you may get by getting in too deep in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which to me doesn’t have the same strategic significance as an Iraq, so I caution about going off the deep end there, because you’re really going to have to find a lot of new friends in the region to pull that one off.

HH: More on that next week. Again, Dr. Barnett, thank you, fascinating hour, the book is Great Powers: America And The World After Bush. I hope it’s linked up at It’s certainly available in every bookstore in America and on Know it’s being read through the NSC and the White House and throughout the Pentagon. I’ll be back on Monday.

End of interview.


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