THE PENTAGON'S NEW MAP - THE BOOK YOU MUST READ
Take John Rawls’ “Theory of Justice.” For centuries, philosophers had been philosophizing on how societies should be put together. In the middle of the last century Rawls came up with a simply elegant theory that can be summarized on the back of a match book. Rawls argued that a society is only as well off as its least fortunate members. Of course he went on for several hundred pages (and in countless astonishingly tedious lectures to hapless Harvard undergrads) refining that notion and dealing with its subtleties, but there you have it. A simply elegant statement that, whether you agree with it or not, it’s almost amazing that no one else thought of it before him.
Thomas P.M. Barnett’s book, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” is a similarly ground breaking tract. Barnett unveils a theory, or actually a couple of theories, so simply elegant and so obviously true once you hear them, it’s amazing that no one had thought of them before. “The Pentagon’s New Map” (PNM) attempts to do nothing less than offer a prescription for re-shaping the world for both increased prosperity and safety for all its inhabitant but especially for Americans. The subtitle of the book is “War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century” but I think a far more fitting subtitle would have been “A Future Worth Fighting For.”
Barnett’s theory essentially has two components which I will over-simplify only a little in the next two paragraphs. The first is that the world is divided into two parts, the Core which has all the economically functioning places and the Gap which has all the economic, cultural and political basket cases. The Core includes all the places where you might vacation or buy a good from; the Gap is comprised of the places you wouldn’t visit unless you were a contestant on Fear Factor. Barnett argues that in this era of increased global connectivity and more widely available weapons of mass destruction, an unstable and disconnected country/government anywhere poses a threat to the United States and our interests. Witness the way internal Afghanistan politics had a profound effect on our soil. The only way to mitigate this threat is to, over time, integrate these Gap countries into the Core.
But how do you this when those Gap countries are often run by people like Saddam Hussein who don’t want to play well with others in the global sandbox? That’s going to involve military action and that’s where the second part of Barnett’s theory comes in. Barnett suggests that the military should be broken up into two distinct pieces. One he calls the Leviathan which will basically kick the ass of the Saddam types; the other will be called the System Administrator which will build the country back up after the asses have been kicked.
Like I said up top, obvious isn’t it? Two distinct jobs, two distinct forces to do those jobs. Thinking of the situation in Iraq, you can see how this part of the theory would have an obvious impact.
Indeed, the theories are already having an impact in Iraq. Before becoming a best-selling author, Barnett was a highly rated Pentagon briefer and his ideas have come before all the big shots like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. The domestic Iraqi forces are already being designed with the Leviathan/System Administrator distinction in mind.
But integrating the entire Gap, isn’t that a huge task? Barnett doesn’t shrink from that question. He candidly acknowledges that this will be a decades long process and that there will be no “exit strategies.” But his goal is an ambitious one: Once the entire Gap is integated into the Core, large scale poverty will be eliminated. Along with it several other things will also be eliminated like famine and war.
Which brings me to what I love most about PNM: It’s suffused with a can-do American optimism that has been the mark of this country since its birth. Although Barnett eschews jingoism, I don’t, so indulge me a bit. Virtually every person in this country is descended from someone who decided to risk all by getting on a boat or a plane and traveling a great distance to seek out a better life. Taking great risks to accomplish great things is part of our national DNA. Many of our politicians are by nature cautious people who have spent their lives trying to avoid mistakes so that they can continue their climb to higher office. But they are not representative of the American soul. I’m convinced that if someone would bring Barnett’s positive vision before the American public, America would indeed decide that PNM’s future is worth fighting for and make the necessary sacrifices.
In his recent book “Colossus,” British historian Niall Ferguson takes a different and quite dim view of the American character in arguing why America will have difficulty being an effective player on the world stage in the years to come. Ferguson writes, “The United States has acquired an empire, but Americans themselves lack the imperial cast of mind. They would rather consume than conquer. They would rather build shopping malls than nations…It is quite conceivable that their empire could unravel as swiftly as the Soviet Union(‘s).” Ferguson thinks he knows America, but he doesn’t.
Barnett doesn’t see things Ferguson’s way. You should read this book. You should talk it up. Karl Rove should read this book and so should President Bush. And they, too, should talk it up. Americans have been desperate for a positive vision of the future. Here it is.
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at email@example.com
James Frederick Dwight