View Full Version : History’s Dangerous Intersections

12-08-05, 06:08 AM
History’s Dangerous Intersections
Written by Alan Caruba
Thursday, December 08, 2005

History is a lot like a dangerous intersection where everyone knows that, sooner or later, an accident is going to kill a whole bunch of people, but do nothing until it happens. Then--and only then--do the town fathers find the money for a stoplight and warning signs.

Looking back, people recall that, “Yes, that intersection was an accident just waiting to happen,” wondering why blood had to be spilled to take action. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a war was already raging in Europe and Asia when on December 7, 1941, there was a Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, our Hawaiian naval base. Overnight, America went from an isolationist policy to one of retaliation and intervention, declaring war, not just on Japan, but on Germany as well.

The nation emerged from World War II as the precursor to what we are today, the greatest military power in the world, the most powerful economy in the world, the driver of invention and innovation, and the exporter of our national heritage--the freedoms we believe everyone on the face of the earth should share.

We believe so firmly in this that America has expended billions, first to contain the threat of Soviet-style communism, and since September 11, 2001, to destroy the threat of a global Islamic jihad. We have shed the blood of our armed forces to advance freedom. In the modern era, we have not retained control over any land we won in battle.

Instead, we helped rebuild Germany, Japan, and South Korea, all now thriving democracies and free market economies. However, today there are voices telling us we cannot do the same thing for Iraq or Afghanistan. We must, these voices insist, quit the Middle East and abandon it to the despots who have made it the birthing room of global terrorism.

Just as the men who inherited the world after World War II fashioned an answer to the enemies of freedom, a new world demands new answers for its future. One man, Thomas P.M. Barnett, proposes to provide those answers in his new book, “Blueprint for Action” ($26.95, G.P. Putnam’s Sons). In 2004, Barnett burst onto the national scene with his bestseller, “The Pentagon’s New Map.” He had been a senior strategic researcher at the Naval War College; an analyst and futurist, it was Barnett’s job to game the “what if” scenarios if the nation had to go to war anywhere in the world.

A specialist in Soviet affairs, when that empire fell apart in the 1990s, Barnett set himself the task of figuring out what the new world looked like and why some parts worked and some did not. Barnett’s long years of interfacing with the nation’s military gave him deep insights to the way they prepared for the future, but he began to see it as a divide between the “Core,” industrialized nations, both “old” and “new,” and the “Gap,” nations like those in the Middle East, Africa, and some parts of South Asia who were “unconnected” to a world with “rule-sets” such as working constitutions, legal and educational systems, and participation in trade agreements that facilitated entrepreneurship and good, safe conditions for both multinational and local corporations.

In “The Pentagon’s New Map,” he shared with readers the message he had been teaching the leaders of today’s and tomorrow’s Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. He taught them to look at the new world in new ways. He looked at our “Leviathan” military strength and told them that, yes, the United States can now swiftly disable any army that goes against us, but the fact is we have essentially been fighting individuals! Manuel Noriega in Panama, Farrah Aidid in Somalia, Slobodan Milosevic in the Balkans, and, more recently, Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are still looking for Osama bin Laden.

And then he told those military men and women, yes, we can conquer any enemy we confront, but we cannot do it alone! As we have learned in the last two conflicts, we need what Barnett calls “Systems administrators,” i.e., those people, some military, some civilian, who can come in swiftly after the smoke clears to put the conquered nation back on its feet. We can win any war, but we must now begin to think in terms of winning the peace that must follow or the military effort will be deemed a defeat in the long run. For that, we need a world of allies! In Iraq, there are more than 60 other nations participating in nation-building tasks.

Barnett sees new allies on the horizon, forecasting not a war with China, but tapping its systems administration capabilities to put “Gap” nations whose despots have been removed on the path to “connectivity” with the core nations. China, as its need for access to the global marketplace grows, along with energy sources, will continue its transformation says Barnett. He sees a new generation of young Chinese educated in America’s universities holding the bright promise of a new era.

India, too, is seen in this respect, as is Russia. These are the “seam” nations, the “New Core” whose interests in this new era of connectivity increasingly converge with our own. Europe, too, must adapt to improved levels of international cooperation. Nations like Germany that opposed our invasion of Iraq, for example, have a large systems administration and military contingent in Afghanistan, insuring that democracy gets a chance to flourish there. Japan and other “Core” nations are participating in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Finally, there are the “Gap” nations such as virtually the entire continent of Africa and, of course, much of the Middle East, and parts of the Asian-Pacific area. These are nations largely dependent on the export of natural resources, keeping them trapped in underdevelopment, and often run by thugs such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe or Kim Sung Ill of North Korea. Barnett proposes a variety of ways to “shrink” the “Gap” until these nations begin to create a decent living environment for their people, comparable in freedom and development to the rest of the world.

“America does not lead globalization because it’s exceptional,” says Barnett. “America leads simply because it got there first.” Our leadership position in the world is not based “simply on (our) success as a nation-state, but as the world’s first and most successful multinational political and economic union.” In other words, we know how to “play nice” in a world filled with nations led by thugs who do not want to play by any rules.

Virtually every page of “Blueprint for Action” contains some startling insight that brings with it an “ah-hah” moment. I recommend you read it with a highlighter pen because you will want to go back to it. Will the future turn out as Barnett forecasts? For the sake of the world, we better hope so.

About the Writer: Alan Caruba writes "Warning Signs," a weekly commentary posted on www.anxietycenter.com, the website of The National Anxiety Cente