A VISION OF A FUTURE WORTH CREATING: REVIEWING BLUEPRINT FOR ACTIONBlueprint For Action
by Thomas P.M. Barnett. G.P. Putnam's Sons. Penguin Group. New York, New York . 2005" Unite with your allies on intersecting ground"- Sun Tzu, The Art of War"One day you will come to a fork in the road. And you're going to have to make a decision about what direction you want to go. If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments. Or you can go that way and you can do something - something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won't have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That's when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?" - Colonel John Boyd, The " To Be or to Do" speech." Harvard, as it happens, is the perfect finishing school when it comes to working for the government. Because in Washington the only way to stand out when you are surrounded by thousands of people just like you is to tear down their ideas. The problem is, in that vision-hostile environment it is almost impossible to come up with any stories with happy endings - as I like to call strategic visions. That's because no one in Washington is really interested in your happy ending; they all obsess about preventing what they are certain will be the disastrous outcome of your ill-conceived plan. So if you want to get ahead or get noticed, you learn to excel at this pack dog mentality, and you bury whatever dreams you had of proposing something different or better. This is why we do not have any real leaders in Washington anymore, just investigations."- Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon's New Map
After the notable success and influence of The Pentagon's New Map
and the discomfort caused inside the Department of Defense by his unconventional ideas regarding " war in the context of everything else", Tom Barnett was given the classic " to be or to do" choice. Barnett could shelve his ideas and return to designing strategic naval studies for " the Big War" that he did not believe was coming to justify weapons systems that might never be used and have a comfortable academic sinecure and prestigious advisory posts. Or he could walk away, taking a huge gamble in order to write the book with the strategy he believed would be best for America and the world.
Thomas Barnett chose a future worth creating in writing Blueprint for Action
There is continuity and conceptual flow from the Pentagon's New Map
in the pages of Blueprint for Action
but the two books are unalike. In the first, Barnett spent a great deal of time explaining the world as it is; the second book is about the world as it could be - if we make the right choices. Unintentionally, Dr. Barnett has become something new - a grand strategist for the people who is selling his vision one reader, one soldier, one journalist, one voter at a time by book, brief and blog. The ideas are selling and the influence of BFA, I expect, will exceed that of The Pentagon's New Map
because soldiers and senators alike want to see an endgame to our foreign policy, and because ultimately hope is more motivating than fear.
Prior to descrbing a broad overview of a complex book, I have to note something stylistic - blogging has changed Tom Barnett as a writer. Perhaps Esquire's Mark Warren was also an influence here but in BFA Tom's writing is more relaxed, conversational and targeted to the non-expert and I'm pretty sure the almost daily blogging during which time this book gestated had something to do with the shift. Blogging is part brainstorming, part-venting, part feedback loop and regular readers of Tom's blog will see things leap out at them from the pages amidst much that is new.
[ Full disclosure also requires me to note , as regular Zenpundit
readers already know, that I have written previously for The Rule-Set Reset
and about PNM theory at HNN. Dr. Barnett has also used a small section of my material in BFA ]Blueprint for Action
shies away from few subjects - Iraq, al Qaida, 4GW, network centric warfare, Rising China, rogue states, EU transnationalism, Islamist terrorism, Taiwan, Guantanamo, global pandemics, Iran, nuclear proliferation, preemption all can be found within - it is a tour de force demonstrating the interconnections of the strategic challenges facing the United States. It is analytical, bold and at the end, Blogging the Future", highly speculative. In BFA you will find references to other thinkers from Ralph Peters to Robert Wright to Robert Kaplan to van Creveld to John Boyd.
After, PNM was published Dr. Barnett was frequently accused by leftists of being an evil, imperialist "Neocon ". After BFA he may be attacked by some neoconservatives as a starry-eyed liberal transnationalist. Neither label is accurate. What Dr. Barnett is proposing is to align American strategy with the enormous geoeconomic forces of globalization in order to both prevent globalization's systemic breakdown and to make more probable the best-case scenario outcomes like " A Peacefully Rising China". Barnett is for integrating a nascent civilizational convergence, not sharpening conflict, but there's nothing dovish about a strategy contemplating regime change in Pyongyang by any means necessary.
Neoconservatives are simply not going to like Barnett's A-Z Rule-Set for processing politically bankrupted states that involves any kind of ICC-like structure. But longitudinally, the United States is simply going to have to secure " buy-in" from other great powers on robust rules for dealing with non-state actor terrorists, rogue state menaces and disintegrating Gap states, not just temporary acquiescence. The costs of not doing so in Barnett's view are self-evident:" So ask yourself, which is better ? ' Trapping' the U.S. military power in a Core-wide rule set that determines when and under what conditions it can be effectively employed (don't forget we can always pursue pointless interventions on our own)? Or triggering a Core-wide arms race to see which great power can field the most frightening colonial corps ? In the former, America gets the privilege of owning the largest gun, so to speak, but in the latter we're looking at a number of rivals who are similarly armed "
Armed because they cannot allow chaos and warlords in the Gap to interdict the energy supplies that make the difference between stability and unrest in India and China. Which is why future American security policies will involve New Core states moreso than Old Core NATO and Japan. On Osama bin Laden's offer of " civilizational apartheid" which half-tempts the EU, Barnett discerns greater realism and a willingness to back up interests with force in India, China and Russia:" Since the major New Core powers all border the Islamic world, there are few illusions about 'containing' this conflict once begun. The Gap is not some abstraction to these governments but a very intimate sort of operational reality...Like the United states, New Core powers are the most willing to wage war to protect the global economy because they have the most to lose by its collapse."
Dr. Barnett posits a convergence between China and America, New Core and Old Core because the nonzero sum momentum of globalization pulls in that direction, beacuse interconnectedness means that danger is defined by common interests and because the opportunity costs of disconnection in the Gap are increasingly global. The long-awaited shift from Atlanticism to a Pacific orientation for America will be sealed, in Barnett's view, by the founding of an "Asian NATO" to " secure the East" for the Core and rule sets will be increasingly determined in accordance with what New Core states logically require to function in a globalized economy. Rule sets that have spread and evolved along with globalization from America's original " source code" that united thirteen disparate colonies on an outlier continent into a whole and ignited fantatstic economic and civilizational growth, unprecedented prosperity and individual liberty.
A vision of a future worth fighting for.