Friday, January 20, 2006

William Lind has posted a scathing attack on the work of Thomas P.M. Barnett at Defense & The National Interest as part of a series of responses to critics and commenters on 4GW theory. Along with his reputation as a military theorist, Lind is known for his unvarnished prose and here he indulges himself:

"Among the critics and reinterpreters of Fourth Generation war, the bad is most powerfully represented by Thomas Barnett’s two books The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action. What Barnett advocates is bad in two senses: first, that it won’t work, and second, that if it did work the result would be evil."

Evil : Attila the Hun, Ghengis Khan, Tamerlane, Adolf Hitler....Tom Barnett ?

"In both books, Barnett divides the world into two parts, the Functioning Core and the Non-Integrating Gap. This is parallel to what I call centers of order and centers or sources of disorder, and I agree that this will be the fundamental fault line of the 21st Century. Barnett’s error is that he assumes the Functioning Core will be the stronger party, able to restore order in places where it has broken down. In fact, the forces of disorder will be stronger, because they are driven by a factor Barnett dismisses, the spreading crisis of legitimacy of the state. By ignoring Martin van Creveld’s work on the rise and decline of the state, Barnett’s books end up anchoring their foundations on sand."

A legitimate point but a debatable one. Lind is betting on entropy and, as such, he's wrong for a variety of reasons but this is at least an argument bearing serious examination. Unfortunately, this was the brief high point of Lind's commentary.

"Barnett’s second error, manifested almost comically in Blueprint for Action, is that he thinks restoring the state in places where it has failed will be easy. According to a Washington Post review of Blueprint for Action by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Barnett has a six-step plan to accomplish this: First, the U.N. Security Council acts as a grand jury to indict countries; second, the Core’s biggest economies issue “ ‘warrants’ for the arrest of the offending party”; third, the United States leads a “warfighting coalition”; fourth, a Core-wide administrative force (with the United States providing 10 to 20 percent of its personnel) puts things back together with the help of the fifth element, a new International Reconstruction Fund; followed by a sixth step, criminal prosecution of the apprehended parties at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. “That’s it, from A to Z,” Barnett notes cheerfully."

Dr. Barnett does not think such a task is easy, which is obvious to anyone who cares to read Blueprint For Action. If it were, he wouldn't be proposing an A-Z rule-set for processing failed states in the first place. In Barnett's view, the sheer magnitude of the problem represented by the Gap dwarfs the resources of even the United States to manage.

"A cynic might suggest that the United States can’t even do this in New Orleans much less in foreign countries. In fact, as the FMFM 1-A, Fourth Generation War, argues strongly, even if an outside force does everything right, the probability of success in such endeavors remains low. Why? As Russell Kirk wrote, there is no surer way of making someone your enemy than to announce you will remake him in your image for his own good. To many of the world’s peoples, what Barnett argues for in such blithe simplicity represents Hell, and they will fight it literally to their dying breath."

Where does Tom argue for remaking all countries in America's image ?

"This brings us to the third problem with Barnett: what his books advocate does represent Hell, or at least Hell’s first cousin, Brave New World. He would create an inescapable new world order that bears a remarkable resemblance to the one Aldous Huxley described in his short novel Brave New World, published in the 1930s – a “soft totalitarianism” where the first rule is, “you must be happy.” Happiness, in turn, is a product of endless materialism, consumerism, sensual pleasure and psychological conditioning. If that sounds like a good description of American popular culture, it is exactly that culture Barnett proposes to force down the throat of every person on earth, with the U.S. military serving as the instrument of coercion"

At best, this is a straw man argument. At worst, it is wacky. Neither The Pentagon's New Map nor Blueprint For Action called for an America to become McDonald's gendarme.

"What Barnett’s books end up revealing is the combination of moral blindness and international political hubris that characterizes the whole quest for American world empire, a quest initiated by the neo-cons. Like the (other?) neo-cons, Barnett sees the world and its cultures in Jacobin terms, as a combination of Rousseau’s natural goodness of man and Newtonian clockwork mechanism. Just twist a few dials here, throw a couple of levers there and presto!, Switzerlands spring up from Ouagadougou to the Hindu Kush."

While the invocation of "neo-con" as an perjorative is usually the mark of an ideological frame being substituted for analysis ( incidentally, the neoconservatives don't particularly like Barnett's ideas) I have a much simpler explanation for Lind's jeremiad.

I doubt he actually read Blueprint for Action.


DNI Review of Blueprint For Action by Dr. Chet Richards

"Contra Barnett" by John Robb at Global Guerillas

I note there is a nice discussion evolving in the comments section at John's official GG site


Thomas P.M. Barnett responds to William Lind

(Hat Tip to Younghusband)
I am not sure he didn't read it. His reaction certainly fits his mindset (you have to meet him to understand this).

One point: all of nuances of Tom's approach will be lost in its translation into policy. Only the broad strokes will remain. The result may be nothing like you envisioned it.

Hi John,

"One point: all of nuances of Tom's approach will be lost in its translation into policy. Only the broad strokes will remain. The result may be nothing like you envisioned it."

Good point - the Pentagon bureaucracy will endeavor to make any new policy resemble the status quo ( or worse) to the greatest degree they can get away with. We saw that with the slashing of boots to save gold plated weaponry cash cows.

Though the same would hold true if Rumsfeld abruptly began trumpeting " the new 4GW Army". Nature of the beast.

Lind has contributed greatly to the area of 4GW. However, in this particular piece on Barnett, it seems to be that Lind's conservative perspective is coming through a lot more strongly than his 4GW expertise.

That in itself is fair, as Barnett's strategy is very much a values-based strategy. What is morally right for Barnett is very different for Lind.

Unfortunately, Lind seems to either misread or filtered out specific parts of Barnett's books. I dont consider Lind a fool, but that leaves me befuddled. Did Lind really read PNM or BFA?

Its one thing to disagree. But, what he claims to be Barnett's argument is just false...almost looking like a strawman argument.
Barnett went totally apeshit on this review!

Your link is dead unfortunately - Tom's site seems to be having problems.

If he's upset he has a reason to be. Negative reviews that zero in on the arguments or facts are fair game. Lind went off on a rant that substituted some other bogeymen for Tom's ideas.
I don't think he read the books. He even said

According to a Washington Post review of Blueprint for Action by Joseph S. Nye, Jr.,

when describing the A-Z Rule Set. He's crediting Nye because he's warning the reader he's arguing from a description, not the book.

I've criticized the SysAdmin's sustainability, but only in the context of offering tweaks.

Lind is attacking a strawman, entirely negatively, both substantively and normatively. It reminds me of Echevarria's criticisms of 4GW, but even worse.

Hopefully, though, this sort of controversy will help spread PNM Theory.

PS: Adam from The Metropolis Times first alerted me to this.
Oh man. Barnett's response was the most hilariously scathing thing he's written since his review of Kaplan's piece of China-hawk porn. This is another reason why blogs kick so much more ass than professional publications -- people are just thinking aloud so the gloves can come right off. Frankly Lind deserves it for calling in such a lazy review.
Hi Dan,

I liked the Metro blog - have to come back to that one when I clear my plate.

Hi Matt,

Yes, I think his dander was up.

Agreed. When I review 4GW in a few days it will actually be based on papers I've read and arguments that were made;o)
"Ignoring Martin van Creveld’s work on the rise and decline of the state, Barnett’s books end up anchoring their foundations on sand."

Odd. van Creveld's work on the rise and decline of the state is not well-regarded among scholars of state formation - including myself.
Hi Dan,

I think the difference you point to has something to do with the target audience - defense intellectuals, military officers a- who tend to rate van Creveld up there with John Keegan for _The Transformation of War_.

There's a strong tendency among American professional military people to view warfighting in an artificially compartmentalized, divorced, way from politics moreso than you see in, say, the British Army. Van Creveld injected political factors as being directly relevant for this audience once again, though the focus for them remains on the military aspect.

You and other IR scholars, political scientists and most diplo historians would have a far stronger interest in examining state formation for it's own sake and would probably view military questions as secondary issues or derivative ones.

The 4GW school of strategists (Lind, Richards,Hammes etc) have adopted van Creveld's nontrinitarian thesis of a " crisis of state legitimacy" because it meshes with their assertion of the psychological primacy of the " moral" level present in military conflict. Van Creveld in his turn appears to have accepted the 4GW school's assumptions ( or many of them).

You might find this interesting or relevant:


I'll take a look as soon as I'm able. I don't think this is a military vs. social science thing. My doctoral advisor is famous for arguing that "war made the state and the state made war," and I'm extremely sympathetic to what I've called "bellocentric" accounts of state formation - the close relationship between military and state organization. The problem is that some of van Creveld's arguments about the development of the state and its future just aren't as good as his work on military history; it has been a while since I last looked at it, but I remember being rather unconvinced.
And thanks for the info... that's really quite interesting stuff.
Dan wrote:

"The problem is that some of van Creveld's arguments about the development of the state and its future just aren't as good as his work on military history"

I'd like to hear more on this, how IR folks critique van Creveld, when you have the time.

I've just about finished reading or re-reading everything by Lind that I could find, plus the PPT briefs by Richards and others at DNI to write a critique. I'm thinking of setting van Creveld aside for a review in his own right
I have to agree with Lind, to a very limited degree, on his second error. I too have a problem with Barnett's six step plan and I think that most US conservatives will as well because he is too rigid in his descriptions. There's no real requirement that the UN be involved over the several decade time scale that Barnett envisions the elimination of the Gap taking. If you're on the right and looking at the UN as a corrupt and incompetent force that must be radically reformed if it is going to be worth anything at all, investing the UN with such a huge and awesome task is going to alarm you. That view may well be right or wrong but it's a separate question from the one at hand, should there be an A-Z ruleset.

Barnett could disarm conservative suspicions and enlarge his fan club if he'd just footnote the mentions of the UN, saying "Or superior successor organization. The League of Nations wasn't forever either." There's nothing actually in the theory that requires any particular organization, including the UN, to participate. The UN is a convenient shorthand and best fits what's available today. That doesn't mean that the structures available today will work.

Setting that down in writing would be a very "big tent" move. It would allay any suspicions that subscribing to Barnettism meant you had to sign on to the UN, with its massive corruption culture. It would lay the foundation of a "right-Barnettism", where an advocate of sufficient stature that could take Barnett's views and cast them in a conservative friendly spin so that no matter who occupies the White House, there will be relative continuity in US foreign policy.
" Barnett could disarm conservative suspicions and enlarge his fan club if he'd just footnote the mentions of the UN, saying "Or superior successor organization. The League of Nations wasn't forever either."


I agree.

The Europeans are not quite ready for this in any event, and the Russians and Chinese lag further behind. While most of the nominal institutional pieces are in place the national psychologies are not - including ours. And the reason is that the trust isn't there because the behaviors aren't there.

Perhaps Merkel will evolve to be the teutonic Iron Lady who turns the EU around the way Thatcher did Britain and then we can talk about this. Long shot, I know....
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