Super Bowl

OBI Award


Here I've been thinking September 11 was the great cutoff between stuff that seems hopelessly out of date and stuff that at least seems to exist in the contemporary world, but then I stumbled across Esquire magazine's March, 2003 article "The Pentagon's New Map," a post-9/11 world tour with Thomas P.M. Barnett of the Naval War College. This is one document that has aged in ways not fully attributable to the passage of a year and nine months.

It's not so much the material herein that's got whiskers as the confidence in One Big Idea (OBI) strategizing. Who would imagine that we'd one day feel nostalgia for the days when "What went wrong?" and "Why do they hate us?" and "How will the Arab Street react?" could be passed off as koans of beard-stroking braininess? If the war in Iraq has had one salubrious effect, it's been to cast a permanent cloud of doubt and mockery over OBIs and the people who recite them.

Barnett's OBI isn't bad as OBIs go: "How do we close The Gap?" The Gap is the range of countries (of course, Barnett provides a map of the world) that are failing to participate in the full interconnectedness of the global matrix. And if you think "matrix" is a foolish bit of management-speak, check out the wonderful nuggets of managementese Barnett sprinkles throughout his study: "the moment when Washington takes real ownership of strategic security," "Globalization's ozone hole," "the emerging global rule sets of democracy," "the big Red machine [ie, the USSR]," "Work the seam states to firewall the Core from the Gap's worst exports," "obsolescing state-on-state war," and many more (all italics mine). It's like a Foreign Affairs article written by Lumbergh*.

There's also plenty of speechwriterese ("History is full of turning points like that terrible day, but no turning-back-points"—italics original), and a heapin' helpin' of Friedmanesque pep ("So where do we schedule the U.S. military's next round of away games?," various instances where "babysitting" is used as a euphemism for killing people).

Best of all are the capsule reviews of regions that round out the article. If you're a fan of NFL handicapping capsules ("Manning is still on the injured list and iffy to start, but the Colts defense has held opponents to an average of 12 points per game in their last three outings"), you'll enjoy the convenience of these bits:

HAITI Efforts to build a nation in 1990s were disappointing * We have been going into Haiti for about a century, and we will go back when boat people start flowing in during the next crisis—without fail.

FORMER YUGOSLAVIA For most of the past decade, served as shorthand for Europe's inability to get its act together even in its own backyard. * Will be long-term baby-sitting job for the West.

ANGOLA Never really has solved its ongoing civil war (1.5 million dead in past quarter century). * Basically at conflict with self since mid-seventies, when Portuguese "empire" fell. * Life expectancy right now is under forty!

I think I am not overestimating our readers when I say that any of you could have written these capsule reviews, if not the entire article, just based on stuff you've read in the paper. And maybe you should! If you're willing to peddle OBI flapdoodle to dipshit Esquire subscribers, a rewarding career in charlatanism may await you. I don't know what the past year and some has done to Barnett's theory of the Gap and the Core (and you can always spot a bullshit theory when even its metaphors are mixed), but I suspect there's still a market for this Risk-board view of world affairs. Unfortunately, the current location of this story, which I spotted a few weeks ago, no longer contains the picture of Esquire editor David Granger doing his damnedest to avoid looking like a born fool. But you can still read Granger's editor's note, wherein the Wizard of Eighth Avenue explains that he could actually feel his brain getting smarter as he listened to Barnett: "In November, Barnett came and presented his philosophy of global conflict to our staff. It was amazing and kind of breathtaking. It made each of us feel as though we had a slightly better grip on some of the most frightening issues ever to face our country and the world. I hope it has the same effect on you, making your life a little better."

And I hope, Reason readers, it makes your life a little better too!

* Thanks to reader "Barry P." for correcting my spelling of "Lumbergh." For an impressive management experience (some 70 different soundbites in all!), visit the Bill Lumbergh Soundboard.