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Here I've been thinking September 11 was the great cutoff between stuff that seems hopelessly out of date and stuff that at least seems to exist in the contemporary world, but then I stumbled across Esquire magazine's March, 2003 article "The Pentagon's New Map," a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.

Advertisement

NEXT: Guns, with Occasional Lawsuits

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. My Waki Paki buddy at work, Abdul, was punching me in the chest and shoulders as we were chortling about the US success at “nation building” in Haiti.

    Our Zionist buddy was off today, or I’d have a “fair and balanced” report.

    Abdul, in the absence of Zionist friend, had me convinced all the world’s problems are a Zionist conspiracy.

    Hey, I bend with the wind and the jabs.

  2. I took the OBI Cavanaugh mocks as a quite useful way to look at the world. Remember, it’s a magazine summary, not an entire academic treatise. Putting those newspaper encapsulations all in one place might at least help describe how the common man or the chattering class sees the situation.

    Since guys who think like Barnett are the behind the generals who advise the Presidents, try to look past the lingo and into the implications.

    Was Cavanaugh once snubbed for an Esky?

  3. Oh puh-leeze.
    I think this does a much better job.

  4. “Remember, it’s a magazine summary, not an entire academic treatise.”

    i guess having expectations of intellectualism are out the window…… or effort.

    poor lucas/sargent-wallace. of course, since many who were “supply siders” back when clinton was prez are all of a sudden neo keynesianists now.

    stimulate that demand.
    it’s okay to have tariffs.
    the other side would be worse.

    here’s a game: you know that you have a core that would always forgive you , no matter what, and therefore you have a majority.

    do you worry about “losing” their vote? no. you can alienate them. just as bush alienates the true limited government conservatives or fiscal conservatives.

    ignore the fresh-water schools. listen to the salt water ones. mankiw, blanchard… tobin….

    just like you applied fresh water, supply side arguments when your guy wasn’t in office. no grim trigger here. just wait for your guy. then change the rules to ensure your side’s victory. just like the dems did in the 80s. and how the neocons are doing now.

    balls.

    dynamist, i’m not ragging on you at all – and i apologize to you – i have a reflex reaction whenever i read a caveat to excuse an other’s, not your’s, unintellectual position. i read your posts. this is most definitely NOT a rant against you.

    the words in this constellation triggered my reaction. i’m sorry for the reaction – it is not against you or your post. it is generic. and sorry again.

    i’m in a phd econ program here in chicago, and i hear this sort of stuff from undergrads constantly, and this is the source of my reaction. i hear: “i went to illinois wesleyian, i went to an elite school, but i can’t understand why Beta hat is asymptotically consistent with beta… maybe the neoclassical model of qualified convergence in the sub-saharan countries is wrong. the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. we need the un to intervene. and bush’s tax ‘cuts’ benefitted the rich only.” (grrrrr – illinois wesleyian is “elite”?????? what the fuck???????? welcome to the big time, kid. your 600 on the math SATs (whatever the fucking score on the ACT that many here in illinois favor might be) do nothing here…. shut up and find what q-inverse is…”

    (and i’m not even a macro guy!!!!!!)

    whenever the reader’s digest version suffices, i’d guess that something is amiss…..

    and i’ve read your posts – i am definitely not lumping you in that group. i’m thinking of the undergrads and finals and the reactions i hear. just venting….. grrrrrrr. the bullshit of the 20 year olds.

    the danger of being in a phd program, and thoreau could probably vouch for this: you MUST NOT judge anybody against the 101 students’ knowledge of the particular course……… and if this seems like that in any way, sorry again. “sophomoric” is a useful term here……………..

    apologies again… (i do own “future” and “substance”, so i like “dynamism”)

    happy friday, and cheerio!
    drf

  5. I have read the book that was a follow-on to the Esquire article and have seen Barnett give his snazzy PowerPoint presentation as well. Some observations:

    Barnett’s ideas on GWOT (global war on terror) are pretty simple: he draws a line between countries that are relatively free, have a relatively high per capita income, are economically integrated with other nations and those nations that have authoritarian governments, low per capita income, and are not economically integrated with other nations. He then uses information on past conflicts to show that most of our military action in the future will occur in the GAP (unfree nations) rather than the core (Free nations).

    Sounds pretty simple huh? It might not seem like you need a PhD to figure this out but please take into account that until 9/11 most of the idiots at the pentagon were preparing for a conflict with China rather than the sort of engagements that had kept our forces busy over the past ten years.

    Say what you will about Barnett however as a someone who doesn’t like my tax dollars wasted his ideas on defence our better than most of the prevailing ideas in the Pentagon. IE he would favor a transformation of the military that is more focused on people than billion dollar missile defense ($50 billion+), the F/A-22 Raptor($200 Billion), the Joint Strike Fighter (god only knows), and many other projects that are not needed for our current tactical environment but our good for the contractors that love suck on the government entitlement teet.

    Also when reading anything coming from the DOD please expect to by assaulted with management speak and a more acronyms than you can keep track of. Its just the way things are done at the DOD…

  6. Reminds me of the crap one can read over at Winds of Change.

  7. Readers might not be aware but the magazine article mocked in the above article ended up being turned into a book, The Pentagon’s New Map:War and Peace in the 21st Century. It briefly made the NYT best seller’s list, a real accomplishment for a first time policy book without any sexy media hook (and without a NYT book review to boot). It’s been on the Foreign Affairs best seller’s list for about half a year now and CSPAN has had Barnett on a couple of times and his public, CSPAN version of the Pentagon brief is apparently very popular. They sell it on DVD and they are asking him back for an encore.

    Speaking of his Pentagon brief, for someone so easily debunked by Hit and Run, he’s obviously of growing influence in the Pentagon’s thought machinery. For someone who is supposedly just a one trick pony, he apparently provides enough meat in his actual analysis (instead of the caricature provided above) that some of our best military minds are interested in rebuilding our military to take into account his insights.

    But the author knew or should have known all this because he linked to Prof. Barnett’s website which has all this information available. So he took an early summary of a work that has been since expanded and improved on and mocks it with the clear goal that whatever should happen, you shouldn’t treat Barnett’s many ideas (hardly one big one, but a system of many insightful ones) seriously. Now he could just be criminally lazy instead of intellectually mendacious but that’s not much to pick between.

    While word counts are ruthlessly imposed on magazine articles and even with books, Barnett’s site contains lots of material that couldn’t fit into those word limits and also runs a daily blog, reviewing current events.

    Finally, he’s a hell of a nice guy who actually answers his correspondence and, if you write something good, will quote and credit you (as I’ve personally found out). That’s more than a great many public intellectuals out there will do.

  8. I loved Tim’s Space Ghost: Coast to Coast reference near the end of his entry.

  9. I don’t know about the idiots at the Pentagon, but at the tank battalion and cavalry squadron level we were preparing for Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo for the last ten years.

    When we weren’t doing that, we were preparing for “normal” combat. Unless we were cutting the grass or not training at night or on weekends or worried about putting too many miles on our vehicles.

    Even with all that, it was the old style, cold war heavy force (which if not trained to the highest standards was trained to a standard far exceeding the Iraqis) that actually conquered Iraq, not laser guided bombs and SEALs. They made it easier, but could not conquer a country by themselves. (Afghanistan was a different case as there was already a force on the ground to exploit the effects of airpower.)

    Barnett’s blather is just that. Airy, nebulous big ideas that mean nothing but endless occupation duty for your Army. I would welcome an example of any nation building by US forces that succeeded in creating a situation significantly better than the one that obtained before we started meddling.

    As for having Barnett having a significant influence at the Pentagon, those boobs will buy any idea that makes them feel “relevant”. In the Army, those are the men who tell us that motorized infantry is a big innovation (and designed whole brigades around a 40 year old aircraft), that we can fight better with less firepower and, the worst idea of all, that it’s a good idea to be able to deploy brigades and divisions to the “GAP” in a few days. Act in haste, repent at leisure.

  10. GG:

    Dan Darling over at Winds of Change is a pretty sharp kid. I’ve seen much, much worse analysis on the web.

  11. Lumbergh.

  12. Jason Ligon,

    I was referring more to their “regional updates” and their desire to become “the source” for national security news, etc.

  13. “I would welcome an example of any nation building by US forces that succeeded in creating a situation significantly better than the one that obtained before we started meddling.”

    Besides the obvious (Germany, Japan), how about… most of America? What do you think all those forts out west were fer?

    I don’t know, I have a hard time seeing what’s so risible about this. Yes, it’s packaged like a business bestseller– The One Minute Global Manager– and often way too glib in a Friedmanesque way, but the central point about where trouble comes from in our world has hardly been rendered ridiculous by the last few years. I don’t know, coming out of business where the consultant of the week with the presentation of the week on the management theory of the week is so normal, jeez, this seems more meaty than most and to have a few undeniable points which are worth focusing on.

  14. Regearding the war on terror, what’s laughable isn’t this particular idea, but the idea that the Bush administration has any sort of strategy at all.

  15. I don’t recall if Barnett made the point explicitly, but it sticks in my mind that “The Core” are those places with greatest freedom of the air and interweb connections, just as the Reasonesque “peace through cultural conquest” OBI predicts.

    Anybody want to buy Kim Jong-Il a sub to Suicide Girls? It is the season for giving…

    drf: Thanks. Happy to help you get that out. I’ve had the same frustrations.

  16. Germany and Japan don’t count. They were already functioning polities before the war that went very badly wrong. We completely smashed them up during the war (millions of casualties and stupendous physical damage – further resistance recognized as completely futile even by a majority of fanatics) and we left local order and administration structures in place, realizing that the Army could not run a nation of tens of millions of people.

    America? We nearly exterminated the Indians; shall we nearly exterminate the Iraqis? Our continental expansion was a conquest and settlement, not nation building. Shall we make ourselves so terrible that none dare oppose us or shall we begin settling Iraq (red-staters and blue-staters are both welcome to volunteer).

    I am surprised you didn’t mention the ROK or ROC. They were basically dictatorships that we guarded (and still guard) until they developed into functioning states. If you’re arguing that we should commit forces for decades to allow this kind of development, fair enough.

    It was wise of you not to mention Haiti, Somalia, Philippines, Bosnia, Kosovo, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Lebanon.

  17. Piggybacking on Trooper Jones, any government policy in place for years begins to be impossible to separate from the fact that progress and improvement tend to happen regardless.
    For example, who here would defend the idea of a progressive income tax which has been in effect in the US since 1913, and the US has done all right anyway.
    Hit and Runners will always have a hard time explaining how much better and faster progress COULD HAVE BEEN but for assinine policies, and, in a democracy, we are up against people who don’t even understand that we have a progressive income tax.

  18. “Yes, it’s packaged like a business bestseller– The One Minute Global Manager– and often way too glib in a Friedmanesque way, but the central point about where trouble comes from in our world has hardly been rendered ridiculous by the last few years.”

    Yeah, what he said.

    Was this overly pissy write-up motivated by an understandable hostility towards Powerpoint culture, or was the focus on the OBI aspect just cover for putting down a writer who realizes that poverty in other countries generates threats to our security?

  19. Trooper Jones gets to the heart of Barnett’s worldview:

    “Airy, nebulous big ideas that mean nothing but endless occupation duty for your Army”

    He repeats over and over that the US will export security to help the gap link to the core. All of this is designed to thwart a massive wahabbi meltdown if per-capita Saudi income drops below the magic number of $3,000-per year.

    The main muslim malfunction (according to Barnett) is their treatment of women. The Iraqi liberation is supposed to provide trickle-down sufferage to the pan-islamic world.

    Pipe-dreams, perhaps. The isolation option requires ramping up nuclear power, oil shale and tar sands and let China have the middle east oil and deal with all of the attendant baggage. This would likely result in Isreal unleashing nukes in fairly short order.

    All options will likely result in some level of failure. Barnett offers some ideas that are interesting and might help advance the cause of freedom and democracy. His theory is doomed to failure unless we can outsource the endless occupation that Trooper Jones predicts.

    The snarky, prissy whining from the impotant do-nothing Reason-ites is a big reason why I changed from libertarian to independant.

  20. Tim: Thanks for the link to Barnett’s website! I hadn’t realized he had a blog, and I’ve now added it to my blogroll.

  21. “Germany and Japan don’t count. They were already functioning polities…”

    Somehow I think you’d be able to come up with a reason why any example I can cite “doesn’t count.” (Even if it requires referring to Nazi Germany as a “functioning polity.” Well, that’s one way to look at it I guess.) I think my enthusiasm to play with you just went to zero when your slipperiness meter went into the red.

  22. Nazi-Germany was of course a “functioning polity.” The Reich was a competently administered state with rather sophisticated systems of education, social security, health care, local government, etc.etc.

    It did indeed suffer from a system of “command economy” wich was overly militaristc and focused on armament, and it lacked the rule of law as well as democratic discourse. Those are serious shortcomings, of course, but they do not make a state to cease functioning.

  23. “Yeah, Lumbergh fucked her.”

  24. I guess I just find something odious about the bloodless way people can say Nazi Germany was a functioning state and so we hardly had any work to do in turning it into a democracy, compared to Iraq or Afghanistan. Seems to me its many state functions were precisely the problem, and eradicating them was at least as hard a job as building from scratch. You make it sound like we just sent some efficiency experts over to take over Dachau and step up the production of soap.

  25. You’d think libertarians would find a lot to like in Barnett’s basic worldview – free nations that are functioning members of the global market are not a problem, but unfree nations held captive by brutal dictatorships and isolated from the global market are a problem for the free world.

  26. Citizen Dean,

    That’s great unless you’re pulling occupation duty.

    I have no problem pulling occupation duty to try and prevent the enemy from killing you (it’s my job to risk getting killed, if the little bastards can do it). I have a big problem pulling occupation duty because a self-promoting bastard (and you can tell from his website that Barnett’s a self-promoter) has some theory that says I have to risk my ass for the benefit of foreigners.

    Instability is not the threat, per se. The threat is those who want to kill you, for whatever reason. His argument is an amalgam of the tired ideas of balance of power, great power trade policy and la mission civilatrice. It is a recipe for endless occupations and political tutelage.

    If the citizens are willing to pay for la mission civilatrice, your Army will try to do it, but don’t believe anyone who tells you it can be done in less than decades.

  27. RC,

    It’s wierd, but Reasonites seem to think that Big Ideas are always wrong. It’s good to be skeptical of Big Ideas, but isn’t “Free Minds & Free Markets” a pretty Big Idea?

  28. “If you’re willing to peddle OBI flapdoodle to dipshit Esquire subscribers, a rewarding career in charlatanism may await you.”

    I tried there. They said No. Any other ideas?

  29. You’d think libertarians would find a lot to like in Barnett’s basic worldview – free nations that are functioning members of the global market are not a problem,

    Russia and China are not free nations–they’re shoehorned into “The Core” because “The Core” is a bogus rubric that could be more accurately described as “places the United States can’t safely invade.”

  30. Instability is not the threat, per se. The threat is those who want to kill you, for whatever reason.

    Silly you, Trooper Jones: You don’t realize that instability is the reason people want to kill you. Don’t you remember when Haitian terrorists knocked down the World Trade Center? When Congolese blew up the Murrah federal building? When Ecuadorean frogmen attacked the U.S.S. Cole? Go ahead, keep your head buried in the sand!

  31. Dean, the problem isn’t the diagnosis, but what seems to be the proposed cure. Barnett gets a large part of the problem correct, while neglecting to admit that drawing other countries into the gap in the type of timetable that is politically acceptable has a chance of Slim To None, w/ Slim about to skip town.

    Either we have to learn how to pick btw the carrot & stick more carefully & learn to use them more efficiently, or accept Total War. I’m hoping for the former, if current events are any indication. Nothing is ever as simple as we’d like it to be, much as I wish spreading freedom was as easy as whacking those who oppose abroad, the world doesn’t work like that.

  32. Russia and China are not free nations–they’re shoehorned into “The Core” because “The Core” is a bogus rubric that could be more accurately described as “places the United States can’t safely invade.”

    True to a point, but they are participating in the global economy, and in both countries there are some helpful trends – both are considerably more free in some ways than they were 10 years ago. And, more importantly, neither is actively supporting our enemies or trying to bring down the basic structure of Western liberal capitalism. That makes them more Core than Gap, IMO.

    Dean, the problem isn’t the diagnosis, but what seems to be the proposed cure. Barnett gets a large part of the problem correct, while neglecting to admit that drawing other countries into the gap in the type of timetable that is politically acceptable has a chance of Slim To None, w/ Slim about to skip town.

    Sure, the interesting questions come up when you start trying to figure out how to solve the problem. I personally am not so convinced about the “global test” thinking that says we are doomed to failure unless we convince even more countries than we already have to help out, including those whose elites are in bed with our enemies. If you think the Pax Americana sucks, you should look at the track record of the tranzis, the only viable option on offer.

    Having such a convincing and ultimately libertarian-friendly diagnosis of the problem is a good thing, no? Better than having the prevailing diagnosis in US policy circles be some transnational progressive claptrap about how the US is the problem, and what we really need is more international institutions imposing Euro-style regulations the US and the Gap nation.

  33. Trooper: Barnett isn’t hiding the decades (centuries?) of occupation necessary, should his theories prove accurate. It seems to me a reminder that because people want to kill you (us/US), there will be costs. We can choose the the regular payments of guard duty or the less predictable balloon payments exacted by Tim’s “Haitian Frogmen”.

    Anybody (particularly the superficial snarks) got a competing OBI? Or a constellation of little ideas (which is just another OBI in serial form)?

  34. No, I’ve just got a superficial snark. Ahem:

    Are they called the Gap nations because that’s where their clothing is stitched?

    Tap tap tap. Is this thing on?

  35. That’s funny without being petty. I’ll stay for the second show.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.