Thursday, January 15, 2009

Be Seeing You

I read the obituary of Patrick McGoohan this morning. It brought back memories of how extraordinary it was for a misfit teenager to live through the year 1968. It was the year when many of my life's passions took hold: politics, science fiction, philosophy, the films of Stanley Kubrick, general geekiness.

I always remember the day early in that year when I saw my mother's ashen face when she learned that her best friend's only son had been killed in Vietnam. I signed up to volunteer in the McCarthy campaign the next day. Then followed a few months of hope, only to have it crushed by the assassinations; riots throughout America's cities revealing the scope of the poverty and hopelessness that lay beneath the American Dream and shoving it in the faces of us middle class white kids who had been taught about some other America; the scenes of Soviet tanks rolling into Prague; the conventions, George Wallace making racism acceptable, the election of Richard Nixon - the gathering realization that American Democracy was a hoax and that America was not necessarily a force for good in the world.

That summer, CBS ran a bizarre British television series called The Prisoner as a summer replacement. The timing could not have been more appropriate.

If you have never seen The Prisoner, I won't try to tell you what it is about. In fact, most viewers, including me, have a hard time figuring out what it was about. Get it on DVD.

McGoohan created and starred in the show. The great Leo McKern was also in it. It was about individuality and freedom, social control and social responsibility. It addresses revolution. Is rebellion simply an act that asserts individual freedom, or does the rebel have a responsibility to the community?

The Prisoner may seem dated in a psychedelic, late '60s sort of way. Some of the episodes are way over the top. But so much of The Prisoner could not be more timely. The show is almost like a catalogue of the Bush Administration's "greatest hits": extraordinary rendition, torture, uncontrolled surveillance, rigged elections, imprisonment as the solution to all social ills, criminality and deceit in the highest levels of government. At the end of the day, however, there is hope. Freedom and individuality cannot be wiped out, and the human spirit can triumph. The power to resist oppression lies within each of us.

Thinking about hope inevitably makes me think about what will happen next week. The horrors of 1968, or of the past eight years, have not been wiped out, and will not be wiped out when Obama takes the oath. But I can really see the possibility of something better. President Obama can be a success by tearing down prison walls. Guantanamo is a good start, but it is only a start. Maybe in a few years we can stop thinking of America as the country that has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world.

Thank you Patrick McGoohan for having opened up the mind of this geek, and I suspect, many, many others. Be seeing you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Continued Thoughts On The Writings of Thomas P.M. Barnett


The following is the conclusion of the essay I wrote in 2007 on the writings of Thomas Barnett. In Part I, I laid out some of Barnett's basic ideas, comparing them to my own ideas about "neo-Marxism" or "bourgeois Marxism." I then began to delve into some of my disagreements with Barnett, using American military actions in the Balkans and Iraq as case studies in the use of American military force in the post Cold War era. I acknowledged that Barnett's ideas worked extremely well in the Balkans, but appeared to break down in the case of Iraq. In Part II, I explore the reasons for the failure of Barnett's ideas in Iraq in more detail, and highlight the distinction between colonialism and globalization, which, I believe, is central to the distinction between the ideas of the neo-conservatives who dominated the Bush Administration, and who were responsible for the direction of the Iraq War, and the thinking of proponents of globalization such as Barnett (as well as myself).

The distinction between colonialism and globalization also dovetails nicely with my thoughts about the Counterinsurgency Field Manual. When counterinsurgency doctrine is applied in the service of globalization, it can be a boon to humankind; but it is equally applicable in service of neo-colonialism, in which case it becomes a malignancy. The best solution to the problem is the one I highlight in the conclusion of this essay, namely, to reject U.S. unilateralism in Twenty-First Century warfare. This is the key to ensuring that in the future American military actions are engaged in the endeavor of promoting globalization, as opposed to neo-colonialism.

Globalization and Colonialism In The Post Cold War Era (Conclusion)

Barnett’s support for the Iraq War is not based on any of the purported justifications advanced by the Bush Administration. Rather, Barnett supported the Iraq War as an example of the sort of "shrink the Gap" type of conflict he wants the U.S. to pursue in the post-Cold War era. Barnett viewed Saddam Hussein’s government as a good example of a malignant Gap regime that was harmful to the Iraqi people and dangerous to Iraq’s neighbors, both of which were unquestionably true. Barnett’s view was that with the removal of this dysfunctional regime, Iraq would have an opportunity to re-build itself and get on the road to Core membership, speeding the penetration of globalization into the entire Middle East. In all, Barnett viewed the American invasion of Iraq as an event that would set off a "big bang" that would radically alter Middle Eastern politics, with the end result of enabling the entire region someday to join the Core.
Barnett would have to agree that to date, things have not worked out very well in Iraq. Iraq today is more "Gap-like" than it was before the U.S. invaded. The Iraqi economy is not functioning, even at the extremely depressed levels at which it was functioning before the war. The country is torn by civil war. Reliable estimates put the Iraqi death toll at in excess of a half-million fatalities, both as a result of the American invasion and the ensuing civil war. Iraq has become a hotbed of terrorist activity. Religious fundamentalists hold far more influence in Iraq than they did before the war. The status of women in Iraqi society – as noted, something Barnett rightly identifies as a major indicator of a society’s compatibility with the culture of the Twenty-First Century globalized economy – has declined since the war.
Barnett sees the failure of the Iraq War as fundamentally a failure of strategy. Specifically, Barnett faults the strategy pursued by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, which could be described as a strategy that was all Leviathan and no SysAdmin. The American Leviathan force did its job by quickly defeating the Iraqi army and deposing Saddam Hussein. However, there was no large SysAdmin force ready to occupy Iraq and rapidly undertake the task of re-building Iraqi society (that "nation-building" stuff that candidate Bush disliked so much back in 2000). As a result, Iraq descended into chaos in the days immediately following the invasion, the attempts to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure were ill-conceived and poorly executed, and the evolution of an Iraqi insurrection and ultimately a full-blown civil war flowed inexorably from the lack of any SysAdmin force and the flawed overall occupation strategy pursued by the United States.
While there can hardly be any dispute that the U.S. conduct of the occupation of Iraq was poorly planned – and it appears to have been hardly planned at all – I do not agree that the failure in Iraq was solely attributable to a failure of execution. Even if the U.S. had pursued a different strategy in its occupation of Iraq, I seriously doubt that the result would have been much different. Indeed, there is really no point in debating the question of whether the outcome in Iraq could have been different if a true SysAdmin force had been brought into play, because the reality is that it simply was not possible for such a force to have been deployed in Iraq. Barnett concedes that the U.S. alone does not have sufficient forces to field a SysAdmin force of the magnitude that would have been required to do an effective job in Iraq. Thus, in order for the Iraq War to have been successful, the U.S. necessarily would have had to put together a much more substantial international coalition than the rather pathetic "coalition of the willing" that actually participated in the Iraq War. Barnett argues that the U.S. should have been accompanied into Iraq by large numbers of Indian, Russian, and Chinese troops, which would have supplied the numbers for a massive SysAdmin force that could have made the Iraqi occupation a success and could have staved off insurrection and civil war. Barnett argues that it was the failure of the unimaginative Bush Administration foreign policy team – Barnett has particularly strong criticism for Secretaries of State Powell and Rice – that was responsible for the inability to put together a significant international coalition for prosecuting the Iraq War, which again, resulted in the failure to field a large SysAdmin force capable of carrying out the occupation in a way that would have brought about the re-structuring of Iraqi society, laying the groundwork for Iraq’s eventual entry into the Core. Barnett says that such a program was done successfully in the Balkans, and if executed properly, there is no reason why the same strategy could not have succeeded in Iraq.
Again, I do not agree with Barnett that the failure in Iraq can be written off as simply a failure of strategy, or an unfortunate consequence of incompetence in the leadership of the State Department. I believe that in order to understand the failure of the Bush Administration to achieve anything remotely resembling Barnett’s "blueprint" in Iraq, one has to look at the real reasons why the Bush Administration fought the war, which in turn explain why the Bush Administration fought the war unilaterally, and therefore failed to field an effective SysAdmin force. Just as I do not believe that the Bush Administration invaded Iraq because of a fear that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction or otherwise constituted a threat to the U.S., I do not believe that the Bush Administration invaded Iraq because it had the slightest interest in pursuing some version of Barnett’s "shrink the Gap" strategy. Rather, as I stated above, I believed at the outset of the Iraq War and continue to believe today, that the Bush Administration’s interest was in using military force to protect the dominant role of American oil companies in the region.
One way of looking at this is to ask the question why most other nations of the Core did not join the "coalition of the willing" in the invasion of Iraq? If I am correct about the true motivations behind the war, then the answer is obvious: most nations did not participate in the Iraq War simply because they had no interest to be advanced by participating. Most nations of the world were not fooled by Bush’s stories of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or Iraqi ties to terrorists. Most nations simply saw no reason to participate in a war that had no greater justification than the objective of advancing American (and to a lesser extent British) oil interests. This point is seen very clearly in the strong opposition to the war coming from France and Russia, as the oil businesses of those nations had enjoyed favorable positions vis-a-vis Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s regime and unlike the Bush Administration and its allies in the American petroleum industry, the governments of those countries saw nothing to be gained by regime change.
In sum, I would define the Iraq War as fundamentally a "war of colonialism", namely, a war pursued by a stronger nation against a weaker nation in order to protect the stronger nation’s control of a natural resource located within the weaker nation. In contrast to wars of colonialism, I would define Barnett’s paradigm of post-Cold War warfare as "wars of globalization." The wars in the Balkans may be the only example we have to date of a war of globalization, but even using this small sample, we can describe some of the fundamental characteristics of a war of globalization. (I think that the war in Afghanistan may also have had many of the characteristics of a true war of globalization, but unfortunately, Afghanistan has become something of an after-thought following the Bush Administration’s initiation of the Iraq War). In terms of objectives, such wars have the goal of removing a regime that is acting as an impediment to the development of trade and investment with respect to the targeted country. This objective will also shape the manner in which wars of globalization are fought. Since such wars do not have the goal of serving the narrow national interests of any one country, but rather, are intended to advance the interests of the global capitalist economic system as a whole, such wars will almost inevitably be characterized by multilateralism and a high degree of international cooperation. Of course, that is exactly what we saw work so successfully in the Balkans, and it is exactly what has been missing in Iraq. In addition, since the goal of a war of globalization is the establishment within the targeted state of a stable economic system open to trade and investment, the process of "nation-building" will also be an inevitable and essential part of such a war; thus, Barnett’s SysAdmin force is an indispensable component of any successful war of globalization. Again, this is precisely what we have seen carried out successfully in the Balkans, but notably not in Iraq.
These characteristics of a war of globalization can be contrasted with a war of colonialism. Since a war of colonialism has the objective of enhancing the narrow interests of the attacking country by enabling agents of the attacking country to exploit the natural resources of the targeted country, it is almost inevitable that such a war will be unilateral, not multilateral; this characteristic applies to the Iraq War. And, since a war of colonialism has the objective of exploiting the resources of the targeted country and is not concerned with otherwise opening the targeted country to trade and investment, the nation-building aspect of a war of colonialism is likely to be perfunctory at best, with the occupation of the attacked country being concerned solely with narrow objectives of maintaining a minimal degree of order in the targeted country and not with the re-building of the targeted country into a state capable of participating in the globalized economy. Obviously, these characteristics also apply to the Iraq War.
This latter point is, I believe, crucial to understanding why Barnett’s program breaks down in the case of the Iraq War. The failure of the U.S. (and the pathetic and virtually non-existent "coalition of the willing") to insert a meaningful SysAdmin force into Iraq was not just the product of short-sighted or flawed strategic thinking on the part of Rumsfeld and the other decision-makers in the Bush Administration. Rather, there was no SysAdmin force in Iraq because the Bush Administration saw no need for such a force, given the true objectives of the Iraq War. The real goal of the Iraq War was not the re-building of Iraqi society and the integration of Iraq into the globalized economy. The goals of the Iraq War were simply the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime and the insertion of a substantial American military presence in the Middle East in order to promote and protect the interests of the American oil companies and their partners in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. No meaningful SysAdmin force was needed in order to achieve these goals.
This is not to say that the powers-that-be in the Bush Administration are completely satisfied with the way that the Iraq War has turned out; however, I do not believe that they are entirely dissatisfied either. Slightly more than 3,000 Americans have died in a war that has now lasted almost four years. Viewing things from a cold-blooded perspective, that is an extraordinarily low fatality rate by any historical criteria. To be sure, the consequences of the war have been catastrophic for the Iraqis – deaths likely in excess of 500,000, destruction of much of the national infrastructure, rampant chaos and civil war, etc. If this had truly been a war of globalization in which the goal was the transformation of Iraqi society in order to enable it to be integrated into the globalized economy, these facts would unquestionably brand the war as an unmitigated disaster. However, accepting the conclusion that the Iraq War was a war of colonialism and not a war of globalization, these facts are of relatively little significance to the Bush Administration’s architects of the war. The U.S. now has a firmly-established military presence in the Middle East, the regimes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are safe and secure, and the American oil companies are in an excellent position to take the lead in developing more extensive oil production in Iraq.
This leads me to a somewhat broader criticism of Barnett. Barnett occasionally is not sufficiently careful to draw the distinction between colonialism and globalization. As noted, I believe that this is the fundamental reason why Barnett was wrong about the Iraq War – he viewed it as a war of globalization whereas in reality it was a war of colonialism. At this point, it might be helpful for me to digress a bit and offer a clearer definition of these terms, as I am using them.
"Colonialism" is an economic system in which an industrialized capitalist country develops a relationship with a non-industrialized, largely pre-capitalist country that exploits the natural resources or agricultural products of the colonized country for the benefit of the capitalist organizations of the colonizing country. In a colonialist system, the agents of the colonizing power obtain access to the natural resources and agricultural products of the colonized state on terms that are highly favorable to the agents of the colonizing power. In addition, the colonized state becomes dependent upon the industrial products of the colonizing power, and the colonizing power is therefore able to force the colonized state to obtain those industrial products on terms that are highly favorable to the agents of the colonizing power. In the past, colonialism was generally promulgated by means of the exercise of military coercion on the part of the colonizing state against the inferior military forces of the colonized state. The combination of colonialism with military coercion is imperialism, which dominated the world up until the Second World War.
However, it is important to emphasize that colonialism can exist without imperialism, i.e., without military coercion and without actual political control of the colonized country by the colonizing state. An excellent historical example of colonialism without imperialism can be seen in the case of the American South. Even though the American Revolution terminated political and military control over the United States by Britain (or any other European country), a colonialist economic relationship continued to exist between Britain and the South long after the U.S. became politically "independent" of Britain. (To some extent, a colonialist relationship between the South and the industrialized North also developed after the Civil War, although that relationship also had much to do with the exercise of military coercion by the North, e.g., Sherman’s march, etc.). British textile manufacturers obtained cheap, slave-produced Southern cotton, while the South became highly dependent upon British industrial products, which British manufacturers were able to sell to the South on highly favorable terms – a textbook colonialist relationship.
There is a temptation to view the colonialist economic relationship too simplistically as one in which the colonizing power is the "exploiter" and the colonized country is the "victim." While that may be true in a broad sense, narrow interest groups within the colonized country can benefit greatly from the relationship. In fact, colonialism can be extremely lucrative for an elite group within the colonized country that happens to control the natural resource or agricultural product that is sought to be exploited by the agents of the colonizing power. Again using the ante bellum South as an example, Southern plantation owners became fabulously wealthy through the colonialist relationship that they enjoyed with British textile manufacturers. To be sure, the system was highly damaging to masses of the people of the South as a whole; the exploitation of black slaves was a self-evident evil, and the bulk of white Southerners also suffered under the system. Southerners were forced to pay exorbitant prices for British industrial products, and most Southerners could not afford to buy and maintain slaves and therefore could not compete with the plantation owners in the production of agricultural products. Again though, for the slave holders who controlled the Southern political system, colonialism was a pot of gold and they were willing to start one of the bloodiest civil wars in the history of the world in an attempt to keep the system intact.
The relationship between colonialism and globalization is complex. Colonialism is frequently the pre-cursor to globalization. Barnett points out, echoing the views of numerous economists who have written about globalization, that globalization requires the free-flow of various factors of production, such as resources, labor, goods, information, and capital. While colonialism has its origins in an economic relationship in which the colonizing power simply seeks to exploit the natural resources of the colonized country, the relationship often leads to the development of these other flows that ultimately enables the former colony to join Barnett’s Core, i.e., participating membership in the globalized capitalist economy. J.A. Hobson, writing at the end of the 19th Century, noted that the driving economic force behind British imperialism was no longer the sector of the British economy that had benefitted from the exploitation of natural resources and agricultural products obtained from the colonies, but rather, the British financial community, which was looking for profitable investment opportunities throughout the world. Thus, while the British Raj may have started out as a classic colonial relationship in which British businesses sought to exploit Indian natural resources and agricultural products, India ultimately also became an important investment opportunity for British financiers. In addition to the movement of capital, British colonization of India also gave rise to flows of other factors of production (people, goods, language, knowledge) that would in recent years be critical to India’s ability to join the globalized capitalist economy.
Notwithstanding this relationship between colonialism and globalization, it is important to emphasize that the two are not the same; in fact, they are really mutually exclusive. A nation cannot become a participating member of the globalized economic system while it is in a colonial relationship. The reasons for this are readily apparent. The economy of the colony is based entirely upon the sale of natural resources and agricultural products; it produces no goods or services to be traded in the global economy. Most importantly, it is in the interest of both the colonizing power and the elite in the colonized country to keep things that way. The colonizing power does not want the colony to develop a more diverse economy, because that would cause the colony to become less dependent upon the colonizing power as a source of industrial goods; in addition, if the colony had economic alternatives to selling off its natural resources, it would be in a stronger bargaining position in dealing with the colonizing state. The elite within the colony, which typically profits greatly from the colonial relationship, also does not want things to change; if the economy of the colony diversifies, the potential exists for the development of other power centers and with them other elites within the colony capable of challenging the position of the traditional elite.
Thus, a nation cannot enter the Core unless it has broken free of colonialism. Writing back in the 1970s, Chomsky, in noting that Japan was then the only highly-developed capitalist society not controlled by people of European ancestry, pointed out that it was not a coincidence that Japan was also the only non-European nation that had not been colonized by Europeans. Indeed, the example of Japan is instructive in understanding the relationship between colonialism and the ability of a nation to enter Barnett’s Core. It is quite common for nations seeking to develop a modern economy to erect barriers to keep out potential colonizers, so that a nation can develop to the point where it is able to participate in the global economy on an equal footing, and thereby avoid being subjected to colonization. Japan is the most clear-cut historical example of a nation that pursued such an isolationist strategy openly and deliberately, with highly successful results. To some extent, the Communist regimes of Russia and China effectively performed similar historical functions in keeping out would-be colonizers, even if those regimes did not do so with the conscious purpose of enabling Russia and China someday to have functioning capitalist economies; I would argue that for the past 20-odd years, the Mullahs have also been performing this function in Iran, consciously or otherwise. The strategy of non-alignment followed Nehru in years following Indian independence is another example.
Consideration of U.S. history is also relevant. While mythology would have it that the U.S. has always been the bastion of free enterprise and free trade, historical reality is quite different. In fact, there are many similarities in the path to Core status pursued by the U.S. and the Japan; for most of U.S. history, at least up until the New Deal, America followed a policy of rigid political and economic isolation, not totally unlike that pursued by Japan. High tariffs were the key to American historical economic development; it is hardly surprising that the tariff was almost invariably the flash-point of ante bellum conflict between the colonized South, which was already in the colonial grasp of the U.K. and whose leaders wanted to keep it that way, and the pre-industrialized North, which was seeking to protect its developing capitalist economy from falling prey to European colonizers. Of course, I should note that just because I am pointing out the role of high tariffs in promoting historical economic development in the U.S., that does not mean that I am a devotee of latter-day protectionists such as Pat Buchanan or Lou Dobbs. I recognize that free trade among Core nations is a good thing and that a policy of protectionism by a Core nation can be disastrous, as Smoot-Hawley aptly demonstrated; however, U.S. history illustrates the point that for a pre-capitalist society seeking to protect itself from colonialism so that it can develop an economy capable of full participation in the global economy, protectionism can be beneficial and, indeed, essential.
In the contemporary world, the last major colonialist relationship that continues to exist is the relationship between the nations whose economies are primarily based on the sale of oil, mostly but not exclusively located in the Middle East, and the nations of the Core, especially the U.S. Not surprisingly, the nations whose economies largely rely upon the sale of oil are all located in the Gap; it is not a coincidence that South America’s biggest oil producer, Venezuela, has not made strides towards Core membership comparable to those made by Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, none of which is a significant oil producer. It is also not a coincidence that Venezuelan voters have been receptive to the anti-colonialist demagoguery of Hugo Chavez, and have not supported pro-free market politicians of the sort who have been so successful in the New Core states of South America.
The paradigmatic oil-based colonialist relationship in the world today is that between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. At first blush, this seems counter-intuitive, because we in the U.S. have all been conditioned to believe that the Saudis and the other "oil sheikhs" have us "over a barrel" and are able to exercise inordinate control over the U.S. because we are so "dependent" upon their oil. However, cutting through such caricatures promoted by the U.S. media, the relationship is unquestionably one of classic colonialism. The Western oil companies, principally American, have access to Saudi oil on terms that are quite favorable. The Saudi elite – which is a classic parasitic colonialist class (like Southern slave holders) that does nothing other than claim ownership of the ground under which the oil is located – profits handsomely from the relationship. The Saudi elite does not, however, use those profits to invest in economic diversification within its own country. Notwithstanding the countless trillions of dollars that Western oil companies have paid to the Saudi royal family over the years, Saudi Arabia remains a country with absolutely no industry and virtually no economy that is based on anything other than oil; incredibly, it also remains a country in which poverty and all of the other attributes of Gap membership such as poor education, poor healthcare, barbaric justice, and inhuman treatment of women, remain widespread. That is the way the House of Saud wants to keep it, because economic diversification could lead to the empowerment of other elites who might undermine their hold on their country. That is also the way the oil companies want to keep things, because a Saudi Arabia that had an economy based on something other than oil would have a stronger bargaining position. So instead of investing in economic development in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi elite instead invests its money either in the Core (principally in the U.S.), expensive U.S.-produced weapons systems, or in consumable items such as luxury automobiles, yachts, private jets, maintaining a level of conspicuous consumption Thorstein Veblen could not even have imagined. The American oil companies and their allies in Washington want to make sure that these wastrels remain in power; the saga of Mohamad Mossadegh in Iran is not a promising harbinger of what can happen to the leader of an oil-producing state that expresses an interest in using his nation’s oil wealth to promote internal economic development.
As wealthy as the members of the Saudi elite may be, however, they are really no different from the Southern slave holders – beneficiaries of a colonialist relationship that principally serves to benefit the agents of a stronger nation. Who is it that is really "over the barrel" in this relationship? Consider this scenario. Suppose some Dr. No/James Bond villain-type came along and made all of the oil in the world radioactive and unusable. The economy of the Core would be highly disrupted, but we would eventually pull through it by going on a crash program of conservation, building nuclear power plants, wind turbines, and solar panels, and dusting off those blueprints for electric cars. The economy of Saudi Arabia, however, would be wiped out without any possibility of repair; the country would literally be in the stone age. In short, it is the Saudis who are dependent upon the Core to buy their oil. For those of us in the Core, relatively cheap Saudi oil is a convenience that yields obscene profits for the oil companies and that enables Americans to drive around in SUVs, but if we had to do without it, we could make do. Ultimately, however, the Saudis do not have that choice because they have nothing to sell to the rest of the world but their oil.
The anti-globalizing effects of colonialism are not limited to the harmful way in which it stunts the development of the economy of the colony. Society within the colonizing state is also affected in a way that tends to work against the progress of globalization. Some of these effects are addressed in Kevin Phillips’ recent excellent work, American Theocracy. Phillips identifies four characteristics that almost invariably develop within countries after they embark upon a program of colonialism: (1) a tendency towards jingoism and fanatical fundamentalist religion; (2) militarization of society and a growing influence of the military in the economic and political life of society, leading to the development of monopolistic enterprises that profit from the military and effectively operate as "joint ventures" between the government and private interests; (3) increasing dependence upon whatever natural resource is the object of the colonial relationship; and (4) growing importance of the financial, as opposed to the industrial, sector of the economy, accompanied by increasing levels of national debt. Phillips identifies these characteristics in past colonial empires (Spain, the Netherlands, and Britain), and he emphasizes the prominence of these characteristics in the contemporary U.S., particularly during the current Bush Administration.
Phillips does not extensively discuss the relationship between these characteristics and globalization. Indeed, while I have criticized Barnett for a tendency to be insufficiently sensitive to the distinctions between colonialism and globalization, Phillips seems to ignore globalization altogether. Phillips does not have an evolutionary view of history in the Marxian (or neo-Marxian) mode; he tends to view history as cyclical, with the U.S. simply being the latest in the long line of colonial empires that inevitably fall prey to the foibles that will ultimately bring them down. Phillips does not see this process leading to the ultimate end of colonialism and its displacement by globalization; he seems to view history as a cycle in which some new colonial empire will arise, only to be brought down and replaced, and so on, ad infinitum. To this extent, I strongly disagree with Phillips. Nevertheless, I believe that his analysis of the impact of colonialism on the society of the colonizing state is right on the money, and his application of that analysis to the U.S. under the Bush Administration is entirely accurate.
What I think is important for Barnett’s analysis is the fact that all of these developments within U.S. society that Phillips identifies as taking place during the current Bush Administration are ultimately antithetical to the interests of globalization. Barnett identifies the principal threat to globalization in the Gap. I would submit that an equally significant danger exists within the Core, namely, the ideologues driving the policies of the Bush Administration, who are manifestations of the characteristics Phillips identifies. They are often referred to as "neo-conservatives", but I believe that a more accurate label would be "neo-colonialists." These ideologues do not share Barnett’s vision of a "future worth creating", in which the nations of the Core will work together cooperatively to "shrink the Gap." The neo-colonialists are interested in pursuing a vision of a future based on American military hegemony. They do not talk about globalization as a cooperative process, in which the U.S. and Europe will ultimately be as much or more altered to resemble the rest of the world, as the rest of the world will be altered to resemble the U.S. and Europe. They talk of the U.S. as the "lone superpower", a "dangerous nation" and an "indispensable nation", freely and openly using its military superiority to enable the U.S. to gain control over the world’s dwindling oil resources and at the same time suppressing the rise of any potential competitor. They are prone to see the current world situation in apocalyptic terms, with the U.S. "alone" "standing tall" as the only power willing to protect Western Civilization from the dark, non-Christian forces that are threatening the essential values of the West. They are interested in international cooperation only on terms dictated by the U.S.; the rest of the world is welcomed as followers, but not as collaborators in the processes of globalization. They are not interested in mutual defense pacts with China, a key ingredient of Barnett’s strategy for building a workable joint military force capable of shrinking the Gap and spreading globalization. They are interested only in pursuing strategies designed to ensure that China does not become a "threat" to the military supremacy of the U.S.
In sum, the current American neo-colonialists act pretty the same way that colonialists have always acted – unilateralists with no objective more noble than the achievement of hegemony. And so long as these neo-colonialists have the power in Washington to implement their visions, globalization will be hindered.
It is interesting to note that some of Barnett’s critics have often compared him to pre-World War I historians and political philosophers, such as Norman Angell, who had suggested at the beginning of the Twentieth Century that the state of European civilization had reached a point in which warfare was so destructive and so illogical that wars between European states had become obsolete; today, descriptions of such visions are almost always accompanied by wise-cracks about "famous last words." Barnett does not reject the comparison to past visionaries of global peace such as Angell, but he points out that nuclear weapons change the equation significantly. Perhaps, but the battlefields of the Somme, the Marne, Verdun, etc. give one pause in considering the extent to which the pursuit of global hegemony by the leaders of supposedly "civilized" nations can yield horrific results that no sane person would ever contemplate. What is most important to recall is that what destroyed the optimistic vision of universal peace that was suggested at the beginning of the Twentieth Century was colonialism and the drive by certain European powers, principally Germany, to achieve global hegemony. The dangers to the achievement of a peaceful globalized economy posed by the hegemonists in Washington today are just as great.
So, in moving towards a conclusion, this neo-Marxist will ask the question famously posed by the most notorious of the old Marxists: What is to be done? Again, I would turn to the teachings of my neo-Marxist mentor, Lee Benson, for the answer. The key element of the neo-Marxist approach is the recognition that Marx’s fixation with the class struggle as the engine of all social change was fundamentally wrong, at least as applied to capitalism. That conclusion applies to both ends of the economic spectrum, both the bottom and the top. Just as Marx’s idea of "class consciousness" fails when applied to the proletariat in modern capitalist society, so too does it fail when applied to the upper echelons of society, namely, the leaders of U.S. business and government. Not all of America’s business and political leaders are neo-conservatives or, as I would suggest they should be called, neo-colonialists. While traditional leftists are inclined to see the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration as being attributable to the service of a "corporate agenda" allegedly being perpetrated by the capitalist class in order to subjugate the workers of the world, I believe such claims to be unsubstantiated rubbish, outdated rhetoric having very little relationship to the reality of the Twenty-First Century global economy.
In fact, the neo-conservative/neo-colonialist group that dominates decision making in the Bush Administration represents a relatively narrow segment of the American capitalist class; the neo-conservatives are those associated with the oil industry, those whose ideology or regional backgrounds incline them towards jingoism, nativism, or religious fanaticism, and a spectrum of the Jewish community (and a very narrow one at that) tied, either by finance or by ideology or perhaps both, to hard-liners within the Israeli government. I do not believe that this group represents anything close to a majority of the American business elite. In fact, I would wager that opposition to the Iraq War among the top income earners in the U.S. is at roughly the same levels as one would find within other economic strata of society. Changing the course of current American foreign policy will not require a class revolution. All that needs to be done is to replace the decision makers whose vision is based in colonialism and the fantasy of achieving U.S. military hegemony, with decision makers who understand that fulfilling the promise of globalization requires cooperation and multilateralism. Robert Rubin is among the wealthiest and most powerful capitalists in the world, but in my mind, that hardly disqualifies him from being recognized as a great visionary. When future historians write of our times, they will see Rubin, and many other business leaders, as among America’s most enlightened decision makers who helped make globalization work.
At the end of the day, history is on the side of globalization, not colonialism. Even with respect to oil-based colonialism, we can see the handwriting on the wall. Not only is oil becoming scarce, but we do in fact have something going on that is akin to the "Dr. No" scenario I posited above in which oil becomes unusable. That scenario is working itself out through the phenomenon of global warming. International cooperation will be unavoidable if we are to move towards alternatives to fossil fuels, particularly in the nations of the New Core, where energy consumption is going to increase astronomically in the upcoming years. The demands of capitalist globalization dictate that the economies of these New Core states not be permitted to regress to a pre-capitalist state; if that is to be accomplished while recognizing the impact of global warming, multinational cooperation is essential and quests for hegemony must be abandoned.
While the necessity for addressing global warming will inevitably promote multinational cooperation, the resulting process of change is also fraught with danger. As the world moves away from an oil-driven economy, there will inevitably be significant disruption in the oil-producing countries of the world, especially in the Middle East. On the one hand, such disruption can be an occasion for much positive change, as the world moves away from this last bastion of colonialism, and the countries of the Middle East will unavoidably begin to build diverse capitalist economies not dependent upon the sale of oil, bringing them into membership in Barnett’s Core. On the other hand, such disruption will also inevitably play into the hands of groups such as al Qaeda who resent and distrust the changes wrought by globalization In the long run, globalization will lead to peace and prosperity, but in the transitional phases leading there, the dangers of terrorism will continue to be very real.
Such disruption in the Middle East will also inevitably increase the immigration of Muslims into Europe and the U.S. This process will have a far greater impact upon the lily-white nations of Europe than it will upon the U.S., which has vast historical experience in dealing with immigrants, even those whose skin is of a different hue or whose religion differs from that of the majority. I see a very high likelihood of increasing nativism and intolerance in the politics of Europe, straining the belief system of Europe’s current dominant left-leaning secularist culture. I don’t see this process as leading to anything apocalyptic in the long-run, but it will certainly bring about a very unpleasant transitional phase during which Europeans will finally have to come to grips with the fact that the world is not their own private oyster.
In short, we must recognize that globalization has its enemies, and they present a danger to the rest of the world. But such dangerous actors are not limited to the members of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda. I submit that they are also to be found in Washington, DC and elsewhere in the West, which is the principal point I have labored to make in this essay. Neo-conservatives committed to fantasies of American military hegemony and American neo-colonialist control over the world’s dwindling supplies of oil, and Euro-centrists trying to whip up hostilities by promoting visions of an apocalyptic "clash of civilizations", all pose just as great a danger to globalization as the most committed, fanatical Islamic (or other religious) terrorist.
Barnett has produced an impressive body of work. He has helped establish a framework of analysis that can guide us through the perils of the current transitional era as humanity moves forward to a world of true economic globalization. Decision makers throughout the world should read Barnett’s writings. But a word of caution to Barnett: not everyone in Washington shares your vision of a future worth creating. And a word of caution to those neo-conservatives who believe that they have an ally in Barnett: Barnett’s vision of a future worth creating is not one that is consistent with a vision of American military hegemony.
Globalization is about international cooperation, connectivity, and relative equality among participants. China, Southeast Asia, India, the European Union, Brazil, a future African union anchored in South Africa, and a Middle East not tied down to oil – all will shape the future world of globalization just as much as the United States will. And rightly so. But that may not be the world the neo-conservatives want to create. Failure to recognize the dangers to globalization that are posed by colonialism and the hegemonic schemes of neo-conservatives will lead us into more disasters such as the Iraq War, and will only move us away from the future that Barnett, as well as this bourgeois Marxist, look forward to creating.

Some Thoughts On The Writings of Thomas P.M. Barnett


As I said in my first post on this blog, my interest in the writings of Thomas P.M. Barnett is one of the subjects that I intend to explore in my postings. Barnett is about to release a new book, Great Powers: America and The World After Bush, which should hit bookstores in February 2009. I am looking forward to reading his latest book, and I thought that this might be a good opportunity to post in more detail some of my ideas about Barnett's work.

The following is an essay I wrote in 2007. I have edited it a bit to remove stuff that might seem embarrassingly wrong, but for the most part, it still reflects much of my thinking about Barnett's writings. I haven't tried to update the essay to include anything about the current economic crisis. While some pundits believe that this crisis signals the demise of global capitalism, that is certainly not my view. Taking the long view, Barnett's vision of the ramifications of globalization remain sound, and if anything, the current economic crisis makes it even more important to put recent events into perspective and to look at the broader sweep of the history of capitalist evolution.

I suspect that Barnett would take strong objection to much of my analysis of the Iraq War, pointing out that conditions in Iraq have improved markedly since I originally wrote this essay. Even if one accepts the conclusion that conditions have improved in Iraq and that this improvement is not likely to deteriorate, there is still a big question as to whether this outcome would justify the horrendous costs of the war. In my view, the jury is still out as far as the ultimate outcome in Iraq is concerned, and I am highly skeptical that any long-term improvement of conditions in Iraq will take place unless the U.S. embarks on major diplomatic initiatives, particularly by engaging Iran. Fortunately, that may well be the direction in which the Obama Administration intends to steer American foreign policy. At the end of the day, the Iraq War could only be a success if it is truly internationalized, so that it is clearly a war of globalization, and not a war of American neo-colonialism, which is the basic point of my essay.

Another motivation for my posting of this essay at this time is the fact that I am currently reading the Counterinsurgency Field Manual of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2007. The Field Manual is a remarkable and impressive piece of work. However, I find that my qualms about the Field Manual parallel some of my uncertainties about Barnett's writings, at least his writings so far. Specifically, these concerns can be summed up by the Manual's definition of an "insurgency":

"an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted
government through the use of subversion and armed conflict."

The key question therefore is, what is a "constituted government" and who has the authority to make that decision? Apply these definitions, for example, to the Vietnam War - were America's opponents in Vietnam really "insurgents"? After all, "South Vietnam" was nothing more than a "fake state", created and maintained by the military might of the United States. Moreover, South Vietnam existed only because the United States subverted the conduct of elections that had previously been agreed upon following the defeat of the French, since the elections inevitably would have resulted in widespread manifestation of popular support for a unified Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. Weren't the United States and its South Vietnamese allies really the "insurgents", and not the supporters of Ho Chi Minh who overwhelmingly reflected the popular will of the Vietnamese people? These problems arise even more glaringly in the case of the Iraq War. The U.S. invaded Iraq and overthrew a "constituted" government, albeit a brutal and corrupt government. Why should the Iraqi forces who resisted the American invaders be deemed "insurgents" under the Manual's definition?

By raising these questions, I do not mean to suggest that I support an isolationist foreign policy in which America must invariably refrain from invading other countries and displacing established governments. On the contrary, I believe that globalization may well mandate such actions by the U.S. on numerous occasions in the years ahead. However, what is needed is a new global political and legal architecture to provide guidance as to when such interventions may legitimately be conducted. Most importantly, American unilateralism in the conduct of future military adventures must be firmly rejected.

My impression is that these are some of the questions Barnett will be addressing in his new book, particularly as applicable to his critique of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Anyway, the following is what I thought about some of these things back in 2007.

Globalization and Colonialism In The Post Cold War Era (Part I)

I have become very interested in the writings of Thomas P.M. Barnett. Barnett is a defense theorist who writes about the future of the American military in the post-Cold War world of economic globalization. Until recently, he worked as a Professor at the Naval War College, and he now operates a consulting business called Enterra Solutions. He is the author of two books, The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint For Action, and writes a newspaper column that originates in the Knoxville Sentinel. He also maintains a website, , on which he posts a blog discussing various matters ranging from his personal comings and goings to his views on numerous current issues.
At the outset, I should say that my views on Barnett’s writings are generally quite positive. This is somewhat surprising, even to me, because Barnett is an unlikely soulmate for someone of my ideological persuasions. I consider myself a person of the Left, whose views on international issues have in the past often found compatibility with the writings of Noam Chomsky. By contrast, Barnett is someone who is often described as a "neo-conservative" whose writings are often grouped together with those of Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman. While I believe that the designation of Barnett as a neo-conservative is in error (and I understand that Barnett thinks so too), the fact remains that Barnett was an original supporter of the Iraq War; I, on the other hand, proudly point to the fact that I marched in at least three protest marches against the Iraq War, dragging my son along with me. So, how can I possibly find anything positive to say about Barnett?
It might help to say something about how I first became exposed to Barnett’s ideas. One evening, I was nicely ensconced in the living room sofa, as I usually am, wielding the remote control to explore the evening’s televised fare. I happened to land on CSpan, as I often do, and started watching a lecture being delivered to what appeared to be a room full of Generals and Admirals by a man with a rather bizarre manner of speaking. At the time, I do not believe I even knew the name of the speaker, although he frequently made reference to something that he called "the Pentagon’s new map"; I subsequently googled this reference and learned that this was the name of a book written by Barnett. Barnett’s lecture was amusing and it featured a sophisticated PowerPoint presentation complete with sound effects, notably including strategic placement of the "dunh dunh" familiar to viewers of the "Law and Order" television series.
My initial reaction to Barnett was that he was just a glib neo-con with a clever PowerPoint show. However, the more I listened, the more I realized that Barnett was saying many things that echoed my own views on international affairs. What particularly struck me was the fact that the focus of Barnett’s analysis was relentlessly economic; here was someone who truly grasped the centrality of global capitalism in shaping world events. This type of analysis is almost never heard these days, particularly in the U.S., and hardly ever coming from any source other than the far left. Unlike left-wing analysts, however, Barnett expressed a view of the nature and effects of Twenty-First Century global capitalism that was far more balanced and mature. Again, Barnett set forth much of the same analysis that has been rolling around in my own head for several years.
My own analysis is something that I call "neo-Marxism", or as I sometimes like to call it, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "bourgeois Marxism", in order to distinguish it from much of the claptrap that comes out of the left these days. This theory is not original with me; it is primarily derived from the teachings of my college mentor, Professor Lee Benson of the University of Pennsylvania. My thinking has also been heavily influenced by the writings of economist Joseph Schumpeter. I hope to be able to write a good deal more about neo-Marxism in the near future, but the following is a thumbnail sketch of the idea.
Neo-Marxism starts off with the premise that Marx was the most important social scientist who has ever lived, primarily because he established a scientific approach to the study of history. However, Marx should be treated just that way – as a scientist – and his writings should be subjected to experimentation, analysis, criticism, and verification, and should not be treated as holy writ. Thus, a scientific historian could claim the label of "neo-Marxist" much the same way that a modern biologist might be referred to as a "neo-Darwinian" or a physicist could claim to be a "neo-Newtonian."
Using that scientific approach, neo-Marxism posits the thesis that Marx, and the underrated Engels, were correct that the "mode of production" is the driving force in all human history; Marx’s development of this method for studying all human societies is his most important contribution to the scientific study of history. Marx’s mode of production consists of both the "means of production", i.e., the technology through which any human community produces the necessities of life, and the "relations of production", i.e., the legal, cultural, and religious framework that defines the relationships among the members of the community (somewhat analogous to what Barnett calls "rule sets"). Modes of production – both in terms of the means of production and the relations of production – are not static; conflicting elements exist within any mode of production, and the resolution of these conflicts leads to change, and this process of change is what we call "history." These historical processes led to the evolution of the capitalist mode of production in Europe at roughly the time of the Renaissance, replacing the feudal mode of production. Most of Marx’s writings, particularly his magnum opus, Capital, are devoted to an analysis of how the capitalist mode of production works, as well as offering prescriptions as to how to replace it and what it should be replaced with..
Benson’s concept of neo-Marxism asserts that where Marx and Engels went wrong in promulgating a scientific theory of history, was in their analysis of "class struggles", and specifically, the impact of the evolution of capitalism upon class conflict. Marx and Engel theorized that conflicts between members of economic classes are what bring about changes in the mode of production. Marx and Engels further theorized that the evolution of capitalism would inevitably cause society to become polarized between two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the conflicts between these classes would inevitably lead to revolution. The resolution of this class conflict would bring about the end of the capitalist mode of production and usher in the beginning of the socialist mode of production, in which society would be rid of economic classes and all members of society would be free to realize their full potential by enjoying the fruits of their labors.
While Marx’s theory of class conflict may or may not work as applied to pre-capitalist modes of production, in which members of different economic classes have differing legal and political status, Benson concluded that the theory breaks down completely when applied to capitalism, in which legal distinctions based upon membership in differing economic classes are almost entirely eliminated. Benson reached this conclusion through his studies of American political and social history, exemplified by his ground-breaking work, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York As A Test Case. Benson applied a meticulous social science methodology to the analysis of voting patterns in New York State during the so-called "Jacksonian Era", roughly 1820-1850. Benson concluded that "Jacksonian Democracy", i.e., the notion that the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson represented the "little guy" against wealthy capitalists, was a myth; to simplify things, Benson found that wealthy voters were as likely to be Democrats as Whigs, and lower-class voters were as likely to be Whigs as Democrats. Benson found that party affiliations correlated most closely with factors such as ethno-religious identification, regionalism, and ideology, as opposed to economic class.
In later writings such as Toward The Scientific Study of History, Benson attempted to extend his findings about American political history to a broader application, namely, to an understanding of the nature of group conflict and cohesion in capitalist society, and the implications of his findings about American history for traditional Marxist theory. Benson suggested that what was happening in America was really a microcosm of capitalism in general. The elimination of all legal distinctions based on economic class – something that was pursued very aggressively by virtually all U.S. political parties during the so-called "Jacksonian Era" – was endemic to capitalism; Marx himself had emphasized this point in identifying the pertinent factors that necessarily had to be accomplished in order to enable the bourgeoisie to supplant the landed gentry that had dominated society in feudal times. Moreover, America in the early 19th Century was characterized by extraordinary physical and social mobility, combined with unprecedented levels of mass immigration, resulting in the mixing of diverse ethnic and religious groups within a single country. As discussed below, such mobility is also something that is inherent in the evolution of capitalism. These forces seemed logically to produce the sorts of non-class based group conflict and cohesion that Benson had detected in American history through his studies of voting patterns. These same forces, however, derived directly from the nature of the capitalist mode of production. Thus, Benson suggested that while empirical evidence contradicted Marx’s theory that capitalism engendered group conflict and cohesion based upon economic class, empirical evidence nevertheless supported Marx’s more general theory that it is the mode of production that is the central factor in shaping social and political phenomena such as group conflict and cohesion, and ultimately, the processes of human history.
This, then, is the central tenet of neo-Marxism. In a nutshell, Marx’s theory of class conflict as applied to capitalism is ultimately contradicted by Marx’s own theory that it is the mode of production that determines historical change. Capitalism is the most dynamic of all historical modes of production, as Marx correctly concluded, but as a consequence, capitalism cannot be analyzed in a static condition, as Marx attempted to do. Political economists up to Ricardo, who was the principal influence upon Marx’s analysis of capitalism, could not analyze economics in any way other than as a closed system operating within a single political unit, such as a single country. However, that is not how the capitalist mode of production works in the real world; capitalism is inexorably driven to expand and it will not be confined to a single community or even a single nation-state. As a result, capitalism leads directly to foreign investment, which in its initial phases was manifested in the global system of imperialism and colonialism (my definitions of these terms are discussed in more detail below), and which ultimately leads to globalization, namely, the globalized capitalist economic system that has been taking shape since World War II, and which has developed exponentially since the end of the Cold War (and which is the central focus of Barnett’s writings).
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century both democratic socialists (J.A. Hobson and the Webbs) and authoritarian socialists (Lenin) recognized the connection between capitalism and imperialism. What these socialist theoreticians failed to recognize, however, was the relationship between capitalist globalization and class consciousness and class conflict. As capitalism "goes global", group conflicts tend more often to be based upon ethno-cultural, religious, national, and regional differences between members of different communities, since globalized capitalism inevitably increases the interactions among different communities, and as a result, group conflicts are less likely to be based upon conflicts between members of economic classes within a single community. Thus, contrary to what Marx and his followers thought, the evolution of the capitalist mode of production actually leads to decreasing levels of class consciousness and class conflict. As a result, the class-based revolution that Marx believed would bring about the end of capitalism and usher in the era of the socialist mode of production has not in fact occurred; the reality that it will never occur is becoming more obvious every day.
Because Twentieth Century socialists did not appreciate the full significance of the relationship between capitalism and globalization, and the decreasing significance of class conflict due to the evolution of global capitalism, the experiments that Twentieth Century socialists pursued in imposing some version of "socialism" upon capitalist societies, either in a democratic form (Fabianism) or in an authoritarian form (Leninism), were doomed to failure. Capitalism will continue to grow and prosper until the process of globalization is complete – namely, when the entire world is linked in a functioning capitalist economy in which all of the world’s peoples are able to participate on a relatively equal footing. Only when global capitalism has then run its course will humanity be ready for an evolution into the next mode of production. I have no idea what the post-capitalist mode of production will look like (actually, I do have some theories on the subject but I’m not going to get into that now), but I am reasonably confident that it will not have much resemblance to Twentieth Century versions of "socialism". Nevertheless, I do believe that the post-capitalist mode of production – since it will be truly global and truly universal – will more closely embody the values that Marx and other socialists have always purported to espouse, namely, universal opportunity for individual creativity and general freedom from organized violence, than do either Twentieth Century socialism or Twentieth Century capitalism. Professor Benson used to posit that the "good society" would be one in which people are "kind and creative"; I think that capitalist globalization is a process that is moving us all in that direction.
Now back to Barnett. Barnett’s central thesis is that in the post-Cold War era, the nations of the world can be divided into two groups: the "Core" and the "Gap." The Core, or what Barnett calls the "functioning core of globalization", refers to those nations that are linked to and participants in the global capitalist economic system. The Core, in turn, is divided into two sub-groups, the "Old Core" and the "New Core." The Old Core refers to the nations that have relatively mature capitalist systems that have been in place for many years (or even many centuries): Western and Southern Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The New Core consists of the nations that have more recently joined the global capitalist economy, generally having done so in the post-Cold War era: China, India, Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe (except the former Yugoslavia, but including Slovenia), South Korea, South Africa, and the growing free market economies of South America, namely Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.
The rest of the world falls into Barnett’s "Gap" or "non-integrating gap" – the nations that do not yet have functioning capitalist economies linked to and capable of participating in the global economy. Barnett does identify a few "seam states", i.e., nations that border the Core but do not yet have fully functional capitalist economies (Mexico, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore) or that have developed capitalist economies but are prevented from full participation in globalization because of entanglement in local conflicts (Israel, Cyprus, Croatia). For the most part, however, Barnett’s Core/Gap dichotomy is fairly Manichean – a nation is either one or the other.
Some commentators on Barnett’s writings say that the Core and the Gap are the equivalent of the "haves" and the "have nots." This is a serious misunderstanding of what Barnett is talking about. Wealth alone is not determinative of membership in the Core. Several nations in the Core, such as China and India, continue to have high levels of poverty and are on a per capita basis far less wealthy than other nations, notably Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, which Barnett nevertheless includes in the Gap. For Barnett, what determines Core membership is the extent to which a nation is connected to the global economy. I would add that a Core nation must not only be connected to the global economy, it must also be capable of participating in the global economy as a capitalist "player", even if not necessarily as a player of equal stature with the Old Core nations. (I think that Barnett sometimes fails to pay sufficient attention to this point, which relates to some of my disagreements with Barnett, as I will discuss in more detail below). Thus, China, India, and Brazil, notwithstanding their high poverty levels, all compete with the U.S. and Western Europe in the global economy. Saudi Arabia, despite its wealth, is merely a source of a valuable natural resource and is not a competitor in the global economy. Barnett’s recognition of this distinction is one of the most important, and insightful, aspects of his analysis.
Of course, Barnett would argue, correctly in my view, that membership in the Core does ultimately lead to substantial increases in national wealth and improvements in overall living standards. For all we may decry the existence of Chinese sweatshops – and I do not make light of them – there still can be little doubt that the economic benefits to the Chinese people that have come from participation in the global capitalist economy are enormous; Chinese economic growth over the past decade has been off the charts, and while the business cycle will inevitably bring about peaks and valleys in the performance of the Chinese economy, there can be little doubt that the overall upward trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Indeed, all of the New Core nations have in recent years benefitted from what may well be the most successful anti-poverty program in history, namely, the economic improvements attendant to participation in the global economy. Moreover, as President Lula da Silva of Brazil has demonstrated, an openness to globalization and free markets combined with enlightened social programs can result in truly extraordinary accomplishments in the eradication of poverty. I generally share the views of economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs that although globalization may have its "discontents", and attention needs to be paid to issues such as global warming and other environmental concerns, it is also a system that holds out the promise of the universal eradication of poverty and evolution towards a future in which all persons can lead lives free from want and free to make the most of their lives.
As a defense theoretician, Barnett is primarily concerned with the security ramifications of the Core/Gap world view – hence the name of Barnett’s first book, The Pentagon’s New Map. In Barnett’s view, once a nation joins the Core, i.e., once it becomes connected to and a participant in the global capitalist economy, it becomes extremely unlikely that such a nation will go to war with another member of the Core. The benefits derived from participation in the global economy are so great that no nation enjoying those benefits would be willing to put them at risk by making war against another nation that is also enjoying those benefits. Moreover, the nations of the Core all either have nuclear weapons or could readily obtain them if they chose to do so (Japan, Germany, Brazil), meaning that a full-scale war between Core nations would be devastating. Accordingly, a very simple cost/benefit analysis precludes any possibility of warfare between the nations of the Core.
Barnett argues that membership in the Core carries with it acceptance of the "rule sets" of the Core, and the most important of all of these rules is the rule that disputes between nations of the Core are not resolved through military force but are instead resolved by other means, such as diplomacy, trade agreements, and international law. Indeed, Barnett would say that one of the defining characteristics of a Core nation is its willingness to accept these "rule sets", which, not coincidentally, also happen to be the "rule sets" on which the global capitalist economy is based.
As Barnett says, the world of economic globalization is based on the authority of rules, not rulers.

The fact that warfare among Core nations is precluded has important significance for Barnett’s views on U.S. military planning. There is no need to plan for a "big war" with a nation of roughly equal military strength and, as such, there is no need for many of the expensive weapons systems developed during the Cold War, such as nuclear submarines and what Barnett rightly castigates as the most unnecessary boondoggle of them all, the "Star Wars" anti-missile system.
Barnett argues, however, that it is a grave mistake to think that the U.S. can get out of the military business altogether just because Core vs. Core warfare is no longer a danger. This point was driven home by the events of September 11, 2001, which Barnett describes as a "system perturbation", i.e., a dramatic event that caused all participants in the global system to re-evaluate the nature of the system. The U.S. continues to have a need to be engaged militarily with the rest of the world, but those engagements now must focus upon the Gap, not the Core. Barnett points out that he originally hit upon his concept of "the Pentagon’s new map" by charting the locations of all major U.S. military engagements since World War II. The location of those conflicts is almost entirely coterminous with the Core/Gap distinction that is at the heart of Barnett’s analysis.
Since the nations of the Gap are not connected to and, as I continually emphasize, are not participants in the global capitalist economy, the nations of the Gap do not accept the "rule sets" of the globalized economy, which are also the rule sets that define the relationships among the nations of the Core. So, the corollary to the conclusion that warfare among Core nations is no longer a possibility is the conclusion that warfare among Gap nations or between Gap nations and Core nations is very much a possibility. The watchwords that Barnett uses are "disconnectedness defines danger"; in other words, so long as a nation remains disconnected from the global economy, it is a source of danger not only to its neighbors, but ultimately, to the entire world.
Indeed, Barnett argues that the processes of globalization make such conflicts inescapable; it is here that Barnett’s analysis intersects very directly with much of the neo-Marxist analysis. Globalization leads to more interactions among different national, ethnic, and religious groups, and in that process, certain groups will inevitably feel their status to be threatened by the processes of globalization. For example, one of the most significant consequences of globalization is the empowerment of women, as women are inevitably drawn into the workplace in the globalized economy. However, maintaining gender roles is one of the key aspects of virtually every traditional religious group. Thus, one can readily see how globalization inevitably engenders antagonism within such traditionalist groups, increasing the danger that such groups will come into conflict with other groups that are promoting globalization. Radical Islamic fundamentalists present a paradigmatic example of such a group that feels that its value system, and therefore its status in society, is threatened by globalization, and the manifestation of such religious fundamentalists in a terrorist organization such as al Qaeda is a demonstration of the danger that they can pose to the rest of the world, including the U.S. and the other nations of the Core.
Because most of these traditionalist groups that are threatened by globalization are to be found in the Gap, Barnett argues that this is therefore the location in which U.S. military activities will inevitably be focused in the post-Cold War era. Indeed, Barnett argues that the U.S., as the leading nation of the Core, should take a proactive role in attempting to "shrink the gap" by using its military force to bring about change in the nations of the Gap, with the ultimate goal of enabling the nations of the Gap to become connected to the global economy. In other words, the U.S. should use its military strength not only for defensive purposes to fight terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, but also to attack and ultimately replace dysfunctional governments within the Gap that are an impediment to globalization and that thereby give direct or indirect support to terrorist organizations.
In order to carry out these Gap-oriented conflicts, Barnett suggests a re-configuration of the U.S. military. First, he proposes a "Leviathan" force. This is, in most respects, the military that the U.S. already has. It is a lean and mean fighting machine, capable of striking quickly and decisively. It consists of stealth bombers, smart bombs, attack helicopters, and mobile, mechanized land forces capable of covering great distances with extraordinary speed and breathtaking lethality. It was the U.S. Leviathan force that was very much on display in the two Gulf wars. The Leviathan force would be used to accomplish regime change by rapidly and decisively defeating the armies of harmful Gap governments that are threatening the progress of globalization.
The second component of Barnett’s new military is something he calls the "SysAdmin" force. The U.S. military has only begun to build a "SysAdmin" force, in large part in response to the sobering experiences of the disastrous Iraq War. (As discussed more below, although Barnett has supported the Iraq War, he acknowledges that the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war has been grossly mismanaged). The SysAdmin force would be larger and more labor-intensive than the Leviathan force. The SysAdmin force would be responsible for carrying out the various functions that Presidential candidate George W. Bush derided as "nation-building" during the 2000 campaign; Barnett labels these functions "military operations other than war." Following a regime change brought about by the Leviathan force, the SysAdmin force would be responsible for maintaining law and order and implementing civilian functions such as providing electricity, water, sanitation, food distribution, etc., in order to enable an occupied state to recuperate and install a new regime hospitable to the forces of globalization. In difficult cases, the SysAdmin force would also be called upon to carry out counter-insurgency fighting, although, if the SysAdmin force does its job well enough, it should be able to get a nation into a functioning condition on a fairly speedy basis so that insurgencies will not arise.
Barnett does not see the SysAdmin force as being comprised exclusively or even predominantly of U.S. military personnel. Indeed, Barnett acknowledges that the U.S. military alone is not large enough to field both a Leviathan force and a meaningful SysAdmin force. Accordingly, Barnett recognizes that it is highly unlikely that the U.S. can carry out successful military operations in the Gap unilaterally, because it does not have sufficient troops to field an effective SysAdmin force, and such additional forces will therefore have to be drawn from other sources. The armies of the European Union are already eminently suited to performing SysAdmin functions. However, a key component of Barnett’s strategy is that the U.S. must think beyond its traditional alliances (NATO and Japan), and build new alliances based on the common interest in promoting globalization that unites all of the members of the Core. Thus, Barnett also sees the armies of the "New Core" nations, principally India, China, and Brazil, as excellent sources of personnel for the SysAdmin force. Barnett is skeptical that the U.N. is institutionally capable of directing such operations, since the U.N. as currently structured lacks the equivalent of an "executive branch" of government. Instead, Barnett proposes the creation of an expanded version of the current G-8 – expanded to something like the "G-20" to include the nations of the New Core – that will provide the political and diplomatic leadership for the coordination of future Gap-oriented military operations. Barnett’s second book, Blueprint For Action, is just that, a description of an ambitious program of action whereby the U.S. can act in conjunction with the other nations of the Core – and Barnett places particular emphasis on the potential benefits to be derived from U.S. alliances with the nations of the New Core, especially China – to pursue military ventures that will bring about political change within the Gap. For example, Barnett sees the Kim Jong Il regime in North Korea as a prime example of an oppressive, dysfunctional government that is impeding North Korea’s integration into the Core and that should be targeted for regime change. Using the Leviathan force to eliminate such malignant regimes in the nations of the Gap, and the SysAdmin force to rebuild these nations following the elimination of these regimes, Barnett sets forth a program to "shrink the Gap" by re-building these nations in a way that will permit them to be "plugged into" the globalized economy. Barnett would not have the U.S. do all of this unilaterally. Again taking the case of North Korea, Barnett emphasizes the common interest of the various Core states in the region – China, Japan, and South Korea – in working together with the U.S. to eliminate the disruptive North Korean regime, much as the U.S. worked together with the nations of Western Europe to bring about regime change in the former Yugoslavia (the example of the intervention in the Balkans is discussed in more detail below as a case study of how Barnett’s program might work).
Barnett describes the end result of the pursuit of this strategy of "shrinking the Gap" as the achievement of "a future worth creating." At the end of the day, Barnett’s vision of the post-Cold War world is extraordinarily positive and optimistic. Barnett sees the forces of globalization as not only fundamentally benign, but as practically unstoppable. Barnett also believes that one way or the other, the nations of the Core will arrive at security arrangements that will make the shrinking of the Gap a reality, with the attendant elimination of most global poverty and with it, most significant military conflict.
Some of Barnett’s detractors take issue with his extreme optimism, accusing him of having Pollyanna-ish tendencies. I do not think that this criticism is warranted. Because Barnett’s analysis is so firmly grounded in economics, I believe that his views cannot be described as anything other than realistic. For Barnett, the drive to shrink the Gap does not just come from altruism, it comes principally from the profit motive. The nations of the Core will be driven to shrink the Gap not just because it is moral and right to do so, but because it is good for business. As a neo-Marxist, I heartily concur in that analysis. The march to economic globalism comes from the unstoppable force of the universal desire of all persons to improve the material conditions of their lives. I share Barnett’s optimism that this road will lead a world of unprecedented peace and prosperity – a future worth creating.
There are numerous parallels between neo-Marxism and Barnett’s ideas:
• Both view the capitalist mode of production as the driving force shaping political events.
• Both reject the idea that capitalist evolution leads to class consciousness and class-based revolution.
• Both conclude that the globalization of capitalism leads to conflicts based on factors such as ethno-religious identification, rather than membership in economic classes.
• Both share a predominantly optimistic historical outlook, viewing capitalist globalization as fundamentally a positive force leading to improvement in the quality of life for the world’s peoples, and a general reduction of organized violence.
So, if Barnett is so smart, and if I agree with him so much, then why does Barnett do something so stupid as supporting the Iraq War, a war that I consider to be not just the ultimate in stupidity but a war that is so malignant as to be truly worthy of prosecution as an international war crime? I have wrestled with that problem at length, and have tried to analyze exactly where my views diverge from those of Barnett. In that analytical process, it has occurred to me that the aspect of Barnett’s writings with which I have the most visceral difficulty is in his prescription for future American military actions. When I first thought of this, it reminded me a bit of Marge Simpson’s comment that she really likes Woody Allen movies except for that annoying little guy with glasses who always appears in them. After all, Barnett is first and foremost a military theorist. Saying that you like everything about Barnett except for his military theories does seem quite a lot like Marge’s views on Woody Allen’s movies.
Nevertheless, the more I teased out the ramifications of this idea, the more it seemed to me that I was getting close to the root of our disagreement. The problem that I was having with Barnett’s ideas was that I had difficulty seeing exactly how his proposed U.S. military adventures in the Gap would play out in the real world, and more particularly, what would prevent those adventures from becoming excuses for American imperialism. Recall that I said at the outset of this essay that I am someone who has often found much common ground with the writings of Noam Chomsky, and I do have a strong visceral suspicion of proposals to have the U.S. throw its military weight around the world.
The problem that I have with Barnett’s prescription for future U.S. military actions is enhanced when one considers the issue from the perspective of the people in the nation that is subject to one of Barnett’s proposed attacks. In such a military action, the U.S. strikes a relatively weak and impoverished nation that is not a direct military threat to the U.S. with the full power of the Leviathan force, inevitably causing great loss of life and damage to property. Yet, the U.S. would have the nation under attack believe that it is being subjected to attack not because the U.S. has any ulterior motives, or has anything directly to gain from the attack, but simply because the U.S. wants to relieve the attacked nation of a bad government and thereby enable the nation to join the globalized economy. How likely is it that the attacked nation will accept such an altruistic explanation as the truth? More importantly, how likely is it that such an altruistic explanation would be the truth?
Yet, I am not a pacifist and unlike Chomsky, I do not believe that the U.S. is always wrong or that the use of American military force is never appropriate. Part of me very definitely believes that Barnett is on to something.
I think that the best way of sharpening the analysis and breaking this intellectual log-jam is to look at empirical examples of the use of American military force in the post-Cold War period, and analyze the questions of whether the use of military force has proven beneficial, and if so, why, and if not, why not. In order to do this analysis, I have considered two of the most significant uses of American military force in the post-Cold War era: (1) the military intervention in the former Yugoslavia; and (2) the war in Iraq. I opposed both of these military ventures; Barnett supported both of them. I would submit that I was wrong about Yugoslavia and right about Iraq, and that Barnett was right about Yugoslavia and wrong about Iraq. (We both have a .500 batting average, which isn’t so bad). Let’s take a closer look at these two case studies in the use of American military force, and try to understand exactly where Barnett and I went wrong; in doing so, I believe that I can identify with more precision my likes and dislikes about Barnett’s writings, and in the process, suggest some refinements to Barnett’s proposals that might ultimately make them more effective in achieving the goals that I do share with Barnett.
Let’s first consider the war in the former Yugoslavia. I opposed American military intervention in the Balkans for two reasons. First, I did not believe that the U.S. had any national interests that were affected by the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and that it therefore did not make sense for the U.S. to expend lives and treasure in a military intervention in the region. Second, I did not accept the official justification for the war, namely, that the war was being fought for humanitarian reasons in order to put an end to violent "ethnic cleansing" involving Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Albanian Kosovars; I was very skeptical of the notion that the U.S. (or any other nation for that matter) would be willing to fight a war for purely humanitarian reasons. Rather, I believed that the war was being driven by the economic interests of the nations of the European Union, especially Germany, that had extensive economic investments in the Balkans, especially in Slovenia and Croatia, and that the nations of Western Europe wanted to use American military force to stabilize the region in order to protect those investments and open up the entirety of the region to further investments. What was the legitimacy of my concerns?
As to my first concern – the lack of any direct American interest in the Balkans – I now believe that my concerns were short-sighted because I took too narrow a view of what constitutes the "national interest" of the U.S. I now agree whole-heartedly with Barnett that in the Twenty-First Century, it is unavoidable that the U.S. must be concerned with the global ramifications of what may appear to be regional or even local conflicts. I also agree with Barnett that this point was driven home by the events of September 11, 2001, which dramatically demonstrated the connections between U.S. security and conflicts springing up in far away places. Imagine if the conflicts in the Balkans had not been addressed and were ongoing to this day – the Muslim populations of Kosovo and Bosnia would provide fertile recruiting grounds for fundamentalist organizations such as al Qaeda, and if those areas had remained in the chaotic state that reigned prior to American intervention, they would have been prime launch pads for terrorist attacks against Europe and the U.S.
Turning to my second concern, I still believe that I was fundamentally correct that economic interests and not humanitarian considerations drove the nations of the European Union to implore the U.S. to intervene militarily. However, my response to that point now would be, so what? The economic interest that the European Union was pursuing in the former Yugoslavia concerned trade and investment; the nations of the European Union were not seeking to exploit any natural resources in the region because there are virtually none of any importance. Promoting free trade and investment is, after all, what Barnett’s "shrink the Gap" strategy is all about, so the fact that the European Union enlisted U.S. military assistance in effecting regime change in the former Yugoslavia in order to make the region safe for trade and investment, simply makes the U.S. military intervention in the Balkans all the more justifiable.
In hindsight, it is clear that the American military intervention in the former Yugoslavia was well worthwhile and highly successful. Indeed, the entire operation is virtually a showcase that Barnett can hold up as an example of what is supposed to happen in such a military venture (and he does so in Blueprint For Action). The American Leviathan force quickly put an end to aggressive actions by the Serbs in both Bosnia and Kosovo, and toppled the dangerous Milosevic regime. Thereafter, a large NATO-based SysAdmin force occupied the region and rapidly brought stability. Since the intervention, violence in the region has dropped dramatically, virtually to the point of disappearance. It is likely that several of the nations of the former Yugoslavia will be admitted to the European Union in the next few years; Slovenia is already in, Croatia and Macedonia have applied for membership, and probably the rest of the former Yugoslavia will join within a decade. Just recently, elections were held in Serbia and while the Serbian Nationalists continue to be the largest single party, their percentage of the overall vote was under 30%, with the overwhelming majority of public support going to parties highly sympathetic to the idea of European integration. Barring unforeseen circumstances, it will soon be appropriate to move all of the former Yugoslavia out of the Gap and into the Core – one small step towards the realization of Barnett’s future worth creating.
Now let’s consider the Iraq War. I opposed the Iraq War because I did not believe that any of the Bush Administration’s proffered justifications for the war – the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction, the alleged connections between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, and the alleged desire of the Bush Administration to "democratize" the region – was true. Rather, I believed that the true reason why the Bush Administration wanted to pursue the war was to establish a substantial American military presence in the Middle East for the purpose of protecting the interests of American and British oil companies. Such interests are located not only in Iraq itself – itself a major source of high-quality crude oil highly coveted by many U.S. oil companies – but even more importantly, in neighboring Saudi Arabia. U.S. oil companies share a highly lucrative relationship with the corrupt and dictatorial Saudi royal family (I discuss the U.S./Saudi relationship and its relationship to the Iraq War in more detail below). In exchange for giving open oil spigots to American companies, the corrupt House of Saud seeks, and obtains, both personal enrichment and the military protection of the U.S. However, because of religious sensitivities, the Saudi royals prefer not to have American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia itself. Thus, a large American army in neighboring Iraq suits the security needs of the Saudis very well. These oil-related considerations, I believe, are the true motivations underlying the Iraq War, and nothing has happened in the almost four years since the Bush Administration started the Iraq War that would change my analysis.