'The Pentagon's New Map' -- unrealistic world order

May 02, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff

The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas P.M. Barnett. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 448 pages. $26.95.

This book left me deeply conflicted.

Much of the argument by Thomas P.M. Barnett, a Harvard-trained Ph.D. who teaches at the Naval War College, makes sense: The new global war on terrorism must be subordinated in favor of spreading economic globalization to what Barnett calls "The Gap." This is a band of backward states stretching from Central America and parts of South America to Africa and the Middle East, and extending through the old Soviet Asian lands and into Indonesia.

America and other supremely developed "Core" countries, such as Japan and England, must devote their troops and treasure to helping Gap nations become connected to the Internet and trade, sometime overthrowing the "bad actors that account for the bulk of the insecurity in any country or region." By achieving that, "The end of war is within our historical grasp."

But as I read the book, I couldn't help recalling the words of Graham Greene in The Quiet American: "God save us always from the innocent and the good."

Barnett suggests creating two distinct military forces to push through this plan -- a "Leviathan" force to perform the heavy combat role and a "System Administrator" force to carry out peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts that would pave the way for private investors. And we should expect other countries to pitch in.

He ticks off a list of "bad actors" in The Gap who "should all go" -- Castro in Cuba, Chavez in Venezuela and, most importantly, North Korea's Kim Jong Il.

Barnett, who worked for the Navy's think tank, the Center for Naval Analyses, and was labeled by Esquire magazine as "The Strategist," is alternately chatty and self-important, with glowing reviews about his own Power Point briefs to top Pentagon officials. He needs to get out of academia and get some fresh air.

Never in the book do I see the elements that would be needed to kick-start his plan: military draft and tax increases.

The wars and occupations of the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq have overstretched the military. And the Core allies -- with their troops and treasure -- are still largely on the sidelines. How can the Core embark on any new adventures?

Being Navy-centric, he entirely misstates the role of the National Guard troops, who, he says, are now "diminished as a war fighting asset" and mostly provide security at American facilities and military bases around the world. Really? Guard troops are key to keeping peace in the Balkans, which Barnett wrongly assumes are now on a "completely" different track. The ethnic groups there are still not working together. And the Guard now makes up about 40 percent of the troops -- including two combat brigades -- struggling with a stubborn insurgency in Iraq.

Barnett's argument that the present military is not organized or equipped to rebuild nations is also off mark. But as Iraq has shown, the military must be taught to fight and build, often at the same time. Some of the best rebuilding work was done by the 101st Airborne and its commander, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, in northern Iraq, while it continued to take casualties that exceeded those suffered in major combat.

The 101st built schools and clinics and doled out money like city bosses while the Coalition Provisional Authority dithered. There is a push now to give the division commanders more funds to rebuild Iraq, since they are the closest to the average Iraqi. The soldiers are not cloistered in the CPA's Green Zone, described by one wag as "Alcatraz without the view," and populated largely by young Republicans eager to stamp their resumes and move on.

And how does Barnett suggest removal of the man he calls a "nutcase," Kim Jong Il? A single bullet? Tactical nukes, professor? Besides, as we can see in Iraq, sometimes a few "bad actors" bring along thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of understudies. Another Ivy League Ph.D., Paul Wolfowitz, told us how easy it would be to overthrow Saddam Hussein and bring democracy to Iraq.

While much of the work of the professor is ill-informed or painfully naive, he is correct that the developed world must focus more on The Gap, helping them through trade negotiations and new international reconstruction institutions.

He is also right to say that Africa should figure last "because Africa offers the least." The Middle East, with its rising population of aimless youth and Muslim fundamentalists sitting atop the world's largest energy reserves, leaves the Core with enough work for at least a generation. It is here that the Core's new Cold War will be waged, with the necessary Trumanesque wave of aid. The book should be titled: "The Comfortable World's New Map: Spreading Largesse and Technology in the Twenty-First Century."

It would benefit Barnett to leave the grand stone buildings of Newport and sit down with those who are grounded by experience and sobered by reality. Start with General Petraeus, a Princeton Ph.D. in international relations. You'll find him in Baghdad, getting his hands dirty and drawing his own map.

Tom Bowman, The Sun's military affairs correspondent, has a master's degree in American studies from Boston College. He has covered the U.S. Naval Academy and the National Security Agency. He has traveled to Army bases and training facilities around the world and deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne in 2002.

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