Tuesday, July 11, 2006

”Blueprint For Action” by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Ph. D. – Common Sense on Every Page!

A few months ago, I offered a review of Barnett’s landmark book, “The Pentagon’s New Map.”


In his latest offering, Barnett takes the logical next step in offering scenarios and a roadmap for how we might go about fashioning what he calls “a future worth creating.” What I like best about Barnett’s writing is the fact that he communicates complex ideas clearly and succinctly – without “dumbing down” his arguments and chain of reasoning.

I found this book fascinating and very encouraging in terms of how the U.S. as a nation can lead the way in fashioning a 21st century world that shrinks the gap between the “haves and have nots” – and more to the point – between the “connected and the disconnected.”

Given the fact that I do not have a military background, I do not always trust or rely on my own judgment in assessing issues of military or global strategy. Fortunately, I have a number of friends who have had long and distinguished military careers, and I often use them as sounding boards to provide me with reality checks. As I was finishing up reading, “Blueprint for Action,” I had breakfast with Stan Genega, a West Point graduate who retired as a Major General in the U.S. Army. As I was seeking Stan’s reaction to some of Barnett’s groundbreaking and often iconoclastic ideas, I said: “From my vantage point as a lay person, I can find no flaw in Barnett’s reasoning, logic, interpretation of the facts or prescriptive recommendations.” Gen. Genega responded, in essence, by saying: “I agree; I cannot find any flaws in his logic or analysis.”

Halfway through this book, I discovered a passage that clearly expresses Barnett’s rationale for writing this book, and explains the bridge between “The Pentagon’s New Map,” and this sequel. The context of the following quotation is that Barnett is describing the overwhelming response he received when C-Span broadcast a PowerPoint briefing that is the essence of “The Pentagon’s New Map”:

“At first, you are kind of embarrassed with gratitude expressed on that level. I mean, you feel as though you found someone’s wallet and nothing more. But over time, as I got more familiar with the emotions being expressed, I began to realize why it was so crucial to move beyond the first book’s broad diagnostic approach to this volume’s far greater focus on prescriptions – a plan of action. Eventually, that buzz wears off . . . Well, you can’t just leave people hanging like that. You just can’t get them all jacked up with no place to go. When people say they’re a ‘convert’ or ‘sold,’ you’d better have a better comeback than just ‘That’s nice to hear.’ Moreover, your vision of the future can’t just be some splendid description of a world they’ve got little hope of actually visiting. No, it needs to seem familiar enough that they can imagine themselves not just living there but also actually making the journey. The tale should be heroic, all right, because that imparts meaning to sacrifice, but it can’t be fantastic, meaning no ‘flying cars’ or any other imagined technologies that save the day all on their own. People don’t want their future handed to them on a silver platter; they want to build it on their own. What they need from you, the futurist, is just enough information – just enough vision – to give them the confidence to start hammering some stakes into the ground. They want to get rolling, because in the end, they’re not interested in following you. They just want you to point the direction and then get out of the way.” (Page 204)

The timing of my sharing this review is interesting. Just this morning, my friend, Tony Lorizio, sent me a link to a column in last Sunday’s New York Daily News. The column was entitled: “It's WWIII, and U.S. is out of ideas”

New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
Sunday, July 9th, 2006

The author of the piece, who may have been Chicken Little, cites a string of recent events and concludes pessimistically that World War III is upon us, and we are fresh out of ideas to know how to begin to win the war.

In stark contradistinction to this gloomy forecast – one that seems to be shared by many “average citizens” - Barnett offers a more informed and reasoned interpretation and analysis of current events and trends. And that is the genius and the hope of his “Blueprint for Action.”

“al Qaeda, far from enjoying a winning streak, has instead sustained its movement largely by accepting defeat time and time again and shifting its center of gravity to some new locale . . . But the larger point is this: al Qaeda and the Salafi jihadist movement have won no battles over the years. Instead, they have lived as parasites within ongoing civil wars or easily corrupted failed states. Their history has been one long series of evacuations under duress. Like cockroaches in an apartment building, they are forced to flee to the next unit over every time the exterminator steps in to spray the current nesting place.” (Page 119)

The gist of Barnett’s thesis is that in the ongoing struggle to shrink the chasm that exists between the connected “Core” countries of the world and the disconnected “Gap” countries, the U.S. military and its allies must develop a two-part approach to solving problems. The warfare end will be conducted by what Barnett terms “the Leviathan” – the traditional might of the U.S. war machine. But when it comes to “wining the peace” – the kind of nation building that is proving to be such a bloody challenge in Iraq – a new kind of force, a System Administration force, must be stood up and take over when the Leviathan has accomplished its work.

Barnett also argues convincingly that part of the process of moving a society into a globally connected condition involves a migration of much of its population from rural isolation to urban connectivity.

“Terrorists have historically arisen from well-educated middle-class urban segments of society, not form the backward, disconnected rural segments, even as they often enlisted as the foot soldiers of these revolutionary movements. So it is managing that individual journey from the country to the city that lies at the heart of the Core’s historic task of shrinking the Gap. If the Gap’s populations cannot successfully make that trip, finding genuine economic and social connectivity, then there is little hope of making globalization truly global, for all that will happen with this migration is the concentration of disgruntled masses – the perfect source material for unrest, as noted by revolutionaries throughout history.” (Page 279)

Barnett gives a reasonable and generationally based spin to his optimistic argument that the Echo Boomer generation – those born between 1980 and 1995 – represent a great source of hope:

“Natural multitaskers because they grew up in conditions of universal connectivity (the oldest came of age as the Internet blossomed into a global phenomenon), the Echo Boomers are, in the words of one demographic study, ‘totally plugged-in citizens of a worldwide community.’ As such, they know multiculturalism not as something to be accepted, but as simply a fact of life, since over a third of this generation is nonwhite. Probably the least ‘churched’ generation in U.S. history, they are nonetheless deeply interested in making the world a better place. As historian Neil Howe describes Echo Boomers, they are far closer in outlook to the ‘greatest generation’ from World War II than their egocentric Baby Boomer parents. In short, they’re ‘more interested in building things up than tearing them down.’” (Pages 322-323)

For this reason, Barnett is targeting his arguments at the emerging generation of military and political leaders who are Echo Boomers. The current generation of leadership, with rare exception, is too tied into the status quo, too committed to protecting their fiefdoms and too entrenched in the “military-industrial complex” to be able to listen with objective ears to the ideas being put forward by Barnett and his coreligionists who worship at the altar of “a future worth creating.”

This book is a must read. You may not agree with all of Barnett’s analysis and interpretation of history and current events, but to choose to ignore what he is saying would be a “sin of omission” that no thinking person should commit.


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