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Thomas Barnett draws a new map for Whirled Peas
June 20, 2007 1:42 PM   Subscribe

TED does it again. See you in Monterey. What happens when the war machine goes improv?
posted by MapGuy (49 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, and here is his blog , enjoy.
posted by MapGuy at 2:06 PM on June 20, 2007


bad ass speech.
posted by Lord_Pall at 2:19 PM on June 20, 2007


BTW -- that was his talk at TED in February 2005.

At the time Barnett said:
"That was pretty cool.

Probably the best 20 minutes of speaking I have ever done. Crowd interrupted with sustained applause maybe 3 times. But the standing ovation to end the piece was both very unexpected (haven't received one since a Y2K talk in front of a bunch of SysAdmins down in FL in 1999).

Then I asked the host, Chris Anderson, why I didn't win the Rave award. Joke on me: different Chris Anderson!

Coolest on the way out the door: Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit) met me in hall, said I was funnier than most comedians he's ever worked with, and offered to call my kids on tape with a customized message in the guise of Robert Rabbit!

I will definitely have him call Jerome on the 10th! (his fifth birthday).

My hands were shaking pretty bad during the talk, which hasn't happened to me in a very long time, but it was way cool."
posted by ericb at 2:22 PM on June 20, 2007


Here's Thomas Barnett's presentation at Pop!Tech in 2004.
posted by ericb at 2:26 PM on June 20, 2007


The glossary from his site is also useful, since he goes through some of the concepts quickly, and if you aren't paying attention you won't realize he just defined a term he'll use for the rest of the talk.
posted by smackfu at 2:29 PM on June 20, 2007


Wow! way cool speakers over at Pop!Tech, thanks. Gotta love Malcolms hair.
posted by MapGuy at 2:33 PM on June 20, 2007


Sheeit. I live down the street from the conference center where this is held (same place where the Governator held an exclusive invitation-only "town hall meeting" last week), but if I tried getting in I'd probably end up in jail or shot.
posted by squalor at 2:33 PM on June 20, 2007


The guy claims it is China's oil? Does Cheney et al know this and why are we forcing Iraqui government to make oil deal which gives us most of it?
posted by Postroad at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2007


The broader points of his speech were kind of "no shit, I heard that on the daily show years ago" stuff. now I see that's because this is a couple years old. the finer points sound really nice but are completely beyond me. the only thing I can say is that I'm never at ease listening to men of influence talk about how much they like warfare and how much they think the IMF is a great operation.
posted by shmegegge at 2:45 PM on June 20, 2007


I'm amazed by the response here. Is this not scary to you ?
"This is the force the rest of the world wants us to build" ?
No we don't, actually. The rest of the world actually isn't all that keen on you taking on the mantle of judge, executioner and trauma counsellor.

The entire presumption behind this guys speech is that the USA is to unilaterally smack down anyone who gets out of line and then patch them up afterwards.

This is a profoundly reactionary response to Iraq, despite its surface trappings - rather than questioning on a deeper level whether lying to the UN and tearing apart the small hope there was for a global peace force was a good idea, this guy is simply trying to find a way to fuck up less badly the next time they decide to go on the rampage. I can see that it makes good sense from the point of view of the US military, but I can't understand why it would be welcomed by anyone else.
posted by silence at 3:05 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I first heard this speech a couple years ago on CSPAN and it made me run out to buy his book, which while a really interesting thought exercise in political/military idealism: is summed up as this: use the massive capabilities of the slowly evolving but ultimately effective military bureaucracy to create an institution building organization of sort that the State Department, USAID or the World Bank wouldn't hold a flame to....

Of course the only motivation for the army's top brass to actually consider his ideas resided in the possibility that the sort of thing we were going through in Iraq might have to happen again and again and they would be forced to deal with it, so they better adapt...

now that possibility is gone with the flames of iraq. *shrug*

really his idea comes down to building in the United States the institutions to make "neoconservative idealism" happen.

shmegegge: eh his point is not that the IMF was (really refer to the IMF in the past tense from now on please) a great operation or not, but that it was something tangible in the void of international country finances ...
posted by stratastar at 3:10 PM on June 20, 2007


silence, you're not alone. I watched about half of this and thought it was flip, and arrogant. He may be smart , and he may get laughs, but crimes of policy are no laughing matter. Much of what he proposes does make the U.S. judge, jury, and executioner. Something as an American , I don't want to see more of from my country.
posted by nola at 3:20 PM on June 20, 2007


Great post MapGuy.
posted by nola at 3:22 PM on June 20, 2007


Silence, did you miss the part where he talks about the International nature of the back-half force, and about only going in when the G-20 puts up the money up front for rebuilding?

This guy has good ideas for making the political realities lead to less carnage. Whether we have a back half force or not, the US is going to intervene in foreign affairs in the future as it has in the past. I contend that it is better for both the victor and the loser (or more often loser and loser) if the US strives to wage war as effectively as possible. Inefficient application of force seems to me to drag out conflict, maximize civilian casualties, and result in bad morale driven war crimes.

There are exceptions to this, such as MacArthur's effectiveness in Korea resulting in overconfidence and subsequent collapse after Chinese intervention, but one can argue that a truly effective military would have had the analytical ability, leadership, and troop strength analysis to realize that the Army was overstretched, and in need of time to integrate green replacements. But my main point is not so much about the effectiveness of the American military, but about the frequent political decision to employ the American military historically. I can't see that going away no matter how many bloody conflicts we get into, especially since the ratio of American fatalities in current wars looks to have improved immensely from past conflicts.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:35 PM on June 20, 2007


nitpick.: He is not proposing to make the US judge, jury and executioner - he is merely acknowledging that the US *is* judge, jury and executioner, and will continue to be so until another nation builds enough of a military capability to threaten us in a head-to-head war.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and human nature abhors a power vacuum.

The best the multi-lateral idealists could hope for (at the moment) is that China develops enough might to hold the US in check - but do you really want to go back to the days of living under the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation?
posted by bashos_frog at 3:38 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Barnett's book The Pentagon's New Map should be required reading for anyone trying to understand why the government has made the decisions it has.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:45 PM on June 20, 2007


Please. Barnett is delusional. Every time I see this stuff I have the same response-- the State and Federal government can't even figure out how to fix Oakland, California. Oakland has suffered from high levels of violent crime and drug dealing for as long as I've been alive. How the hell does Barnett think that we're going to figure out how to fix foreign cultures, when we can't even do it IN THE UNITED STATES? And the violence/social disruption you see in Oakland is kids' stuff compared to Iraq or Somalia. I can't remember the last time someone machine gunned a crowd of police cadets in Oakland, or set off a car bomb in front of the city hall.
posted by wuwei at 3:46 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


wuwei, I think that's at least partially his point. We don't know how to do this, but we have to figure it out, and once we figure it out we can use it effectively.

silence, his presentation was clearly directed towards a US audience, but he's using existing international institutions as a model. He must have used the word "transparency" a dozen times. If there was a recognized, experienced, international organization with a positive track record in rebuilding failed states, do you think as many people would have opposed the Iraq war? Some, of course, oppose war for any reason, and that's a valid viewpoint, but I think many were afraid of exactly what's happening now: a bloody quagmire.

His central point (and one I agree with) is that we're going to be doing this whether we like it or not, so we better get a lot fucking better at it. Intervention is by definition messy, not impossible. But god we can't call them systems administrators, even if it is accurate.
posted by Skorgu at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


wuwei, I'd bet the 10-25,000 marines could pacify Oakland pretty effectively, following Barnett's model of getting them in there immediately, before an insurgency can gain support. Add in money equal to a month or so of the Iraq war, and you could probably alleviate poverty in Oakland as well.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2007


brotherCaine no - I didn't miss that bit, but I didn't really believe it either. If this is a force which is only to be used when the "G20" decide it should be then why is it apparently entirely under US control ? I think that, just as we saw in Iraq, the reality is more like "used with the support of some other G20 nations if we can get it, and if not then any obscure pacific island we can bribe into lending us some legitimacy".

bashos_frogCertainly the US is bigger and scarier than any other single nation, but does that give it the right (or even the capacity) to impose its will on the rest of the world? I'm wondering what would happen if the US decided to use military force on a major European nation, for instance. If it is to rule it will have to be either with the consensus of all the other nations of the world, or with exactly the same threat of nuclear (or biological) annihilation that you're talking about. However horny mr. Barnett is about his XBox playing 19 year old spartans, his "Leviathan" isn't going to be able to hold the rest of the world in check through all-american beefcake alone.
posted by silence at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2007


Though I concede - the US army could probably handle Oakland.
posted by silence at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2007


skorgu " If there was a recognized, experienced, international organization with a positive track record in rebuilding failed states, do you think as many people would have opposed the Iraq war?"

Well, firstly I don't think he's talking about "failed states" - he's talking about states that have just got the shit kicked out of them by his boys. But I concede your point -- it is really, really hard to do this kind of work, but the US has probably the worst track record at it. The one time they seem to have got it right was Germany after the 2nd world war. Multinational organisations like the UN and even Nato on the other hand, despite a lot of high profile failures, do seem to have quite a few lower profile results that have turned out not too badly. Paddy Ashdown's approach to the same issues, for instance, seems to have considerably more foundation in historical fact.
posted by silence at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2007


Silence, his theory as expounded in the speech is that the force would originally be all American, and eventually "cross the Potomac" and become inter-agency, and only subsequent to that become international. You are right to be cynical about the likelihood of that occurring, but I actually believe that he believes that it is possible (although he may be cynical as well on that subject). His harping about the G20 influence on the front and back end, plus the 'sys-admin' force being by necessity subject to ICC overview for war crimes leads me to believe that he is sincere even if he is deluded.

I think he strongly believes that you can't be taken seriously at nation rebuilding if you don't have some degree of openness, transparency and international cooperation. Basically, if you are unilateral everyone sees it as a war of occupation, and you get no traction or cooperation either in the country you are trying to rebuild or from the international community. He doesn't have dreams of military imperialism, but rather dreams of globalism and American economic domination.

I'm interested that people are dismissing him as a neocon here, and as a liberal on freerepublic. In truth, he is his own political ideology, stemming from taking American supremacy as a fact, but trying to use American institutions to build international bodies. Despite his support of Kerry, and lifelong Democratic party membership, I wouldn't classify him as a liberal either.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:55 PM on June 20, 2007


Silence, in response to your response to skorgu: The US learned the lessons of post WWII administration so well that there was a document put together by a team in the Pentagon detailing exactly what to do to stabilize post-war Iraq, and what would go wrong if those steps weren't followed. I'm not too surprised that it was basically ignored by generals who were too busy getting ready to kick ass. This is a strong argument for developing a separate agency from both the department of defense and the state department for handling these things. The DOD is too busy getting ready for the non-existent war with China, and the dept of state is being ignored by the Republicans because they don't do diplomacy.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:01 PM on June 20, 2007


The article you cited made me think Barnett and Ashdown would agree more than disagree about how to rebuild a failed state.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:07 PM on June 20, 2007


i agree with wuwei and brothercaine. i think this sounds like an excellent and long overdue idea. certainly we should put more resources into the constructive arm of our foreign policy. too long we've been a nation built around the idea of war. one that, as Barnett points out, throws gun-toting 19 year olds at every problem that can't be solved by economic pressure.

i also agree with silence, that this particular fella seems to think that the US should act as the global police. now i don't want that, but the truth is that the US is anything but an isolationist country. we've got our tree rooted in nations all over the world, and we can't just pull them out without shaking up a whole lot of dust. i'm a young guy. I suppose i wish my country wasn't in the position it is, but i can't change it.

the only responsible thing for me to do as an heir to this situation is to support a policy that gives our nation the means and the organization needed to maintain peace, human rights, and civility in those areas that we are involved with, and those like Sudan where we should become involved.

as far as that goes, this man seems to have some exceptional ideas toward this end. not just for the US, but for all nations, especially those that would seek to intervene in holocaust/genocide situations.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:07 PM on June 20, 2007


BrotherCaine:
Oh I'm not dismissing him as a neocon. I'm dismissing him as ungrounded in reality. I mean that. I don't care how long he worked at the Pentagon, or that he's "Dr. Barnett." He doesn't grasp the fact that although we may have the money and expertise to "fix" failed states, the political structure of the USA does not allow it. We know this because it has fallen flat on its face in Iraq. And also in Oakland.

Daniel Ellsberg once said that for a long time he believed that bad analysis was the reason that the US made major policy mistakes overseas. Later , after he read the Pentagon Papers in the entirety, he realized that it wasn't a failure of analysis , it was a failure of the political system. A failure of decision making in other words, and in politics, which is negotiating between disparate interest groups to find a palatable outcome.

That's why I say Barnett is naive in the extreme, because he apparently fails to grasp the fact that it is the broken political process in the United States that is holding everything back. He can spin all the pretty maps he wants, but it won't change the fact that the political process is broken.
posted by wuwei at 5:08 PM on June 20, 2007


i'm sorry...it's not wuwei that meant to say i agree with, but Skorgu. misread a bit there.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:14 PM on June 20, 2007


I really am not in the mood to click the link and WTFV (Watch The F'ing Video), so please illuminate me on one thing: when referring to the IMF, does he (and the rest of you) mean:
International Monetary Fund
Impossible Mission Force
Interplanetary Magnetic Field
International Myeloma Foundation
Institute of Metal Finishing
Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship
Intermaxillary Fixation
or In My Face?
posted by wendell at 5:23 PM on June 20, 2007


wendell: Imbecilic Monkey Fucking
I said it was improv, and now your missing out on all of the fun cuz your having your mood thing. Is it your cycle?
posted by MapGuy at 5:59 PM on June 20, 2007


wuwei (awesome nick btw) You're probably right, the political structure will almost certainly not allow what he's suggesting to happen. I (and I suspect Dr Barnett would agree) think that the political system is swinging in a direction that might allow such changes to be begun, but that's not necessary for the ideas in the video to be right. Barnett's proposal is an end result, he doesn't go into how to get there or even when, just what it should look like at the end. If anything, that's the point I took home from his presentation:

We didn't fail at $FAILED_FOREIGN_INTERVENTION because it's an insurmountable problem, we failed because we are incompetent at nation building. The video suggests a way to become competent at it, and I think it's something we as a country should seriously consider. Not that we've seriously considered anything previously, but it might be a nice habit to get into.
posted by Skorgu at 6:49 PM on June 20, 2007


These are the sunglasses that don't scare people
While he said a lot of quotable things that one made it into my collection. Credit where credits is due. Google does not have any results for that expression the sunglasses that don't scare people. Has anyone here not never before heard the expression while immediately knowing what it means?

Oh, and while I don't agree with a large chunk of his analysis, no one cares about my opinion -- I'm just this guy, you know -- I found the entirety insightful and amusing. Those who read before they view: go view.

And MapGuy?



Thanks.
posted by Grod at 7:06 PM on June 20, 2007


Wuwei, we have two parties in this country, which means we have two broken political processes, that occasionally collide into a third broken political process. You are right that Barnett's ideas are unlikely to take hold, or get the political support to be viable in practice. I think you might be surprised at the extent to which Barnett would agree with you on that very subject. Part of his flip attitude is no doubt due to the ground in cynicism resulting from trying to sell an unsellable idea and fight against the tide of the military industrial complex.

However, we are going to keep trying to rebuild nations no matter how incompetently we proceed in the future, and no matter what failures we encounter time and again. Any policy or institution that presents an improvement to the process no matter how slight is in my mind a moral imperative. The fact that war is often evil does not excuse us from facing the consequences of our countrymen's support of it, because no matter how many anti-war rallies I go to, it is not going to rebuild Iraq, or resurrect the dead. I think Barnett might be engaged in an unrealistic and Sisyphean struggle, but I suspect the likelihood of his success is greater than that of changing the political process for the better.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:11 PM on June 20, 2007


For those who accuse him of advocating the US be judge and jury in his scenario, the way he stated it made it appear that he was proposing these efforts be decided on democratically. I think unfortunately he stated it as you tell us to do this, fix the Sudan, Iraq, North Korea, you tell us to end a genocide, and we will.

There's a part of me that wishes he said we, but I also understand that that would definitely had sounded like imperialism and not like the inclusive kind of democratic process he was reaching for. But since he never defined the democratic mechanism that would choose these efforts, we could only have been interpreted as American, and not an existing globally democratic organization like the UN, which he dismisses less than two minutes into the presentation.

So, if it were a real We and not a You and he were able to define how we chose these efforts, then I think he might have something. But even beyond that, his point about needing "sys admins" in Iraq now, and not 19 year olds, is a point we ought to consider.

Nice link, MapGuy. Haven't heard any pragmatic thinking on this challenge in a long time. Too bad it's two years old.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:12 PM on June 20, 2007


interesting discussion here. thanks, MapGuy.

i'm Tom's webmaster and, as you can see from my insanely low user number, a MeFi member from way back. in some ways, i got my weblogging start on MeFi.

Toekneesan: we have plenty of fresh thinking along the same lines over at Tom's website. come check it out. if you don't go for all of the posts, we have more current versions of the Brief.
posted by Sean Meade at 7:28 PM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


The whole quagmire in Iraq illustrates the wisdom of the Powell Doctrine:
  1. Is a vital interest threatened?
  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
  7. Is the action supported by the American people?
  8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
So we went 1-7 with the invasion of Iraq; in February 2003 a majority of Americans supported using military force against Iraq (and a majority erroneously believed Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11 attacks).

it's something we as a country should seriously consider

No, we shouldn't. The UN Charter only allows the use of force in case of self defense or with the approval of the Security Council, the UN Charter is a treaty, and treaties are the supreme law of the land according to the Constitution. Neither condition applied in Iraq, and our invasion was illegal under US and international law. Unless we drop out of the UN, we can't legally invade other countries unilaterally.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:30 PM on June 20, 2007


wuwei, I'd disagree with you and say he's entirely grounded in reality. We do not have expertise in fixing failed states precisely because there is no international department or agency that is designed or trained to do that. The political process is broken because there is no single department that is answerable to the politicians for the task of nation-building. There needs to be a single authority, a single point of contact and responsibility to coordinate between the agencies, groups, and aid organizations. In this day, it's impossible to hold the same people responsible for both destruction and creation. Effectiveness and efficiency depends on specialization within each category and to do that properly, requires the formation of a department that is responsible for the latter.

I think the real danger in creating such a department is that it makes the idea of going to war more palatable. The way the government is organized now, we're less inclined to go to war specifically because we don't have expertise in nation-building. Once a proper nation-building department has been put into place, going to war may be easier to swallow because "It's OK, we've got guys that have been trained to do clean-up duty." A bad analogy would be willingness to do a hard disk format to clean up your computer. If you're not prepared for it, you'd really rather try to exhaust all options before considering the format. But if you've been doing daily backups, written out the process, have all the CDs and serials handy, and have done the format many times, well shoot it's no big deal to just format on a whim.
posted by junesix at 7:33 PM on June 20, 2007


The fact that this is two years old is a good thing, no? I mean is any of this spaghetti sticking to the wall? That is for you to decide. I think time gives some perspective. Perspective gives us an opportunity to sound smarter. Where do these ideas fit in Gladwell’s Tipping Point paradigm? Of which I think MeFi is a part.

I like ericb's link to Pop!Tech. I find Dr. Barnett’s analogies coolio and the lumberjack shirt, well that is just crackin’ .... Archduke Franz Ferdinand living in Taiwan that is good stuff.

Old or not it appears to be stimulating opinions and dialogue here, and that is a good thing, at least we aren’t sitting around talking about Britney’s butt.

Finally over on pop casts I found a lexicographer girl that is totally hawt and Erin McKean taught me a new word Erinaceous. My life is better because I learned that, and I can’t wait to use it.

Besides that, now we can talk about stuff that wendell will never get.

Oh, and hey Sean, shout out. Nice site.
posted by MapGuy at 8:04 PM on June 20, 2007


I think the real danger in creating such a department is that it makes the idea of going to war more palatable.

Mayhap, but for the sake of my sanity I'm going to refuse to believe going to war would be any more likely for the US than the current state of our war culture. If we did succeed at a cookie-cutter nation building institution at the cost of more wars, the long term result may be better for the world as a whole. I don't want to crunch the numbers of the calculus of human misery to figure that one out though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:49 PM on June 20, 2007


Thinking about it a little more, I may have been a little essentialist in claiming that his ideas boiled down to creating institutions to facilitate state interventions.

On my point about neo-conservativism, the word gets thrown around pejoratively alot, but his starting point is that we may have a duty and the potential power to intervene in failed states and against despotic dictators. Precisely because no one else can do it. Neither realists, nor liberal internationalists would claim that, its a thought experiment with inherently neo-conservative origins. Of course it's exciting to think about the possibilities but as others have mentioned NO one has done it before, so what makes us think that we can do it?

On some other points: while I'm sure the Marines could pacify Oakland, billions of dollars may certainly not end poverty there.*

But in any case that isn't Barnett's point, the reconstruction force is not an economic development force and it shouldn't be. It's a political institution building force. Barnett's central premise resides on this force being part of hte military and working under the military's standards of operations: ie understanding the problem by studying past experiences and problems and coming up with effective ways of dealing with them. This may be quibbling but realistically, where are the trials and errors to study? How many nations do you leave in your wake until you figure it out? Especially with as short a time frame as you actually have for getting it right...



* Minor nitpick: the case of German reconstruction is NOT nor should it be used as a model case of American reconstruction nor one that should be used as justification for "rebuilding," As the simplest growth models show, Post WWII reconstruction consisted simply of Germany getting back to the state it was in before the war. The people (well minus a few million men) ideas, institutions of commerce, everything was essentially there and after a few years it was relatively back up to speed.
posted by stratastar at 8:56 PM on June 20, 2007


Part of the reason that the political system/culture of the United States makes this difficult is because no political system/culture of our magnitude has attempted this. There is no precedent. There is a lot of precedent for building a strong military that is trying to get stronger and is tasked primarily with going out and creating disorder in other parts of the world (for whatever reason: security, expansion, boredom). The closest precedent for building an institution that tries to go out and create order in other parts of the world is colonialism, which, as history has shown and Barnett alluded to, is a matter of embarking on the quite unnatural endeavor of controlling another people fully and thus requires an equally unnatural and ultimately impossible commitment to absolute hegemony. Both of these situations are politically viable in a nation that has more political, economic, cultural, and military power than the other nations in the world because they involve the assumption that this great power is being exercised absolutely to achieve assertion of the things we consider right to the maximum. As Barnett pointed out, his ideas differ from imperialism in that they involve an enforcement of what we consider right only to a minimum. In other words:

If we don't like something, we will destroy it but only because we think we can fix it without making it belong to us. Why do we get to destroy it in the first place? Because we believe in a set of minimum guidelines for what is right and wrong and we feel that it is our responsibility as the most powerful nation in the world to enforce that. Most of us can agree on what is definitely bad (by bad I only mean "worth stopping"), fewer would agree on what is definitely good (worth creating).

Now whether we actually should make that our responsibility is a separate question, one that discussion such as Barnett's sadly obscures. I wish we wouldn't, but large concentrations of power necessarily create a lot of problems in the world and as long as we want to remain a large concentration of power, we will need to make correcting those problems our responsibility.

I think that more concentrated power necessarily means more problems for everyone else and I don't like problems so I suppose I don't like America. However, most of the political culture/system of America appears to like America and all its power a lot. I'm not sure if that will ever change. Until it does, people like me who think that concentrated power necessarily creates problems and also dislike problems can hope that some of that power is used to address those problems effectively. It will be tricky. It will be messy. It will be an improvement.
posted by Shakeer at 10:27 PM on June 20, 2007


We don't know how to do this, but we have to figure it out, and once we figure it out we can use it effectively. ...

If there was a recognized, experienced, international organization with a positive track record in rebuilding failed states, do you think as many people would have opposed the Iraq war? ...

His central point (and one I agree with) is that we're going to be doing this whether we like it or not, so we better get a lot fucking better at it. Intervention is by definition messy, not impossible.


Oh, where to begin?

1. It is a fallacy is that "nation-building" is always doable, and that it's a standardizable, purely technocratic process that we can essentially write a manual for, and then administer "effectively." That is a typically American attitude... naively optimistic. It's also somewhat patronizing.

The reality of any nation is that it is a unique interaction between many different groups, institutions, cultures, subcultures, classes, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for "rebuilding failed states", because all states, failed or otherwise, are different.

Perhaps there are some broadly applicable principles or lessons (I would imagine mostly along the lines of "here's what NOT to do"). But the idea that this could ever be systematized into a process that would offer any guarantee of a tidy and predictable outcome is laughable.

2. Even well-intentioned attempts at nation-building are usually based upon underestimations of the complexities involved. Trying to rebuild even one sector of a troubled society is something outsiders can never hope to parachute in and do. It has to be done mostly be people who are part of the society, if it's going to be effective and long-lasting. And if outsiders hope even to play a constructive part, they will need to spend hella money.

So "a recognized, experienced, international organization with a positive track record in rebuilding failed states"? Unlikely. And: Who would pay for it? And: Why?

3. The reality is that all nations, including ours, operate largely out of self-interest; and this is not even unified -- disparate groups within any nation struggle to control its foreign policies for their own benefit.

As I said, foreign intervention is pricey. Why would we spend lots of money to intervene in a foreign country? Because we (or some of us) think there's some benefit in it for us. Thus we impose our own motives and desires, and attempt to "rebuild" another nation in a way that serves our own aims (whether those aims are "fighting communism," "fighting terrorism," "spreading democracy," "creating new free trade zones," or whatever). In other words, there is no such thing as "neutrality" in these kind of operations.

The idea of a benevolent, neutral, well-funded, supremely efficent and knowledgeable nation-rebuilding institution is a pipe dream. Nations support international institutions in order to further their own goals. Nations intervene in other nations in order to achieve their own goals.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:41 PM on June 20, 2007


P.S. Judging by that video, Thomas Barnett is incredibly annoying. He comes off like a third-rate televangelist or motivational speaker... cocksure and glib, but seguing a bit too rapidly between bursts of supposed-to-be-impressive jargon, "sobering" moments, and "snarky" humor.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:50 PM on June 20, 2007


I'm a big fan of Tom Barnett. I was introduced me to him here a couple of years ago and bought the book.
Hearing him make a presentation is pretty awesome as he has so many complex concepts to convey in a short time without inducing sleep in the listener. This might induce glibness but it serves its purpose. Though I don't agree with all of his ideas he does lay out some very interesting choices and chucks up some hard truths viz. The only way the defense dept is going to change is through defeat; and redundant parts of the military wish their own scenarios.
He hits the "winning the peace button" straight on, and this was over two years ago. At least he is having an open discussion about the future and how to try and resove failed states. I liked his crack about being thankful that Richard Reid wasn't carrying the bomb up his arse.
Thanks for the post MapGuy and thanks for the links Sean Meade. In fact that was such an intense presentation I am now going to watch it again. Like all good presentations its just a teaser to get the listener to go and do some serious homework. Great stuff. Interesting discussion here as well.
posted by adamvasco at 12:30 AM on June 21, 2007


Any way I can download this?
posted by srboisvert at 1:26 AM on June 21, 2007


Nevermind. Found it.
posted by srboisvert at 2:00 AM on June 21, 2007


This video is pretty awesome. However, it's remarkable that he admits supporting the war in Iraq despite knowing the aftermath would be an utter failure, because he wanted the DoD to fail and be forced to restructure. No matter how much he loves his job, that isn't worth the thousands of innocents dead.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2007


EMRJKC'94 yeah but he pointed out that Sadam was a bad guy with "priors". Yes it is scary stuff like a roller coster but you get to get up from you computer and tell yourself that what is worng in the world is not PEBCAK.

Yes he is a war machine evangelist. But shouldn’t you love your job? Is that more or less vile than a technovangelist from Redmond? Yes he sells the message with a dollop of snark to sweeten the bite. But…. But…..But…. it is refreshing like it or not it is our future. Ferdinand is in Tiwan, better we know where that pesky pompous little bastard is hiding this time than ask the question who the hell was he and why are we standing knee deep in our own blood after the fact. Ultimately he won’t get his way but if we don’t face the dragon that is China, and I too raise my glass of Tang, our future is less than uncertain. No one likes to be told they view the world in a way that doesn’t fit reality. Especially if you have spent years getting that Monet in focus only to find that it is supposed to be fuzzy.

In his PoP!Tech video his outline of the undeveloped world is and very interesting battle line. I love maps I think they give perspective and they are an excellent way to grasp mushy, large or messy things into tangible ideas. Funny thing is if you are for or against a global economy I am fairly sure most people want to live on one side of that line and not the other. His description of China’s population on the continental US was very enlightening. Oh and his read on Iran was quite a giggle, love those Persians. Did he say we are going to Africa next? Have we ignored Darfur because if we go we are in for the long haul.

I find it very interesting that he was nervous at the TED presentation. Was it because he was in a room full of his intellectual peers, a randy bunch of lynch mobers, the cusp of the blossom of his intellectual ego, or was he seriously in doubt that his spaghetti would stick to this wall. He obviously believes what he says; he is passionate, good for him. I don’t think he has changed the mind of the Leviathan that he describes; otherwise, well we would have seen some change, no.

Some of what he says sounds spot on. Some of what he says breaks the traditional roles of how we view those institutions that we know don’t quite get the job done. Can we just come home shut ourselves off, stick our heads in the sand and Que Sera, Sera our selves to sleep every night? It doesn’t seem like the world is getting any friendlier whether we stick our toe, nose and dick in it or not. Is globalization of the economy doable, desirable inevitable our destiny or just another messed up way that Cain see Able.

Lastly why can’t we just write a check like we do for everything else, why do the Chinese get to sit it out and win no matter what?

Or we can just blame it all on Bush and assume it will all go away like a pimple popped when he leaves office…. Yeah that sounds about right.

Actually, I think the cerebration has just begun.
posted by MapGuy at 8:08 AM on June 21, 2007


Let's see:
1. It is a fallacy is that "nation-building" is always doable, and that it's a standardizable, purely technocratic process that we can essentially write a manual for, and then administer "effectively." That is a typically American attitude... naively optimistic. It's also somewhat patronizing.
"Always" doable? Sure that's a fallacy I'd buy. That's where the transparency comes in. If it's a truly international, even UN-style broken international operation, certain obviously boneheaded ideas won't get done. No pre-existing international body agreed to the Iraq war, that was all us.
The reality of any nation is that it is a unique interaction between many different groups, institutions, cultures, subcultures, classes, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for "rebuilding failed states", because all states, failed or otherwise, are different.

Perhaps there are some broadly applicable principles or lessons (I would imagine mostly along the lines of "here's what NOT to do"). But the idea that this could ever be systematized into a process that would offer any guarantee of a tidy and predictable outcome is laughable.
Nothing is guaranteed. At all, ever. The best laid plans, etc. I never stated or implied that a guarantee was ever in the cards, and I apologize for my imprecision if I gave that impression. That said, I don't agree here. I think there are a whole class of situations where a broadly applicable set of rules and standards could be applied. Certainly there are unique differences that separate, say, Afghanistan and the Balkans, but fundamentally most populations if presented with a sound, localized and humane rule of law and basic creature comforts (food, electricity) aren't going to turn around and revolt en masse. Sure, the problems preventing these resolutions are hard and unique, but the destination isn't. With good tools and (the important thing) experience, I think such a plan is crazy enough to work.
2. Even well-intentioned attempts at nation-building are usually based upon underestimations of the complexities involved. Trying to rebuild even one sector of a troubled society is something outsiders can never hope to parachute in and do. It has to be done mostly be people who are part of the society, if it's going to be effective and long-lasting. And if outsiders hope even to play a constructive part, they will need to spend hella money.

So "a recognized, experienced, international organization with a positive track record in rebuilding failed states"? Unlikely. And: Who would pay for it? And: Why?
Part of getting a track record is picking your battles. Personally, I think that this government stuff isn't that hard, we're just limited by our existing power structures. I tend to think that with those power structures removed or displaced and good, competent people and techniques we could get it closer to right. How much can we really do and is it worth it? That's something we'll never figure out on metafilter. Mind if I answer "Who?" and "Why?" after the next one? Thanks.
3. The reality is that all nations, including ours, operate largely out of self-interest; and this is not even unified -- disparate groups within any nation struggle to control its foreign policies for their own benefit.

As I said, foreign intervention is pricey. Why would we spend lots of money to intervene in a foreign country? Because we (or some of us) think there's some benefit in it for us. Thus we impose our own motives and desires, and attempt to "rebuild" another nation in a way that serves our own aims (whether those aims are "fighting communism," "fighting terrorism," "spreading democracy," "creating new free trade zones," or whatever). In other words, there is no such thing as "neutrality" in these kind of operations.

The idea of a benevolent, neutral, well-funded, supremely efficent and knowledgeable nation-rebuilding institution is a pipe dream. Nations support international institutions in order to further their own goals. Nations intervene in other nations in order to achieve their own goals.
If you'll pardon, "The idea of a benevolent, neutral, well-funded, supremely efficient and knowledgeable police force is a pipe dream. People support governments in order to further their own goals. People intervene in other people's affairs to further their own goals." Yes, it's a hard problem. Policing people in a well-ordered, wealthy first-world country (and Oakland too) is far from a solved problem. But it's even further from impossible. We fundamentally know how to do policing on an individual scale. That politics and other disasters keep it from actually happening is a different (and tougher) problem.

As for the who and the why, the answers are "everyone" and "because we're going to have to." All societies have limits on permissible actions. Thou shalt not kill, etc. The international society has rules too, "thou shalt not make war, but really it only counts if you're little." I would characterize this as an international version of suicide laws: we can't really stop you from doing this, but if we catch you we're gonna intervene because later you'll be glad we did. It won't stop Russia, China, the EU, or the USA from being total dicks, nothing will. It probably won't stop Saudi Arabia from being dicks. It might be able to help (for example) Somalia or Zimbabwe. You want a say? Commit troops. One pair of bootes = one vote. It's not perfect, but a connected global society is one where an irresponsible state is dangerous to more than just its neighbors.

Really, even if the Parliment-with-guns idea in my head never happens (and it won't), having the de-facto cop know first aid isn't a bad idea. Not that the politicians will ever let it happen.
posted by Skorgu at 10:45 AM on June 22, 2007


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