Great Powers: America and the World after Bush

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The author of the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller The Pentagon's New Map brings us a remarkable analysis of the post-Bush world, and America's leadership role in it.

In civilian and military circles alike, The Pentagon's New Map became one of the most talked about books of 2004. “A combination of Tom Friedman on globalization and Carl von Clausewitz on war, [it is] the red-hot book among the nation's admirals and generals,” wrote David Ignatius in The Washington Post. ...

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Overview

The author of the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller The Pentagon's New Map brings us a remarkable analysis of the post-Bush world, and America's leadership role in it.

In civilian and military circles alike, The Pentagon's New Map became one of the most talked about books of 2004. “A combination of Tom Friedman on globalization and Carl von Clausewitz on war, [it is] the red-hot book among the nation's admirals and generals,” wrote David Ignatius in The Washington Post. Barnett's second book, Blueprint for Action, demonstrated how to put the first book's principles to work. Now, in Great Powers, Barnett delivers his most sweeping— and important—book of all.

For eight years, the current administration has done much to disconnect or alienate America from the world, but the world has certainly not been standing still. Now, with a chance to start over, what do we do? Where's the world going now, and how do we not only rejoin it but become a leader again in what has become the most profound reordering of the globe since the end of World War II?

In Great Powers, Barnett offers a tour de force analysis of the grand realignments that are both already here and coming up fast in the spheres of economics, diplomacy, defense, technology, security, the environment, and much more. The “great powers” are no longer just the world's major nation-states but the powerful forces, past, present, and future, moving with us and past us like a freight train. It is not a simple matter of a course correction but of a complete recalibration, and the opportunities it presents are far greater than the perils. Barnett gives us a fundamental understanding of both, showing us not only how the world is now but how it will be.

There are those writing now who say America is in decline . . . and we just have to deal with it. Barnett says no. Globalization as it exists today was built by America—and now it's time for America to shape and redefine what comes next. Great Powers shows us how. Bibliography. Notes. Index.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Barnett (The Pentagon's New Map) offers a comprehensive catalogue of the failings of the Bush administration and a strategic roadmap for American foreign policy in this sweeping text. The author takes a broad approach to the contemporary political landscape, surveying U.S. history from the Revolution through the end of the Cold War and applying lessons from that history to the present. Drawing on a variety of secondary sources and his personal and professional experiences as a national security specialist and consultant, Barnett argues in favor of cooperation with rising powers such as China and India and continued movement in the direction of globalization; he distills his central thesis down to the contention that "America must dramatically realign its own post-9/11 trajectory with that of the world at large." Barnett writes in a conversational style. Despite the text's vast scope, it has a clear, straightforward structure, even featuring a glossary of key terms, and it provides an accessible and engaging foray into global grand strategy. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Political consultant Barnett (Blueprint for Action: A World Worth Creating, 2005, etc.) evaluates the Bush administration's failures, offers prescriptions for correcting them and pleads with America not to mess things up now that everything is going our way. His excoriating first chapter limns "The Seven Deadly Sins of Bush-Cheney," starting with Lust (for world primacy). A sensible grand strategy, even for a superpower, must attract more allies than it repulses, he notes, yet the Bush administration broke treaties and advocated preemptive wars, then complained when Russia and China refused to help in Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Proceeding with catchy titles, Barnett delivers "A Twelve-Step Recovery Program for American Grand Strategy" in the second chapter. We must begin by admitting our powerlessness over globalization, he writes. We opened that Pandora's box long ago, and it's ridiculous to denounce other nations' cheap labor and protectionist trade policies, because that's how American growth began. Unlike many world-affairs gurus, but in line with Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World (2008), Barnett is an optimist, pointing out that free-market capitalism is now the world's default system, the middle-class is increasing and poverty is diminishing. Attacking Bush's fixation on the "global war on terror" (Sin No. 2: Anger), he stresses that it's merely one of a half-dozen world problems, more easily solved by rising prosperity than military action. Naivete, not anger, led to Bush's painfully unsuccessful efforts to spread democracy. Looking back, Barnett reminds readers that America was a one-party autocracy until the 1820s and that freedom doesn't happen when a government grants itbut when an increasingly assertive, and prosperous, citizenry demand it. China's rise mirrors the American model more than we realize, he contends, and Iraqis won't demand a bill of rights until they have jobs. Stands out for its in-depth analysis, historical acuity and delightfully witty prose. Author events in New York and Washington, D.C.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Americans may be short on certainty about how the post–Cold War, post-9/11 world runs, but we're certainly not short of big thinkers trying to sort it out. One could fill a groaning shelf with recent books trying to spot the big trends. Primus inter pares is New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's globalization classic The World Is Flat, but there are plenty of others who've been taking careful notes from the master.

Among their ranks is Thomas P. M. Barnett, a brainy former Defense Department official and Esquire magazine columnist who carved out a niche all his own in 2004 with The Pentagon's New Map, which Washington Post columnist David Ignatius called that season's "red-hot book among the nation's admirals and generals." He wasn't kidding; the book, which became a New York Times bestseller, was such a smash that Barnett has been regularly called in to brief newly promoted Air Force one-star generals. It sold well over 50,000 copies, with a sizable portion of those winding up on the shelves of folks with stars on their shoulders.

What's particularly interesting about Barnett is his military background and mind-set: he's no simple-minded globalization evangelist. "Imagine a combination of Tom Friedman on globalization and Karl von Clausewitz on war," Ignatius noted dryly, "and you begin to get an idea of where Barnett is coming from."

In both The Pentagon's New Map and Great Powers: America and the World After Bush, Barnett urges defense planners to think not in conventional terms of state power projection but in terms of a world riven between a thriving, functional core group of countries being drawn closer together by globalization and a messy, chaotic group of nations that have fallen into the abyss of disorder, poverty, and rage that he calls the Gap. The good news is that the former group is attractive and growing, drawing such rising giants as China and India into its orbit. The bad news is that the Gap knows it's being left behind and, in an increasingly wired world, doesn't have to just take it. The Pentagon traditionally worried about strong states such as the Soviet Union; now, Barnett argues, it needs to redraw its mental map to focus on the places that are mostly likely to demand intervention -- the basket cases of the Gap, not the powerhouses of the Core. The problem isn't nationalism or smugness in places on the way up; it's anarchy and fury in those on the way down.

Like his fellow big thinkers, Barnett is keen to find "a grand strategic vision," and he doesn't like the one George W. Bush came up with -- a fear-based, "none-too-subtle lust for primacy" -- or the isolation and alienation that resulted. We can be top dog, Barnett argues, without being a cur. America is exquisitely positioned to lead today's globalized order, he argues. "This is a world of our making," Barnett writes. "This 'flat world' is fundamentally our design."

So forget the chest thumpers "hell-bent on defining our current age as a 'global war of survival' or a bloc-defined clash between democracies and autocracies." Rather, keep an eye on the forces connecting one side of the planet with the other.

Barnett's grand strategy is, in a word, globalization, which is in the deepest sense, he argues, made in America. Not only that, he thinks the globalized world will be made like America -- that is, that the slow stitching together of the United States out of the various colonies and the slow perfection of that union is the best available historical analogy and metaphor for the haphazard progress toward a more integrated and networked 21st-century world. "We are modern globalization's source code -- its DNA," he argues. We are also its exemplar: "In this world we find no strangers, just younger versions of ourselves."

That, unfortunately, is not terribly convincing. Barnett is surely right about the attraction of what used to be called the American way of life -- the lure of middle-class prosperity, political openness, and social stability. But the leaders of China and India would be amused to hear themselves described as simply younger variants of the United States; both rising giants are convinced that they have manufactured their own distinctive synthesis that will give them the ability to compete and thrive in a competitive world, and they would find more than a hint of condescension in the implicit view of them as praiseworthy toddlers wobbling in a parent's oversized shoes.

Barnett's otherwise entertaining outlook suffers from some other overly exuberant leaps of analytical logic. Many readers will remain unconvinced that the next few years -- scary as today's financial meltdown is -- "will constitute the first true test of globalization." Most severe, yes; first, no. The 1998 Asian meltdown was just one earlier earthquake that shook the increasingly level post–Cold War landscape. As for his pages about how acquiring nuclear weapons would be one of the best methods available to "sober up" the failed Iranian revolution -- well, if Tehran gets the bomb, we'll all be hoping he's right.

And critics of the Iraq war will cringe at Barnett's blithe endorsement of the Bush-Cheney "Big Bang strategy" to introduce democracy to the "traditional societies" of the Middle East by a unilaterally waged war of choice: as he puts it, "if a center of gravity was to be had, better it be located over there [in Iraq] than over here, and better that it involved our professional warriors instead of our untrained civilians." But the entire point of al-Qaeda, as cunningly built by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, is that it has multiple centers of gravity; it's a false choice to assume that waging war on Iraq's secular Baathist dictatorship ensured that bin Laden's fanatical henchmen and resentment-riddled admirers would opt not to train their firepower on U.S. targets. It's a mistake to write off the Arab world's Gap residents as simply tribal and traditional. And it's by no means clear that America's civilians won't find themselves on the front lines again one crisp and unsuspecting morning.

All of which suggests one of the problems of the big-think genre: Barnett's lively mind is ranging so swiftly over such a panoply of problems that he winds up coining formulations that are catchy but overly neat. This is a big, fat book, seemingly written in haste and enthusiasm. His overview chapter of American diplomatic history is particularly wan, and some of his would-be Friedman-esque formulations land with a clunk ("As such, arguments for a rededication to a Leviathan-only force amounts to a 'Calgon, take me away!' request in national security terms").

Which is a shame, because there's a lot of interesting stuff in here. "The world desperately wants America back," Barnett argues, and then offers a 12-step program to recover from our excesses: admit that globalization runs itself, embrace bipartisanship, eschew unilateralism, recognize other great powers' interests, and so forth. He's drawn to the hard realities of military and commercial power and interested in turning problems around from the perspective of a cheerful "economic determinist." He's particularly shrewd on the coming battle inside the Pentagon over the shape of our post-Iraq military between more traditional thinkers ("the big-war crowd") and the "monks of war," the acolytes of the nimble counterinsurgency doctrine that Gen. David Petraeus used as Iraq slid toward the brink.

Perhaps what's most interesting about Great Powers is that Barnett, the defense intellectual, ultimately concludes that economic might matters more than anything that could come out of the barrel of a gun. "America's revolutionary grand strategy is globalization itself," he writes," and globalization thrives on peace while delivering justice first and foremost through income growth, expecting the locals to master the political equations in a direct relationship to their greed for more success." Self-interest will, he hopes, narrow the gulf between those getting wired up and those wasting away. Until then, we'll have to mind the Gap. --Warren Bass

Warren Bass is the former deputy editor of The Washington Post's Outlook section and the author of Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399155376
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/5/2009
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 9.38 (w) x 6.22 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas P. M. Barnett regularly advises the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Special Operations Command, and Central Command, and routinely offers briefings to senior members of the four military services, the intelligence community, and Congress. Dr. Barnett is now the senior managing director of Enterra Solutions and formerly served as senior strategic researcher at the Naval War College and as assistant for Strategic Futures in OSD's Office of Force Transformation. He is a contributing editor for Esquire, and writes a weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service. Barnett holds a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University.

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Table of Contents

Preface: The Shape of Things to Come 1

1 The Seven Deadly Sins of Bush-Cheney 5

2 A Twelve-Step Recovery Program for American Grand Strategy 36

3 The American Trajectory: Of Great Men and Great Powers 73

4 The Economic Realignment: Racing to the Bottom of the Pyramid 160

5 The Diplomatic Realignment: Rebranding the Team of Rivals 208

6 The Security Realignment: Rediscovering Diplomacy, Defense, and Development 252

7 The Network Realignment: The Rise of the Sysadmin-Industrial Complex 294

8 The Strategic Realignment: Resurrecting the Progressive Agenda 350

Coda: The Future Perfect Tense 417

Acknowledgments 423

Glossary 427

Notes 433

Index 473

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 6, 2009

    Great thinking that provides context for strategic changes that will need to occur in a variety of areas - military, economic, political, social, etc.

    I've been a fan of Dr. Barnett for a few years and read his other two books (Pentagon's New Map, Blueprint for Action). If you have read his other books and follow his blog then the book is helpful, thought-provoking, and easy to follow. If a reader is not familiar with his previous work then I think some of the statements to start the book may not seem fully supported at first, but in any case where I felt that way I thought the issues were well covered in subsequent parts of the book.

    All in all I find myself thankful that someone is weaving together grand strategy like this that properly takes into account all of the factors at work instead of being in a silo focused upon only the political & military environment.

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    Posted February 28, 2012

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    Posted April 15, 2009

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