politics, history and the war on terror
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Falling just short of a Unified Strategy to Combat Terror 

Dr. Thomas Barnett, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, recently published The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. While I have not yet read it (I just ordered it), last fall I did read the The Pentagon's New Map briefing, which this book is based on, and other of his articles that contributed to book's publication (editor's note: if you read only one article linked in this post, it should be The Pentagon's New Map briefing). The main points of his theory are:

- The world is divided into two camps, the nations that have successfully implemented globalization (the Functional Core) and the nations that have rejected globalization (the Non-Integrating Gap). Examples of Core states are "North America, much of South America, the European Union, Putin’s Russia, Japan and Asia’s emerging economies (most notably China and India), Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa, which accounts for roughly four billion out of a global population of six billion." Examples of Gap states are "the Caribbean Rim, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia."
- Recent military actions, as well as future one, are conducted in the Gap states or along the Seam states. The Seam states are Core states that border the Gap states, and are the states where terrorists attempt to "access the Core." Examples of Seam states are "Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia."
- The classic setpiece nation state wars are a thing of the past due to America's dominance in conventional and nuclear forces, and economic strength.
- The new wars will be low intesity conflicts with the Gap states.
- Wars will be continuous throughout the 21st century, until globalization takes hold.

His strategy for winning the War on Terror, which he views as a result of problems with globalization, can be summed up as follows:

- The Core states must "export" security and globalization to the Seam and Gap states.
- The U.S. military must reorganize (force transformation) to meet the threat of the Gap states by having two components, a heavy force structured much like today's military
(Leviathan) and a light force designed for nation building (System Administration).
- Reduce the size of the Gap, as we cannot afford to isolate ourselves in the believe the threat will go away.

In his most recent article, Mr. President, Here's How to Make Sense of Our Iraq Strategy, Dr. Barnett discusses the Iraq war in the context of the Core versus the Gap, argues the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force and a clear exit strategy is dead, looks at the failures of the Bush administration to properly frame the debate of Iraq and why this happened (no international rules exist for dealing with dangerous failed states such as Iraq), explains the military is rapidly changing to correct its deficiencies in dealing with the 21st century threats (tranformation and the move to create Leviathan and Sys Admin forces) and how American foreign policy is adapting. He is critical of the Bush administration’s portrayal of the threat from Iraq and its handling of the reconstruction of post war Iraq. But Dr. Barnett does support the Iraq war as he believes it forces us to engage with the nations of the Middle East, a major source of instability in the Gap.

While Mr. Barnett’s theory on the Core vs. Gap is a compelling argument for why America is forced to fight wars in the Gap nations, as well as the Seam nations, it appears his theory practically ignores the impact and influence of radical Islam, its role in terror organizations and its lore in the Muslim world. In fact, in the two articles I reference and the preface to his book, I found no mention of radical Islamic ideologies and how they are related to the war on terror. To Mr. Barnett, the likes of Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqari, Yasser Arafat and other Islam terrorists are merely “system perturbations” or “violent feedback to the Core.” The Gap nation’s lack of freedom, a lack of a stable middle class, being left out of globalization’s benefits, poor education, poor communications, poverty and other conditions make these countries inherently unstable and likely candidates for American military actions. But these conditions have existed for centuries, and there have not been attacks on American soil by Third World nations or non-governmental entities (terrorist) until 9/11. Historically, left to their own devices, Third World or Gap nations typically threaten their own populations neighboring countries that are also in disarray, not the United States or other major world powers.

Dr. Barnett’s only failings are that he does not recognize the roots of radical Islam existed prior to globalization and does not present an argument to counter the ideology (editors note: the assumption is made by reading his articles, not the full book). The jihadis began their armed struggle against America prior to the spread of globalization. Al Qaeda was established by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan while fighting against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s terror group, was established in the 1970, merged with al Qaeda after working together in Afghanistan. Terrorism against Israelis has existed since the nation’s founding. Islamic terrorists invented the suicide bomb prior to talk of globalization. The audacious attacks on America required a devoted and fanatical group of individuals willing to kill themselves and thousands of innocents to further their corrupt religious cause. While the anarchy that existed in the Gap states contributed to the success of al Qaeda on 9/11 and elsewhere, the radical ideology of al Qaeda cannot be explained in terms of globalization or lack thereof alone.

Because Dr. Barnett leaves out the role of Islamic fundamentalism in today’s threat of terrorism, this does not make his theory invalid. In fact, I agree with much of what he has to say. His description of Core, Gap and Seam states is very accurate in predicting past hot spots in the world as well as likely areas in future confrontations. The need to realign the military to address the threats posed by the Gap states is correct, as events of the past decade since the fall of the Soviet Union has shown; wars have been fast while reconstruction and nation building has been painfully slow. Improving the security situation in the Gap and Seam states will help reduce the threat of terrorism by denying terrorist bases of operation and support. Over time, the spread of globalization will decrease America’s involvement in the world’s hot spots, as well as promote freedom and improve the lives of the citizens of these nations. America should be fighting the War on Terror overseas, not on American soil: “gated communities and rent-a-cops” will not prevent the next 9/11.

Dr. Barnett’s theory should be integrated with the understanding of the threat of radical Islam and a strategy to combat radical ideologies, as globalization alone will not stop poisonous ideologies from infecting the minds of Muslims. Promoting security, globalization and personal freedoms along with combating radical ideologies would truly be an effective and potent Unified Strategy to Combat Terror.

The Bush Administration understands the main elements of Dr. Barnett's theories (perhaps unconsciously) and is slowly implementing his solutions while recognizing the threat of radical Islam. It is supporting the Seam states, such as the Philippines and Israel, and security and liberalization in the Gap states, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Georgia; perhaps not as much as we would like, but keeping the regimes in place is better than the alternative of radical Islam taking control. The Middle East Partnership Initiative is designed to promote freedom, liberalization and economic reforms. The U.S. is active in the WTO and other world organizations that promote globalization, while at the same time forming bilateral and regional trade agreements to shore up free trade. President Bush has explained the threat of radical Islam and has worked to encourage nations to reduce the maddrassas, textbooks and sermons that promote these hateful ideologies; this is another area where the solutions are slow in the making and the policy is still being formed.

The Bush administration's main failing is that it has not fully articulated the strategy to fight terrorism, nor has it given a name to the strategy. But this is understandable. We are only just under three years into this war. The last world war, the Cold War, was not won until a winning strategy was clearly explained and fully implemented by President Reagan. Over the course of about 35 years after the Cold War began, the West went from a policy of containment (a strategy of maintaining the status quo) to a policy of active engagement of the communist threat politically, militarily and economically (a strategy to win). The process of recognizing the threat and devising a strategy to combat it does not materialize overnight. The Bush Administration should be commended for recognizing the main elements of the threat and acting so quickly to counter them. It should also be pushed harder to search for better solutions. Men like Dr. Barnett are crucial in describing the threat environment and proposing solutions; let us hope they can condense the timetable on creating a winning strategy. If only he had mentioned the threat of Islamist ideologies and a plan to defeat it, I would be completely on board.

Update #1

Dr. Barnett was kind enough to drop by to respond to this article. Please view the comments to see what he has to say, as well as my response. I encourage you to join the debate.

Update #2

Dr. Barnett & I continued the debate at his blog. At first I am lumped in with the "I hate Islam" crowd, I take umbrage and state the war is against radical ideologies, not Islam. The debate continues and Dr. Barnett and I find out we actually agree, but the only sticking point is the language used. He feels referring to enemies specifically creates divides amoung potential allies (referring to al Qaeda and the likes as radical Islamists alienates peaceful Muslims). I see the value of describing and understanding the radical ideologies to better fight them. In the end, it appears our overall strategy is the same.


Many thanks to Angel (full disclosure: she is my Aunt) for informing me about Dr. Barnett's book and interview on C-SPAN. She provided the vital information for this post, and I am truly grateful for her insights and support.

Posted by bill roggio @ 12:03 PM