Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004  

Into the Gap

In the documentary Fog of War, Errol Morris' discussion with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, McNamara makes an observation about perspective. "The Vietnamese saw us as replacements for the French. They thought we were fighting a colonial war, which was absurd. We saw the Vietnam conflict as an aspect of the Cold War, but they saw it as a civil war." If we had understood the motivation of the enemy, the war might have followed a radically different script. The lesson is that accurately diagnosing the situation is critical to understanding how to address it.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, US foreign policy has been in disarray, in large part because we have failed to diagnose the world situation. This failure is all the more serious following 9/11. In the past 15 years, two models have tried, and both have proven disastrous. Cold-war dead-enders dominated Pentagon strategy following the Soviet collapse, arguing that the emergent threat would be a Soviet analogue--an enormously powerful state; China, for example. Not recognizing the threat of non-state terrorists, this left us blind to the approach of al Qaida. The shift in policy to the neocon interventionist model, wherein cancer is cut out before it spreads, has proven--if possible--a greater failure.

These failures are the result of faulty diagnosis. What is the threat? What are the intentions of those who threaten us? Thomas Barnett, currently a professor at the Naval War College, may have the answers. This April, he published The Pentagon's New Map (Putnam, $26.95), wherein he describes two worlds the "functioning core," and the "non-integrated gap." As with many astute theories, it's clean and simple. It's a theory he worked on for years, and a rough draft was published in Esquire .

I'll spend the rest of this post describing the diagnosis. Of course, he also has theories about what we should do with the diagnosis, and here I think he's off the mark. I'll discuss that tomorrow.

Rule Sets
Rather than describe the world through ideology or alliances, while working on his theory, Barnett enlarged his field of vision and took a look at globalism. He saw an interesting pattern.

If we map out U.S. military responses since the end of the cold war, we find an overwhelming concentration of activity in the regions of the world that are excluded from globalization’s growing Core--namely the Caribbean Rim, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia.

--Esquire, March 2003

The resulting map contains countries with absolutely nothing in common with each other. So what about the other half, the part where violence is rare?

Once again, these countries look quite different politically. What they had in common was a de facto "rule set." They all accepted the freedoms and limitations that come with interconnectivity--economic and otherwise. India is a democracy, but it has a caste system that offends equality-minded Americans. Likewise, our loose morals and libertine ways offend Indians. But a larger rule set is in place that allows us to interact. We accept that the interconnectivity of markets, the effects of satellite broadcasts, the internet and so on will bring us challenges to our cultural norm. The rule set allows us to interact even if we don't perfectly agree. (And the result is we both become more like the other--another consequence we're willing to accept.)

But in the violent regions of the world, countries reject these rule sets. They function by different rules and demand that any integration is done on the terms of their own rule set.

The Non-Integrating Gap
According to Barnett, the principal characteristic of the non-integrating Gap (hereafter Gap) is not religion or politics, but disconnectedness.

To be disconnected in this world is to be kept isolated, deprived, repressed, and uneducated. For young women, it means being kept--quite literally in many instances--barefoot and pregnant. For young men, it means being kept ignorant and bored and malleable. For the masses, being disconnected means a lack of choice and scarce access to ideas, capital, travel, entertainment, and love ones overseas.

--The Pentagon's New Map

As a result of this disconnectivity, life in the Gap is characterized by a number of conditions. Poverty - of 118 countries with incomes less than $3,000, 109 are in the Gap. Poor leadership and oppression - of 48 countries listed by Freedom House as "not free," 45 are in the Gap. Only one in ten Gap states has a stable rotation of leaders. Violence and disease - all of the countries with median ages of less than 20 are located in the Gap; all countries with median ages of 35 or more are in the functioning Core. Life expectancy is low, and crime and war high. Disconnection - communications within the Gap (independent media, internet) are far lower than in the Core.

I think Barnett has hit on a killer app here. It doesn't address individual conflicts or offer guidance on a case-by-case level. Viewing the Israel-Palestine conflict through the lens of the Gap doesn't suggest a course of action. But it is useful in pulling it out of the quagmire of culture, history, and religion--the blinders that have prevented solutions for 50 years. In fact, looking around the globe, using this lens has the same effect of changing the discussion from explosive political rhetoric and directing it toward larger and less volitile possibilities.

The real test is, having diagnosed the problem, can we come up with effective, long-term solutions? Tune in tomorrow for a discussion.

posted by Jeff | 9:44 AM |
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